I welcome the publication of the latest report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, which deals with lengthy, contested and complex child protection cases in the District Court.
The report’s author, Dr Carol Coulter, notes that the issues raised cannot be solved by one branch of Government alone. They require co-ordinated action from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Courts Service, the legal profession, Tusla, and my own Department.
The Recommendations include: the need for Tusla to try too identify potentially complicated cases early on , and to develop a strategy to deal with them; the need for a unified national legal strategy in child protection cases; and the provision of national training for social worker to help strengthen their analytical abilities relating to legal issues.
I have been assured by Tusla that all of the recommendations are being given full consideration by senior management. A number of ongoing reforms will address the key recommendation for better awareness of complex cases at all management levels.
Tusla has also informed me that Signs of Safety and the Empowering Practice and Practitioner Initiative are being rolled out. It is anticipated that this will help to reduce the number of protracted court processes by requiring social workers to proactively work with families towards a solution, before considering an intervention.
As the Deputy will be aware, Tusla are working with the Gardaí to develop and implement joint protocols on data sharing, specialist interviewing, and the investigation of child sex abuse. This, it is hoped, will increase efficiencies and reduce delays in finalising these cases.
I also plan to develop an Irish approach to the Barnahus and Child Advocacy Centre models for services to children who have suffered sexual abuse. The centres to be established will support children who have suffered sexual abuse in a way that would minimise their trauma while accessing protective, therapeutic or health services, and engaging with the criminal justice system.
The first meeting of the Cross Agency Interdepartmental group, which I established together with my colleagues Minister for Justice and Equality and Minster for Health, to examine the development of an Irish model for children who suffered child sexual abuse, was held in February 2018. The Group is working towards establishing dedicated Cross Agency centres for these children, in line with best international practice and standards. The Group continues to meet regularly to progress this work.
The Child Care Law Reporting Project was established to bring transparency to child care proceedings, and to collect information that will assist in the better operation of the Child Care Act 1991.
The Report, and the recent submission from Dr Coulter, will assist my Department in the review of this Act, and its findings will help ensure that any new child protection and welfare legislation will work for the benefit of our most vulnerable children.
Finally, I am delighted to confirm that the Project will be funded by my Department for another three years. I look forward to more concise and empirical research on this very important topic.
PQ Ref No. 25561/18