Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013

Vol. 792 No. 2

Other Questions

Child Detention Centres

Thomas P. Broughan


6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in line with the requirements of the judgment in the case of Health Service Executive v WR (Neutral Citation (2007) IEHC 459) that the HSE would, among other things, undertake to conduct a process of identifying need for special care and high support by December 2007 and that it would produce a report on an annual basis in July of each year dealing with the manner in which the needs of young persons at risk were being fulfilled in the provision of these services, if annual reports of this kind have been published by the HSE; if so, the locations at which copies may be obtained; and if such reports have not been published, the reasons for non-publication. [6996/13]

Special care involves the detention of a child for his or her own welfare and protection in a special care unit with on-site educational and therapeutic supports.

Special care units provide secure residential services to children and young people who are in need of specialised targeted intervention. Children are detained in special care if their behaviour is deemed to pose a risk to themselves. The detention by order of the High Court of a child in a special care unit is considered as a last resort and is intended to be for as short a time as possible. Such detention is resorted to when other forms of residential or community care are considered to be unsuitable. Special care units are inspected annually by HIQA pursuant to section 69 of the Child Care Act 1991 and the inspection reports are published. I note that I have just signed a letter for Deputy Thomas Broughan on a question he put down last week on the number of children who are receiving care abroad. He will receive the letter today.

The Deputy refers to the judgment in the case of Health Service Executive v. WR (2007) IEHC 459. I understand the judge in the case was complimentary of the HSE on the manner in which cases were being dealt with and the offer of the HSE to produce an annual report on these matters was not taken up by the court. I emphasise that since the delivery of that judgment, the ongoing procedures for dealing with special care applications to the High Court have evolved. All cases in which the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court has been invoked to effect special care placements are now listed for mention before the court on a monthly basis. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked a priority question on this topic previously and I am happy to confirm to the House that there are no children on the waiting list currently. Any child in need of special care is receiving it. In circumstances in which each case comes before the High Court every month, the need for an annual report has been obviated.

The HSE produces an annual review-of-adequacy report pursuant to section 8 of the Child Care Act 1991. The report includes a particular chapter on special care. There is ongoing examination by both HIQA and the HSE. A great deal of work has been done by HIQA examining standards in the three special care units and there have been significant and necessary improvements in recent times.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply and the information she provided. What is the current capacity of Ballydowd, Gleann Alainn and Coovagh special care units? How many children can they cater for and how many staff do they have? While it is welcome that there is no waiting list and that the problems identified in 2007 by the High Court appear to have been ameliorated, how many children pass through the special care units each year? How many children passed through the units in 2011 and 2012 for example? I note Gordon Jeyes's point on the use of agency staff. The children in these units have very challenging behavioural issues and there was an issue in 2007 and onwards about agency staff. I note that Jennifer Hough in the Irish Examiner made a particular study of Gleann Alainn and reported publicly on a number of occasions about some of the things that had happened there. I have seen a recent estimate that there are approximately 104 staff across the three centres. Can we take it that agency staff are no longer used and that all staff are qualified?

The Minister of State referred to HSE v. WR and said that annual reports are provided by HIQA now. Is the Minister of State happy with that or would she have preferred that reports would have been compiled for the High Court?

I am satisfied with the HIQA standards inspection that takes place now. There are three designated special care units in the State which are operated by the HSE subject to a single national governance arrangement. As of this year, we have adopted a national governance approach to special care which was needed. There is a unit in Ballydowd in Dublin which has a capacity of ten beds and is fully occupied. There is another unit in Gleann Alainn in Cork with a capacity of four beds where three children are currently placed. The third unit is at Coovagh whose three beds are fully occupied.

Deputy Thomas Broughan asked about the numbers in special care, which is a very tiny proportion of all children in care. Approximately 0.4% of children in care are in special care which equated in 2011 to 38 children. These are children with very special needs who require careful therapeutic help. They return to the High Court every month for very careful supervision. Providing this type of special care for children with such special needs is very demanding. Deputy Thomas Broughan is right to point to the supports staff need. I am not in a position to answer him on the issue of agency staff today but can communicate with him on it.

Or unqualified staff.

I will revert to the Deputy on the staffing issues he raised. I do not have the information with me. HIQA has raised the issue of staff support in its inspection reports. The HSE has done a lot of work to ensure that staff have the support and supervision they need. Gordon Jeyes has led the national approach to special care and taken a particular interest in the matter to ensure that we move to greater consistency in standards. The issues identified in previous HIQA reports, which were serious, are being addressed. The most recent report I have on one of the centres shows that more and more of HIQA's recommendations are being implemented.

Is there more the Minister of State has to do to ensure that there is a substantive legislative basis in this area in addition to the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011? Are the national special care admission and discharge criteria used by social workers to assess children known to the Minister of State and in the public domain? The Minister of State mentioned children who have been referred to special care units in Scotland and Sweden. Are there children who are abroad at the moment and what kind of resources has the State spent on their care? Did the Minister of State ask for additional resources in the 2013 budget to deal with the critical needs of these children?

I was pleased to be able to maintain the budget in the face of huge difficulties nationally. The budget for the new child and family support agency was slightly increased in fact. It was very important to have that stability.

There are approximately ten children receiving services abroad. This care tends to be very expensive as the Deputy knows. I have given him the details in reply to the question he asked. These are highly specialised placements for children with behavioural and sexual difficulties. The cost varies from €26,000 per month to $10,400 per month at the facility in Nebraska where one child is placed. We are still using some services abroad. I would like to examine whether we have the capacity to deliver these services domestically to the small number of children who need them. The services are not available currently. Under High Court supervision, the decision has been taken in relation to a small number of children to place them abroad.

Child and Family Agency Establishment

Tom Fleming


7. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way she will justify salaries for the new position of head of organisation at €186,000 in the new section of her Department being devolved from the Health Service Executive, salaries of more than €100,000 for directors of services and a fixed term appointment for three year contract at €150,000 a year which is in breach of salary level for that job; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3053/13]

The new child and family support agency will be established by way of primary legislation and will assume full statutory responsibility for a range of services including child welfare and protection services which are currently provided by the HSE, the National Educational Welfare Board and the Family Support Agency. When the agency is established it will constitute one of the largest public agencies in the State with a staff of more than 4,000 employees and a budget of over €550 million.

It represents one of the largest and most ambitious areas of public sector reform under way. Furthermore, the agency's onerous responsibilities in promoting the welfare of children are widely recognised as a priority.

As the majority of staff will transfer from the HSE, the established HSE salary structure is being used in respect of senior management positions. Mr. Gordon Jeyes is CEO–designate of the agency. Mr. Jeyes was recruited by the HSE in January 2011 as national director, children and family services. His recruitment followed an international search process and he brings with him experience of leading children's services in two other jurisdictions. We are very fortunate to have a man of his calibre leading our new agency given the legacy of child protection and the huge amount of work to be done. The salary rate approved for Mr. Jeyes' position with the HSE was agreed in 2011. The child and family support agency will have additional responsibility in terms of services and accountability and the salary for the CEO would be equivalent to that previously paid by the HSE.

With regard to the post of head of quality assurance in the new agency, it was not possible following a competitive process to source a candidate with the required professional and senior management expertise, on the advertised terms. It was imperative that the senior management team be in place to progress the necessary preparatory work for the agency's establishment, and in these circumstances approval was subsequently granted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for the filling of the quality assurance post on a once-off three year fixed-term contract basis, at the rate of €145,000 per annum. The post holder brings very significant international experience in the quality improvement of children’s services. We badly need this, as is very clear from the range of reports that we have all read. The post will be re-advertised by way of open competition in advance of the expiry of the fixed-term contract. All requirements for approval of this salary were fully complied with in advance of the post holder's taking up duties.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The other senior management posts of head of policy and planning, head of corporate and human resources, and head of finance were filled at the advertised terms, which are equivalent to the salary scale for the grade of assistant national director in the HSE. The post of chief operations officer remains to be filled, having previously been advertised unsuccessfully. The post of chief executive of the National Education Welfare Board is filled on a temporary-acting basis and it is also envisaged that this will be advertised at management team level prior to the functions of the board transferring to the new agency on its establishment.

I am satisfied that the above arrangements equip the agency with the necessary management skills and experience to discharge its onerous responsibilities on behalf of children and families in this crucial start-up phase of the agency's existence.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I submitted this question to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. In the course of her reply the Minister said that he played a role in at least one of these appointments. Given the economic climate and the level of debt in this country it is hard for the Government to justify transferring a person from the HSE at such an exorbitant salary. It is the same as, if not more than, the salary of the President of France. The head of the family support agency may even be earning €5,000 or €6,000 more than the President of France who holds a very responsible position.

The appointment is for three years. I find it hard to comprehend that a suitable person could not be appointed on a full-time basis. There may have been efforts made in advertising. That person is probably receiving something in the region of what the Prime Minister of Britain receives. I am glad to hear that there will be a further recruitment of some suitable person at a later date. We are a bankrupt country and we are weakening our hand in negotiating in Europe and are severely hindered.

Since 1980 we have had 17 major reports on child protection failings in Ireland. There is a huge job to be done to change that situation. It is a shameful legacy. The reform of child protection and of children's services is a key priority for me and the Government. The establishment of the new child and family support agency is a key step in this ambitious and comprehensive reform programme. The majority of staff will transfer from the HSE whose salary structure was being used for the senior management positions. An independent process was put in place to recruit the staff. It was independent of the Department. It is extremely important that we have the very best managers to do the task that needs to be done to manage the services. I have already outlined to the House on several occasions the huge job that must be done to disaggregate the work of the child and family services within the HSE and the difficulties in doing that. I have highlighted the need for a national finance system, for accountability and reforms at national level and for policy to be outlined at national level. This management team is undertaking all of that. I am very confident that the team will deliver a world-class service which is what we should have for children, particularly the most vulnerable ones.

I wish the Minister well with her added responsibilities. There are several salaried positions offered at over €100,000, for example for director of services. I presume that these people were formerly in the HSE where at the other end of the scale nurses are being recruited at 20% less than the standard salary these people are being offered. Many of them are mature students. There is gross inequity across the board. The Minister's colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, is presiding over a situation in which the director-designate of the new agency replacing the HSE is appointing five directors again at salaries in the region of over €150,000. People find it hard to digest and accept what the Government is doing with regard to these appointments particularly in these straitened times when austerity measures affect people particularly those at the lower levels of the HSE.

As Deputy Tom Fleming says when one sees the reduction in wages for highly qualified nursing staff I do not know how the Minister can stand over a further breach in a salary cap. The salaries that were on offer were considerable and I do not see the necessity to exceed them at a time when we are talking about fairness and equality. This is not sending out the right message. No one disagrees with the Minister and everyone will support her endeavours in reforming child protection measures with the establishment of the child and family support agency. That is not in question. How can the Minister stand over a breach in the salary cap that the Government imposed while at the same time cutting the salaries of those working at the lowest levels of the health service?

No one doubts the excellence of the appointment but is it appropriate that a director should be appointed who is earning more than the Minister? The Minister is responsible to this House for children's matters. She bears a very heavy responsibility and Deputy Tom Fleming's premise is almost unanswerable in current circumstances.

I want to support Deputy Tom Fleming very strongly because this Government sold the people a pup.

Does the Deputy have a question?

How can the Minister stand over doing this at a time when her Government sold the people a pup? Her party said that it would do everything correctly and the people who supported it thought they were doing the right thing.

The Government imposed the cap and every now and then, when it so wishes, it flouts it, which is wrong and outrageous. If it had stated it was never going to introduce a cap, it would be fine, as it could set salary figures at whatever level it wanted, but why did the Minister make a rule for salary caps one day only for it to be broken by the Government on another?

The point I made was that the chief executive officer designate of the agency had been recruited prior to my taking up office in January 2011 on the salary commented on by Deputies. His recruitment followed an international search process and he brought with him enormous experience. It is important we realise the challenges he will face in the child and family support agency.

I take some of the points made on the difficult economic situation we face. However, every effort was made to recruit in Ireland to fill the post of quality assurance manager in the new agency. That, however, was not possible following the competition process. Every Member knows that having someone in place who understands quality assurance in this area is absolutely necessary. It was in these circumstances and because of the need to fill the post that a decision was taken to offer a three-year fixed-term contract. The person who has taken up the job brings significant international experience. The future development of the child and family support agency will be greatly enhanced by the work done by the people concerned. The post will be readvertised to be filled by way of open competition in advance of the expiry of the fixed-term contract.

Youth Services Provision

Kevin Humphreys


8. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the application process will begin and be published for the €1.75 million in funding available for youth capital projects in 2013 such as youth cafe and play and recreation initiatives that were previously announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6998/13]

The youth affairs unit of my Department supports the delivery of a range of youth work programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth sector. As part of this, my Department and I have actively supported the nationwide development of youth cafe facilities, given the considerable benefits they offer for young people to meet in safe drug and alcohol free spaces.

In 2012 I provided €500,000 in capital funding for eight youth projects around the country to support the development of youth cafés for young people. The projects selected are eight new youth cafés which had originally applied under the original youth café scheme in 2010. This latest round of funding builds on the €1.7 million previously provided, from which a total of 75 projects have received funding.

For 2013 I am providing a further €1.5 million in capital funding for youth cafés and youth projects. Criteria for these funding schemes are being developed and my Department will be announcing details in the near future. They are a great extra resource. I am further providing capital funding of €250,000 for play and recreational initiatives during 2013. In February 2012 I launched the first ever national local authority play and recreation network, which brings together the recreation officers from local authorities around the country. More local authorities are getting involved in the project and some excellent work is being done by the network. To date, it has taken initiatives to promote and expand national play day and national recreation week, introduced improved co-ordination between local authorities and training and information sharing to develop staff expertise. I met representatives of the network last week to discuss their future work programme. I urge Deputies to encourage their local authorities to take part in the network.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I have been delighted to officially open many of the new youth cafés supported by my Department and hope the additional funding provided in 2012 and 2013 will allow for the opening of many more youth cafés in communities across the country.

The development of play and recreation policy is an equally important objective for my Department because of the positive social and developmental impact of play in the lives of children and young people and its significance in promoting active healthy lifestyles. National play and recreation policies are implemented by local authorities. Many have developed world class recreational facilities and integrated play plans benefiting thousands of children and their families. My Department's role is to encourage innovation and a joined-up approach to the development and use of the extensive range of facilities available throughout the country.

A record 25 local authorities participated in National Play Day on 4 July 2012. National Recreation Week 2012 took place at the end of October. In excess of €70,000 was provided by my Department for local authorities in 2012 to help with these initiatives.

When does the Minister expect the roll-out of the signalled new youth cafés to commence? Will she share with the House the locations of these new initiatives? How many youth cafés will be in situ with the advent of the additional eight indicated? Regarding the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative that she announced as part of the two new strands to deal with child deprivation and marginalisation, she has supported projects through the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme for Children in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale. She indicated recently that she expected to increase the number from three to six. Has she been able to conclude that further section? If not, when will she be in a position to do so? If she has, will she share with us where the new projects will get under way?

It is fitting that the Minister referred to the issues of exclusion and marginalisation. Given the success of youth cafés in bringing young people in from the margins, will she consider ring-fencing part of the funding for young people with intellectual and physical disabilities on a regional, county or city basis? Often people with intellectual disabilities find that youth cafés and other youth networks can unintentionally exclude them, as most of those attending would not have an intellectual disability or learning difficulty. Will she consider ring-fencing moneys on a pilot basis for facilities for young people with specific intellectual or physical disabilities?

On Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin's question about the €2.5 million provided in the budget for early intervention programmes, a lot of the preliminary work has been done in the rolling out of these projects and a project team will meet next Friday to take it further. There has been some engagement with philanthropic organisations because we have been looking for co-funding. I hope the scheme will develop next year with more funding provided.

It is important clear and transparent criteria are put in place for the selection of sites. This is part of what the interdepartmental group will examine and I will inform the House as the work develops. I certainly want to have the projects in place by the end of the 2013, with the sites selected by then. We will also look at how we can mainstream some of what has been learned from the three Prevention and Early Intervention Programme for Children projects under way. The research findings are being received on their successes and there are clear indications as to how we should move forward nationwide, not just in six areas. I hope we will be able to develop projects in three new areas and, equally, roll out initiatives which will have a national impact from what we have learned from the projects in Darndale, Tallaght and Ballymun which received considerable funding. The areas have not yet been selected, but transparent criteria will be used in their selection based on the poverty index and other indices.

Ring-fencing funding for more specialist youth cafés can certainly be considered and I would be happy to consider a specific request for such a youth café. The approach to date has been to support the integration of children with disabilities in youth cafés. That is preferable, but if a case can be made for a particular facility that meets the needs of a particular group of young people with either physical or intellectual disabilities, it can be considered.

What about the new locations?

They will be available in the rest of my reply.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.