Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (80)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

137 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will make a statement on the work to date of the Family Mediation Service. [7819/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

The service is free, professional and confidential. It enables couples who have decided to separate to reach agreement on all their separation issues. It assists couples to make decisions on issues such as post-separation living arrangements, finances and parenting arrangements to enable children to have an ongoing relationship with each parent. Increasingly family mediation is being recognised worldwide as a non-adversarial approach to resolving the issues that arise on separation.

Over the past number of years the service has radically expanded to meet growing needs. It is now available in 14 centres. Last year new centres in Sligo and Waterford city were opened.

Last year I hosted a series of regional fora on the family. One of the key issues raised by participants were the benefits of the service for families and the need for additional centres. In response I made additional funds available to the Family Support Agency in budget 2004 to allow for a further two new family mediation offices to be opened this year. One office will be located in the north west region and will expand the service already available in the region. Another office will be located in the midlands.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of couples seeking mediation as its benefits become known. From 1986 to the end of 1997, before the service was expanded, only 250 couples used the service. Last year it helped over 1,403 couples. I pay tribute to the professionalism and hard work of the family mediators who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of the service over the years.

Last May I developed the service further by establishing the Family Support Agency. It will provide a solid and secure base from which the family service can grow and develop in the future. The agency brings together the programmes and family support services formerly operated under the aegis of my Department. They include services to support families in times of difficulties, including the Family Mediation Service, support for voluntary organisations providing counselling and other family supports and a family resource centre programme that supports and develops local communities. This year the agency has a budget of over €20 million for the provision and development of its services.

Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 132.