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Child and Family Support Agency Establishment

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 26 September 2012

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ceisteanna (7)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

7. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she remains committed to establishing the new Child and Family Support Agency by early 2013 as stated at the Committee on Health and Children in July 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40681/12]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

This is a similar question to the one Deputy Robert Troy asked earlier on the establishment of the child and family support agency. I did not get to make a number of points in reply on the back-drop to the establishment of the agency and the other issues we need to pursue as we establish it. One I have mentioned is the consistency of the child protection services in that the assessments and responses families receive will be similar throughout the country. Another back-drop includes the legislation to place Children First on a statutory basis, the provision of a dedicated budget for the child and family support agency and the transition of the child protection and welfare services to the new agency. The Family Support Agency will merge with the new agency and its budget of €26 million will form part of the budget of the child and family support agency.

I thought the questions might have been taken together, but it is important that we have an opportunity to respond. The Minister stated in her earlier reply that the core services would be transferred by January 2013. In correspondence to me she might indicate the core services that are to be transferred and indicate a timeframe for the transfer of the remaining services. It is welcome that the governance structure has not been fully agreed to by the Government and that we will have an opportunity to debate it as the legislation proceeds through the House.

The Minister has said she hopes the agency will start with a strong budget. I hope, given that it will be a new agency, that it will not start with a deficit. This is a new agency which will do good work and there should not be an overhang in its budget, as it did not have an opportunity to exert influence heretofore.

The task force recommended that the new agency have a board structure, although it made a number of recommendations regarding the powers of the Minister and a strengthened role for the Department in undertaking policy development and performance oversight vis-à-vis the new agency. We will have an opportunity to discuss that issue when I bring the legislation to the House.

The core services consist of the child and family support services in the Health Service Executive, and the work done by the Family Support Agency and the education and welfare services. On the areas that must have a strong relationship with the child and family support agency - some of them should be directly under it - I am not sure what the transition point might be for them, but going on the very good work done by the task force we should examine, for example, some public health nursing services that could come directly under the new agency, although not all of them. I envisage public health nurses remaining where they are at present, but I would like to see strong interaction because many of them have direct contact with families. Speech and language therapy services, child and adolescent mental health services, Garda youth diversion projects and the psychology services were examined in the task force report. As I stated in reply to Deputy Murphy, we need to examine the organisation of some of these services and how they can best deliver to the families who need them.

I do not have to ask if the Minister remains committed to establishing the child and family support agency. I have every confidence that this is a priority for her, but when does she expect to be in a position to announce an exact date for the commencement of the agency's functions? In terms of core responsibilities, is it the case that she expects various other roles and responsibilities to be accredited to the agency over a period of time? Over what period does she expect these roles and responsibilities to be transferred?

This is very important work the Minister is doing and it is important that there be a seamless transfer and that all the dots are joined because this is a unique opportunity for the State, after years of failure, to make sure responsibility and good corporate governance are at the core of what we are doing, particularly for the person who is most vulnerable or at risk. I am confident, having spoken to people on the ground, that this will be the case. In my area there has been a transfer from the HSE. I also see, however, that in Bishopstown an issue has arisen. It is important, therefore, that we have a seamless transfer and that there are clear lines of demarcation and responsibility. This is a great opportunity, about which we should not be negative; rather we should be positive about it.

The date of transfer of services is 1 January 2013. We will have work to do in the Dáil in advance of that date, but we have said all along that the agency will begin as a separate entity from 1 January 2013. It should progress, depending on the introduction of legislation in the House and the making of decisions on the governance structure and its development.

It is clear that the core services to which I referred earlier when replying to Deputy Troy will be transferred to the new agency in the first instance. I will be bringing a memo to Government in respect of this matter shortly in order that we might discuss the findings and recommendations contained in the report of the task force. Some of the recommendations have implications in the context of the way in which services are delivered. As a result of the fact that a number of Departments will be involved, the Government as a whole will be obliged to make a decision on this matter. There is not yet an exact timeframe with regard to the transfer of some other services. However, it is important that the services which will be available from the new agency will be those which families need and use and which are of most benefit to them. It will, of course, be a matter of developing strong links to certain services rather than moving them directly into the agency. The task force has pointed out that there are certain key services which it is not planned to bring under the remit of the new agency but which ought to be under its direct control. We will be able to discuss that matter when the legislation is introduced.

Question No. 8 answered with Question No. 6.
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