As the Deputy is aware, direct provision centres and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. His Department has responsibility for the welfare of children in those centres but I would like to assure the Deputy that I have had ongoing contact with my colleague on this topic and that senior officials within my Department have engaged with the Child and Family Agency to ensure that children who are living in Direct Provision are afforded the same levels of welfare and protection as their peers in the wider community.
I understand that children are protected in a number of ways in the Direct Provision system - primarily through the Reception and Integration Agency's child protection policy, its house rules and its requirements that all centre staff are Garda vetted. I also understand that any concerns about the welfare, safety or wellbeing of a child in Direct Provision are reported to the Child and Family Agency in line with Children First. Referrals include welfare concerns such as a parent being hospitalised, parental illness, a child being left unsupervised by an adult or mental health concerns regarding the parent, while a smaller number would relate to child protection concerns. There is a specific unit within the Reception and Integration Agency - the Child and Family Services Unit- whose role is to manage, deliver, coordinate, monitor and plan matters relating to child and family services for all asylum seekers living in the Direct Provision system. Where necessary this Unit also links directly with An Garda Síochána.
The Children First Bill 2013 which is currently before the House further provides that managers of centres providing Direct Provision services are on the schedule of mandated reporters. Under the Bill such centres are also required to develop and make publicly available a Child Safeguarding Statement.
In relation to the Deputy’s question about extending the Health Information and Quality Authority's remit to inspect direct provision centres, I am advised that the current arrangements is that direct provision centres are monitored three times a year, twice by Department of Justice and Equality staff and once by an external company. Any decision to change this would be a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality.