Responsibility for promoting the welfare and protection of children at risk is a key function of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which was established under my Department on 1 January 2014. The context within which our child welfare and protection services operate today is very challenging. The number of child welfare and protection referrals to social work departments increased by nearly one third to over 40,000 in 2012. My Department has a range of systems in place to ensure it is informed of risk to children and the measures in place to minimise these risks. Monthly, quarterly and annual reports are received from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in respect of all its functions, including detailed reporting of key performance indicators and protocols are in place to inform my Department of specific issues where risk is identified and to a management response is required.
Inspection reports are also received on an ongoing basis and meetings with HIQA managers and inspectors are held on a regular basis to review key inspection findings in relation to children in detention schools, children in care in residential care including special care, foster care and children in receipt of child welfare and protection services in the community. Reports from the Ombudsman for Children, and the National Review Panel where risk to children is noted, are reviewed to identify issues that require input and progress in the area of policy and operations. I am satisfied that in establishing Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, we now have in place the necessary structure to ensure the provision of a more responsive and integrated service to children and young people at risk.
With regard to bullying, we know from data from the Growing Up in Ireland Longitudinal Study that 40% of nine-year-olds reported being victims of bullying in the past year with boys and girls experiencing similar rates of victimisation. In the case of children who reported victimisation in the previous year, only 39% of their mothers appeared to have been aware that their child had been the victim of bullying. This emphasises the importance of parents talking to their children about bullying and schools having policies on bullying which are disseminated to parents. The Action Plan On Bullying published by the Minister for Education and Skills in January 2013 clearly recognised the need to tackle bullying, including cyber-bullying, in a holistic way through schools but within a much wider social context. Amongst the actions which are being taken are the development of a single national anti-bullying website to provide information for parents, young people, youth workers, sporting and cultural associations and school staff on types and methods of bullying and how to deal with bullying behaviour.
Under my own Department, the Child and Family Agency has a statutory function to ensure that ‘each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education ’ which it delivers through its Educational Welfare Services. Schools are obliged to record and monitor daily attendance and to report absences to the Agency in specific circumstances; such as where a child is absent for 20 days or more, where a child is expelled or suspended for six days or more cumulatively, or where the principal of a school has concerns about the educational welfare of a child. Much of the Agency's work in relation to school attendance involves early prevention and targeted intervention with children and families, in collaboration with schools and other support services.