Thursday, 28 March 2019

Ceisteanna (3)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

3. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the lack of consistency that exists in terms of children in foster care receiving aftercare plans and aftercare workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14607/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

Has the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs been drawn to the lack of consistency that exists as to children in foster care receiving aftercare plans and aftercare workers, and if she will make a statement on the matter?

This is an important question and the Deputy is correct in saying that some areas in the country have access to a greater level of aftercare workers. The need for greater consistency in the provision of aftercare planning and services has been identified in Tusla's 2019 business plan.

The budget I have secured for Tusla for 2019 will enable it to progress these plans. Individual children in care have very different needs as they approach the age of 18, as the Deputy is aware. Many children will have lived for significant periods in stable foster care and when they leave school they will have similar ambitions and supports available to them as to their peers. Other children will have experienced a fractured and traumatic childhood and will need a range of supports to manage the transition to adulthood. It is for this reason that children who are in residential care and those with identified additional needs are prioritised for an aftercare worker. Aftercare support builds on the work already undertaken by foster carers, social workers and residential care staff and is dependent on the full participation and consent of the young person. We also rely on partnership with agencies such as the HSE, housing agencies and Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI. While all young people in care should have an aftercare plan with identified supports, not all will have an aftercare worker allocated to them. This decision is based on the assessment of the young person’s need.

Almost half of young people leaving foster care continue to live with their former carers. Some of these young people will be completing secondary school and undertaking further education, while a smaller number may have ongoing dependencies and disabilities. The carers of young people who have been in a stable long-term foster care placement will remain their main support. The majority of aftercare planning is likely to focus on the ongoing financial support provided by Tusla. There are other young people whose situation is less straightforward when they reach 18 and are leaving care. In recognition of this I have succeeded in having young people leaving care included as a separate category for funding under the capital assistance scheme.

I thank the Minister. At the outset I must acknowledge the fantastic work that foster parents and social care workers do to provide support. I would not be asking this question if foster carers, care leavers and Empowering People In Care, EPIC, had not come to me and said that they had a problem, so much so that they are planning to march through the streets of Dublin in May to highlight the disparity in support. I do not know if the Minister is aware of this. A lot of the disparity comes down to geography. Normally I am not one for advocating marches or anything like that. However, the Minister and I, and anyone else who engages with children's issues and youth affairs, understand that geography plays a huge part in this. There is a huge lack of social care workers or access to them. Moreover, if a young person loses a parent and finds himself or herself in foster care 11 months before his or her 18th birthday, he or she does not get the aftercare plan or the supports others benefit from.

My biggest question is this. The Minister talked about the Tusla business plan. Have other plans been put in place to prevent children falling between the cracks?

I thank the Deputy. I think marches are great. Having said that, being a Minister I need to know what the issues are before they happen. We will have those engagements. In my initial answer I noted that Tusla informs me that there is a really deep assessment of the needs of the individual child or young person. While all of them are entitled to an aftercare plan, some of them will not necessarily need an aftercare worker given the stability of their background. Children may be staying with their foster carers etc. As such, it is not necessarily a bad thing if they do not have one. However, we need an aftercare plan.

I have a list of the number of available aftercare workers per county etc. If there is a geographic disparity in how young people's needs for aftercare workers are met, this absolutely must be looked at. I will ask Tusla to ensure that we examine that.

I am wondering if the Minister has ever considered establishing a young people's foster care panel to advise the Department and Tusla. Young people are living this experience and they are the best people to describe it. The Minister is right. Not everybody will require the assistance of a social care worker. However, these children should all be entitled to an aftercare plan. The Minister has heard me say before that every child needs a second chance. I talk about that where education is concerned. We know that a lot of these young people's peers might go into first year in college and find the course is not for them. Children in aftercare should also be given a second chance. However, if the course does not suit them the funding stops and they are left to the wide world without any supports. This is a huge reason for the Minister to consider bringing the children to the table with the Department or Tusla to tell us how we can progress these issues.

I thank the Deputy. I wish to say two things in response to her questions. Regarding the number of aftercare workers, I would like to put on record that we need to fill some more posts. Tusla now has 111 posts in aftercare. Some 89 of them are filled by aftercare workers. There are 11 vacancies at aftercare worker grade. Tusla recently held a competition for 11 management posts. An additional 18 aftercare workers are employed by other organisations such as Focus Ireland and Don Bosco Care. I wish to put that on the record.

In response to the Deputy's second point, I am very much in favour of hearing from the people who experience the issues themselves, in this case the young people who have been in care. The Deputy may be aware that EPIC has an advisory council of young people which effectively does that kind of work. I have met with and listened to its members. They have developed materials. I was recently in Tallaght at one of EPIC's awareness-raising events highlighting the needs of young people in aftercare. I will raise that issue with EPIC. In other words, such a group already exists. The Deputy may be suggesting that we need to widen it and provide the opportunity for others to come forward. We will look at that. I thank the Deputy.