Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Ceisteanna (2)

Denise Mitchell


2. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures she is taking to ensure safe oversight of child access in situations in which a parent has been accused of domestic violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22337/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

What measures is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs taking to ensure safe oversight of child access in situations where there are issues of domestic violence? Will she make a statement on the matter?

The impact of violence and abuse witnessed or experienced in childhood can last a lifetime. Where a child is in the care of Tusla and where there is a history of violence or other forms of abuse, the courts may order, or social workers may arrange, for access to be supervised to ensure safe oversight of the access visit. I am deeply conscious of and sensitive to the concerns of parents who have experienced domestic abuse, as having to arrange for their children to meet the other parent can be difficult and worrying. This was highlighted in a report that I launched for Women's Aid last month, which suggested that as many as one in five women were under threat of abuse from a violent partner during access visits. This is shocking. My Department and the Department of Justice and Equality have been engaging on this issue for some time.

I am convinced of the need for the provision of safe child contact spaces when they are needed for protective purposes. My Department has embarked on work to assess exactly what facilities and supports are available for families in this situation. Child access services exist through the family resource centres. Preliminary indications are that at least 42 family resource centres, FRCs, provide some sort of services for access visits. These have grown up in an organic and ad hoc way and are dependent on the facilities and staff available within a centre. For example, some family resource centres provide a pick-up and drop-off service, which helps in the avoidance of contact between parents if that is desirable. I want to build on the services available through FRCs and expand the number of locations where a child's right to have access to both parents is preserved in a safe way. The Deputy may also be aware of the Time 4 Us service in Galway, which is a family access service. Following the resolution of funding and governance issues, the service has now been absorbed into the ARD Family Resource Centre. I understand that this is operating very successfully and is now facilitating even more families than originally planned.

This is a serious issue. It follows on from some of the issues the Minister raised previously on provisions and supports relating to domestic violence. She has also noted that it was raised by Women's Aid, which recently raised it at the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. Many people will probably find it shocking that there are situations where women have barring orders against their partners who have violent or abusive and there is no assessment of the safety of the children. An individual can have access arrangements to a child and it is up to the mother to facilitate it. She has to deal directly with the abusive ex-partner to arrange access. People like that feel that this is a risk. There also is no assessment of the child. Barnardos conducted a trial of supervised access centres to see if they could be considered and I note the Minister referred to family resource centres. I would like to think that we can revisit this proposal. I do not think that it comes down to funding as such.

As the Deputy described, these are significant issues for the children and the parents. As the Deputy acknowledges and I said in my original response, it is important that Women's Aid and other organisations highlight the significant concerns about potential harm done to children, as well as the ways in which intimidation etc. in a family can continue, especially with regard to children and access visits. It is important to have that information in front of us and to focus on that. We are intensifying our focus on where they are happening in respect of family resource centres. I have provided additional moneys for family resource centres in the last couple of budgets and hope to continue to do that, with a particular focus on this issue. We have some successful models emerging, such as Time 4 Us in Galway. It would be well worth looking at replicating it.

I hope that funding can be looked at to ensure that supervised access centres are rolled out across the State. I understand that it would not take a significant amount of funding. People have spoken about community centres being used in the past. Parish centres have also been identified as suitable locations. I ask the Minister to look at this. It is an important issue which has been raised by previous groups. Hopefully the Minister can give a commitment that this will be looked at. If extra funding is necessary, will she commit to giving us that in the 2020 budget?

I hope to do that. It is a great concern of mine. Over the past couple of years, we have got more information and knowledge, especially from experts, about the importance of ensuring increased complementary State support for this.

Often, it is possible for parents to be supported by community contexts or community centres themselves in order to ensure the safety of children, but the Deputy is asking about the importance of the increased investment by the State to ensure that those safe places are there for children during access visits.