Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 813 No. 2
Unrevised

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Written Answers Nos. 1-21

  The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, answered orally.

Child Protection Services

 8. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she is satisfied that there are adequate supports in place for social workers in child welfare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38701/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The provision of appropriate training and support for social work staff is a matter of critical importance to ensuring quality and capacity in child protection and welfare services, in particular given the challenging environments within which social workers operate.

As Minister, I have overseen the introduction, for the first time, of new National Standard for child protection and welfare services and the commencement of independent inspections by HIQA. The first inspection report, along with recent inspection reports into fostering services have indicated the pressures faced by social work staff and need for ongoing training, support and supervision.

In 2012, of the part of the ongoing reform programme, HSE Children and Family Services established a national structure to manage the work of Workforce Development. This has provided, for the first time, a common national approach to ensuring consistency and quality assurance.

As part of this systematic training needs analysis has being undertaken and a National Training Plan has been prepared. In accordance with this a prioritised programme of standardised training courses and complementary training modules is now being provided nationwide. Further specific courses have also been introduced to support the implementation of the Staff Supervision Policy 2013.

Social workers are also assisted in their work by team leaders, principal social workers and other levels of management. There is also a range of guidance available to social workers, most recently the very comprehensive HSE Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook.

An induction process involving full briefing and introduction of new staff under the supervision of line management has been introduced within the HSE. As well as the ongoing filling of replacement posts some 270 additional social worker posts have been filled as part of the implementation plan in response to the recommendations of the Ryan Report.

In addition, the Health and Social Care Professionals Act, 2005 provided for the establishment of a Social Workers Registration Board, which was appointed in 2010. One of the functions of the Board is to set and enforce standards of education and training for the purposes of registration. These standards were developed in consultation with relevant stake-holders including employers, professional bodies, education and public representatives.

The Act makes provision for:

- the approval of education and training programmes

- the monitoring of continuing suitability of education and training programmes.

The object of the Social Work Registration Board is to protect the public by fostering high standards of professional conduct and professional education, training and competence among social work registrants. The registration requirements will include a Continual Professional Development element and my officials will continue to liaise with the Health and Social Care Professionals Council (CORU), regarding emerging needs and priorities in this regard.

Corporal Punishment

 9. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to ban corporal punishment within the home and alternative care settings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38705/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Considerable progress has been made to restrict the use of corporal punishment in Ireland. Corporal punishment in schools is banned, and regulations for creches, foster care and residential settings address the use of appropriate discipline. Corporal punishment in the home, while not specifically outlawed, is governed by the provisions of section 246 of the Children Act, 2001. Section 246 makes it an offence to assault, ill-treat, neglect, abandon or expose a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the child's health or seriously affect his or her wellbeing. A limited defence of reasonable chastisement exists in common law for parents and persons acting in loco parentis, but successful high profile prosecutions have been taken by the State under section 246 where parents are deemed to have used excessive or unreasonable force in disciplining children.

My Department is reviewing the complex policy, legal and constitutional issues involved and is also currently engaged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General's Office to respond formally to the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe (CoE) in respect of matters raised through the committee around the banning of corporal punishment in all settings. The Government has been invited to make a submission to the Committee on the merit of the complaint and it is my intention to do so. In responding, the submission will allude to the significant progress which continues to be made in relation to the Government’s commitment to protect the rights of children, including the proposal to amend the Constitution in relation to children’s rights, the enactment of a suite of relevant DCYA and Justice legislation, and progress in relation to fundamental reform of the child protection services, the establishment of the Child and Family Agency, and drafting legislation in relation to putting Children First on a statutory basis. I will be keeping my Cabinet colleagues fully updated in this matter and will be discussing with them the full range of policy options available.

There is a balance to be found between supporting parents in effective parenting, in particular, in use of non-violent forms of discipline, and the use of criminal law to impose criminal sanctions on parents who do not adhere to best practice in parenting. It is important to note that the general development of norms within Ireland and positive support and encouragement to parents has brought about a situation where physical punishment is increasingly avoided.

Recent research from the longitudinal study of children in Ireland shows that the great majority of parents do not use smacking as a form of discipline. The most frequently used method of discipline was "discussing / explaining why the behaviour was wrong and this discipline strategy was used by almost ninety percent of mothers (88%). Less than one percent (0.5%) of mothers reporting smacking their children "regularly or always".

Adoption Services Provision

 10. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the steps she and her Department are taking to assist those prospective adopters who have been planning to adopt a child from Russia and who had pre-2010 declarations and were in the process of finalising arrangements before the 31 October but now find themselves in the distressful situation of not being able to conclude the process due to a decision of the Russian authorities that came into effect as of 3 July; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38771/13]

 163. Deputy Peter Mathews Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans on a matter (details supplied) regarding adoptions from Russia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38892/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 163 together.

I have the utmost concern for the position that the prospective adopters who were close to finalising adoptions from Russia now find themselves in following the recent changes to the Russian adoption process. I have received a large volume of representations on behalf of the applicants involved and I and my officials have actively been trying to assist those affected.

Following queries I initiated through diplomatic channels the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation has confirmed to the Irish Embassy that new legislation came into force on 3rd July 2013 which requires a child to be on the national adoption database for twelve months before that child is deemed eligible for intercountry adoption and may be placed on an international adoption database. The previous period was eight months. I understand the purpose of the amendment is to extend the period during which possibilities for domestic adoption are considered.

The Adoption Act, 2010, provides for adoptions from countries that have ratified the Hague Convention on adoption and from countries where there is a bilateral agreement in place. During the drafting of the Act a considered and detailed transitional process to deal with the change from previous legislation to the new Act was put in place. The transitional measure contained in Section 63 of the Adoption Act, 2010, allows applicants with a valid declaration of eligibility and suitability to adopt who had commenced the adoption process at the time of the commencement of the Act to continue with that adoption, from a non-Hague, non-bilateral country. Such applicants were thus afforded an additional three year period to complete these particular adoptions from non-Hague countries, and must complete the process by the 31st October 2013. The issue that has arisen is that the changes introduced by the Russian authorities mean that a small number of Irish applicants will not be able to conclude their adoption of a Russian child by the 31st October 2013.

In an effort to assist I have been using diplomatic channels to seek solutions for the applicants involved. These diplomatic channels have been used to fully outline the difficult situation these applicants have been put in following the change in Russian procedures and to explore possible solutions. The Irish Ambassador to Russia met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Titov in Moscow on 10th September 2013 and outlined the position and noted our desire for a degree of flexibility in relation to the implementation of the changes recently introduced, which has affected a small number of Irish applicants who were at an advanced stage in the adoption process.

I have also recently met with the Embassy Attaché from the Russian Embassy to Dublin who was representing the Russian Ambassador to highlight the current difficulties the sudden change in Russian legislation has created. This meeting was positive and the Attaché indicated that officials from the Ministry of Education in Moscow are aware of the issues and are examining them closely.

Amongst the representations I have received is a proposal to amend the Adoption Act, 2010 to address this situation. As the Act is drafted on the basis of the incorporation of the Hague Convention and the minimum set of standards outlined therein, the implications of amending the Adoption Act, 2010 must be carefully examined. Issues also arise in confining any such amendment to the cases immediately affected by the recent changes in Russia. Nevertheless, these legislative issues are receiving consideration by my Department in parallel with the ongoing engagement with the Russian authorities.

Early Child Care Education Issues

 11. Deputy Lucinda Creighton Information on Lucinda Creighton Zoom on Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the progress made to date in her plans to introduce a second early childhood care and education year for children with a learning disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38840/13]

 29. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the progress made to date on her plans to introduce a second early childhood care and education year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38601/13]

 38. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the progress made to date on her plans to introduce a second early childhood care and education year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38841/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 29 and 38 together.

The current free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education - ECCE programme - was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children before commencing primary school. Almost every pre-school service in the State (more than 4,300) is participating with over 68,000 children, or 94% of the eligible age cohort, availing of free pre-school programme in the 2012/2013 school year.

In line with the Programme for Government, I succeeded in maintaining the universality of the free pre-school year, including securing an additional funding requirement of €9.8m in 2012 to address increased demand due to an increase in births since 2009.

The programme includes a number of additional provisions which take account of children with special needs. These include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification under the programme where a child is developmentally delayed and would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. In addition, children with special needs can apply to have the pre-school year split over two years on a pro-rata basis, for example availing of the programme for 2 days a week in the first year and for 3 days a week in the second year. Application for these exemptions must be made prior to the child commencing the programme. In addition, to improve the services available to children with special needs, my Department is working with the Office of Disability and Mental Health in the Department of Health, to examine how supports to facilitate the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream pre-school settings can be improved.

As I have outlined in response to an earlier question, My Department and I, along with key stakeholders including the HSE, are currently progressing an 8-point Pre-School Quality Agenda. The action being implement are designed to ensure the highest standards of care for children in pre-school and to ensure that parents and practitioners can have confidence in the regulation of the sector. I further believe that this Agenda must be implemented; and higher standard of quality ensured, in order to provide the key building blocks for any further extensive of universal childcare provision, including any proposal to introduce a second free pre-school year, which as I have indicated on numerous occasions is my ultimate objective.

There is an increasing body of Irish and International evidence which quantify the benefits of early year’s interventions in terms of improving children’s outcomes and in delivering significant economic and societal return to the state. I this context I believe the introduction of a second year would benefit children’s educational and developmental outcomes as well as proving significantly beneficial to children with special needs. In addition a second pre-school year would represent €2,500 to €3,000 worth of free childcare to parents and likely generate 4,000-5,000 new positions, albeit mostly part-time. The benefits of introducing a second year were further referred to in the OECD reports on Ireland published last week.

However, the introduction of a second pre-school year would require considerable additional funding, with the additional cost broadly in line with the cost of the current one year provision, which is €175 million. This funding is not currently available due to the financial constraints under which the Government is currently operating. However I would hope that this proposal is one which Government could continue to work towards as our public finances recover.

Finally, I have this week received the Report and recommendations of the Expert Advisory Group which I established to advice my Department and I on the preparation of Ireland first-ever Early Years Strategy. Longer term objectives for early years care and education, including extension of universal early years provision, supports for children with specific needs and ongoing improvements in quality will be further addressed in this Strategy.

Childhood Obesity

 12. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her Departments intentions towards a national cross-sectoral strategy for the establishment of a childhood obesity prevention and intervention service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38770/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Overweight and obesity are a public health priority, the primary remit for which lies with the Minister for Health who has established a Special Action Group on Obesity whom he meets with regularly to progress the obesity prevention agenda. The Special Action Group on Obesity is chaired by the Department of Health and comprises key stake-holders, including the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It is recognised that alone, no single initiative will reverse the growing trend, but a combination of measures should make a difference. For this reason the Special Action Group is concentrating on a range of measures including actions such as:

- Calorie posting in restaurants

- Healthy Eating Guidelines, including the Food Pyramid

- Marketing of Food and Drink to Children

- Development of treatment guidelines

The Department of Health has, with my full support, worked with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland towards a new Children's Code up to 18 years, which will restrict marketing of high fat, high salt and high sugar foods and drink up to 7pm.

The Department of Health and HSE have developed Treatment Guidelines which help inform primary care staff of the steps to be taken with regard to managing obesity. Both 'adult' and 'child' guidelines have been agreed with health care professionals and are now available.

Within my Department, support was given for Local Authorities to run the annual National Recreation Week which this year had preventing obesity and overweight as one of its themes.

In October and November a new media campaign will run which aims to give parents practical tips on preventing children becoming overweight and obese. This will be the start of a three year campaign which is a joint initiative between SafeFood, the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

In conclusion my Department is prioritising support for the Department of Health in leading Ireland's effort to address the global epidemic of obesity which has been identified by the World Health Organisation.

Child Care Services Provision

 13. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the proposals she is bringing forward to improve the quality of child care services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38689/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The commitment to improve the quality of early childhood care and education has been a key priority for me since becoming Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This is why my Department and I have been progressing work on Ireland’s first-ever Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to six years. In addition, my Department has been actively driving a comprehensive Pre-School Quality Agenda.

I have outlined to the Dail on several occasions, and to the Joint Oireachtas Committee, eight key areas of action which I believe need to be considered and addressed as a matter of urgency. These are:

- Increasing the qualification requirements for all staff in pre-school services to a minimum standard at FETAC Level 5.

- Improving the quality and curricular supports for pre-school services when implementing the Siolta Framework and Aistear Curriculum.

- Implementing the new National Pre-School Standards.

- Introducing a registration system for all pre-school services.

- Taking steps to make the inspection system more consistent and more robust.

- Publishing inspection reports on-line as soon as possible.

- Ensuring appropriate action is taken in response to findings of non-compliance.

- Increasing and widening the sanctions which can be taken for non-compliance.

Starting in September 2014, it is my intention to introduce new qualification requirements for the sector. The qualification requirement for Pre-School Leaders will be increased to Level 6 requirement in childcare/early education. In addition, all other staff caring for children in a pre-school service, will be made subject to a minimum requirement of Level 5. These requirements will apply to new services from September 2014 and to existing services from September 2015. My Department is currently examining measures to support training for childcare staff in line with the increased qualification requirements.

Pre-school services are governed by the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 as provided in the Child Care Act 1991. Inspections are carried out under the regulations by the Pre-School Inspectorate, to monitor compliance and ensure the health, safety and welfare of children and the promotion of their development. As I have outlined in recent weeks, a number of steps are being taken to improve the current inspection system, including the introduction of National Quality Standards for pre-school services later this year as part of the inspection process.

In addition, my Department is working with the Pre-School Inspectorate to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance so that there is greater clarity and consistency of approach as to how inspection reports deal with findings of serious non-compliance as opposed to minor breaches and full compliance. My Department has also reviewed the penalties currently in place for breach of regulations with a view to increasing their range and severity. I will be bringing draft legislative amendments in relation to this to Government very shortly and I expect these to be brought before the Houses during the current session. Since July of this year, existing inspection reports are being published on-line by the Pre-School Inspectorate and all new inspection reports will also be published on-line on their completion.

A registration system has been introduced on an administrative basis for new pre-school services and is expected to be placed on a statutory basis in 2014. This allows the Pre-School Inspectorate to determine whether a service is compliant in terms of suitability and service design before it will be permitted to operate. This is a further welcome development in the wider programme of work to secure and support the quality of pre school services.

Child Care Services Provision

 14. Deputy Billy Timmins Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the steps she will take to address the availability and affordability of regulated childcare services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38839/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Programme for Government commits to developing early childhood care and education as resources allow, and the Government has made a very significant commitment to maintaining the childcare support programmes implemented by my Department - the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme, the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme and the new After-school Childcare programme which is being fully rolled out from this month.

  It is recognised that intensive and targeted early childhood services have the potential to significantly enhance the life chances of many children. There is significant international evidence of the benefits for children's outcomes of the provision of quality education and childcare in the earliest years. Investment in early childhood care and education benefits not only the individual child but also the future development of the wider economy. I am also aware of the important economic contribution that childcare services provide through direct employment of staff in service delivery and through support for labour participation on the part of working parents.

  The CCS programme provides funding to community-based childcare services to enable them to provide childcare at reduced rates to parents in receipt of social welfare payments or on low or relatively modest incomes. For the purpose of the CCS programme, disadvantage and qualifying income are determined by reference to a range of means-tested allowances and payments including receipt of a social welfare payment, Family Income Supplement (FIS) and qualification for a medical or GP visit card. Eligibility for a GP visit card is based on net income and takes account of outgoings such as rent and mortgage repayments and other expenses including childcare costs and travelling expenses. As a result, parents with middle incomes may also benefit from subvention.

The CETS   programme provides €145 towards the weekly cost of full time childcare places to participating childcare services in both the community and commercial sectors for qualifying trainees and students. Students on part-time courses are funded on a pro rata basis.

  The ECCE programme provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. Children qualify for the free pre-school year where they are aged more than 3 years 2 months and less than 4 years 7 months at 1 September in the relevant year.

  In the Budget for 2013, I announced, along with my colleague the Minister for Social Protection, an After-school Childcare Programme with provision of €14 million in a full year. This programme will provide important support to parents in low income families wishing to take up employment, along with ensuring that some 6,000 quality after-school care places are provided to support children's development when the initiative is fully completed.

  In 2013 the total expenditure by my Department on the childcare support programmes is expected to be in the region of €260 million. I believe that the investment made in childcare supports is an investment in our country’s future prosperity. I have, despite the ongoing need to reduce Government expenditure, provided sufficient funding to ensure that the programmes are maintained, and I am pleased to inform the Deputy that in excess of 100,000 children throughout the country are being supported by the programmes administered by my Department this year.

Adoption Legislation

 15. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to bring forward new measures on adoption; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38699/13]

 165. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her views regarding the 2010 adoption legislation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38941/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 165 together.

The Adoption Act, 2010, which entered into force on 1 November 2010, gives force of law to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Act was written against the backdrop of the of the Hague Convention and a commitment to improving standards outlined in the Convention. The Hague principles of subsidiarity, support for birth families, free and informed consent for birth parents, and international adoption as a resource for the permanent care of children, are a means for improving standards in intercountry adoption and mitigating against some of the risks inherent in intercountry adoption.

There are two existing legislative commitments in the Adoption Area. The first is to provide, in a more effective and appropriate way, for the adoption of children o f marriage. The Adoption (Amendment) Bill   were made published Children's Referendum and will be introduced as soon as proceedings and processes relevant to the Referendum are concluded.

The second piece of adoption legislation which is being prepared is the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.   These issues are currently being examined within my Department and within the Office of the Attorney General. It is my intention is to bring the Heads of Bill before Government at the earliest possible date to seek approval to refer this legislation to the Oireachtas Health and Children Committee for discussion.

  The Adoption Act 2010 has been in operation for nearly three years now. Since taking office I have made improvements to the operation of the scheme, without the need to amend legislation following consultation with the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Health Service Executive. In particular I have streamlined the assessment process for those seeking to transfer from declarations of eligibility and suitability to adopt which are due to expire before the 31st of October 2013. Furthermore I have moved to address the issue of the sustainability, and funding, of accredited bodies. In this matter interim funding has been provided to specific bodies and I am seeking agreement from these agencies on a pathway to securing a sustainable model for accredited bodies in the future.

  Since the implementation of the Act, as is often the case with complex legislation, issues have arisen in relation to the operation of the Act. There are also more general policy questions around the nature of our adoption regime, with for example some seeing the development of options for an open adoption regime domestically as worthy of consideration. In the circumstances I think it is timely to consider a review of adoption. Given the range and complexity of the issues this will require scoping and preliminary examination after which decisions will be made on the extent and time scale for the review. I do not know at this stage if proposals for legislative change will emerge from this review or the nature of such proposals. Based upon the many domestic and international legal aspects to adoption the issue of further legislative development will certainly be considered. This review will inform future operational and legislative considerations regarding the Adoption Act 2010.

Adoption Legislation

 16. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will initiate a public inquiry into the Sacred Heart Mother and Baby Homes and the manner in which adoptions were handled in here since its inception. [38605/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Adoption Act of 1952, as subsequently amended, provided a legal basis for adoption in Ireland and for the establishment of the Adoption Board thereby bringing order to what had been the adhoc arrangements which had previously existed in lieu of formal adoption procedures. That Act was replaced most recently by the Adoption Act 2010 which also established the Adoption Authority of Ireland. All adoptions in Ireland since 1952 have been underpined by a legislative basis.

While my Department's remit in this area relates to adoptions carried out under the relevant legislation I am aware that there have been concerns about informal adoptions or illegal registrations some of which are associated with some mother and baby homes. The issue in Ireland of illegal adoptions very much relates to illegal registrations, i.e. children who were given at birth to other individuals who registered these children as their own and who are now unable to access personal records and information. I have met with individuals who have found themselves in these circumstance and I acknowledge and empathise with the dilemma that these individuals are addressing.

Efforts have been made by the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the HSE, within their legal remit, to facilitate the investigations that these individuals are undertaking in endeavouring to establish medical and/or identifying information about themselves.

In consultation with the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Health Service Executive, my Department is examining legislative and administrative options in relation to accessing records which may exist. I am also examining provisions in this regard in the forthcoming Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. I have recently received further legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General in regard to complex legal and constitutional issues which have arisen during the course of drafting the Heads of Bill. These issues are currently under consideration in my Department.

Approximately 25,000 files have been transferred to the HSE Regional Adoption Service in Cork, from the Sacred Heart Adoption Society, which had responsibility for Bessboro, Co Cork, Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath. I am advised by the HSE that there has been very significant demand to access these files and consequently the HSE Regional Adoption Service in Cork has not been able to respond as quickly as would have been hoped. In parallel with facilitating such access, work by the HSE on the organising and storage of these files has taken place and planning is underway for reorganising the approach to dealing with information requests to improve access.

I have no plans to initiate a public inquiry into the specific issue raised by the Deputy.

Child Care Reports

 17. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if all inspection reports on childcare facilities are now and will henceforth be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38766/13]

 18. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to ensure highest standards are reached and adhered to and an appropriate inspection regime across all pre-school childcare facilities is in place; the time frame for achieving both; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38764/13]

 36. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the progress made to date to address the recently exposed poor management standards and breaches of regulations and best practice at creches in the Dublin area; if follow-up inspections have taken place and the findings of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38762/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 18 and 36 together.

The commitment to improve the quality of early childhood care and education has been a key priority for me since becoming Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

I have outlined to the Dail on several occasions, and to the Joint Oireachtas Committee, eight key areas of action which I believe need to be considered and addressed as a matter of urgency. The areas I have identified are:

- Increasing the qualification requirements for all staff in pre-school services to a minimum standard at FETAC Level 5

- Improving the quality and curricular supports for pre-school services when implementing the Siolta Framework and Aistear Curriculum

- Implementing the new National Pre-School Standards

- Introducing a registration system for all pre-school services

- Taking steps to make the inspection system more consistent and more robust

- Publishing inspection reports on-line as soon as possible

- Ensuring appropriate action is taken in response to findings of non-compliance

- Increasing and widening the sanctions which can be taken for non-compliance.

My Department and I are working on a comprehensive Pre-School Quality Agenda. This includes the introduction of National Quality Standards, which will be implemented later this year. These Standards contain a section on Organisation and Management which includes the following criteria:

- All staff commence induction training in relation to all the policies and procedures of the service during their first week of employment

- Each staff member receives regular supervision and support in relation to all areas of their work

- The on-going training needs of staff are identified, addressed and provided for on a regular basis.

I have highlighted in previous replies to Dáil questions the responsibilities that the Child Care Regulations impose on pre-school managers in ensuring that suitable and competent staff are employed and that they are effectively supervised and monitored in order to ensure that the highest quality of care is provided to children attending the service. The introduction of a more robust inspection regime will enforce the requirement for providers to place quality at the centre of the services they provide.

Pre-school services are governed by the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 as provided in the Child Care Act 1991. Under the Regulations the Health Service Executive has responsibility for the inspection of services and the enforcement of the regulations. Inspection is carried out to monitor compliance with the Regulations thereby ensuring the health, safety and welfare of children and the promotion of their development.

A number of steps are being taken to improve the current inspection system. These include the introduction of National Quality Standards for pre-school services later this year as part of the inspection process. In addition, my Department is working with the Pre-School Inspectorate to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance so that there is greater clarity and consistency of approach as to how inspection reports deal with findings of serious non-compliance as opposed to minor breaches and full compliance. My Department is also undertaking a review of the penalties currently in place for breach of the Child Care (Pre-school) Regulations, as provided for under the Child Care Act 1991. The review will look at increasing the range and severity of the existing penalties including the actions which can be taken by Inspectors without recourse to court prosecution.

I can confirm that, in the case of the three pre-school services featured in RTE's Primetime programme of 28 May 2013, complaints management and inspection review visits have taken place in each case. In relation to the publication of pre-school service inspection reports, the HSE has begun the process of publishing retrospective reports on-line, and this process will continue over the coming weeks and months. All new inspection reports from 1st July will be published on-line on completion. The publication of these reports is being hosted by Pobal, and the reports are available on the Pobal website.

A new registration system has been introduced this month and new services wishing to open will be required to register with the HSE. The HSE will determine whether the childcare service is compliant in terms of suitability and service design before the service will be permitted to operate. Following commencement of the service, actual care and welfare practices will be inspected.

Children in Care

 19. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the extent of the reduction in working hours of child care staff in residential care homes due to cuts in funding. [38728/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald When a child cannot live with his or her parents either on a short or long-term basis, the HSE will, in the first instance, seek a suitable relative or person known to the child to provide relative care. Where there is no relative or person known to the child to provide relative care, the HSE where possible, will place a child in foster care. For young people that are unable to live at home or in an alternative family environment residential care may be considered suitable. Residential care can be in a home run by the HSE or by a voluntary or private company.

There are approximately 140 Children’s Residential Centres in operation. These centres are typically found in domestic homes in housing estates, on the outskirts of towns and villages. The centres typically have between 3 to 6 children. These children are usually in their teens. Children living in the centres attend at local schools and take part in local sporting and community activities. Staff work a shift system and young people are allocated a key-worker.

The HSE has advised me that no HSE Social Care Worker staff hours have been reduced due to cuts in funding.

All children’s residential centres are inspected against National Standards for Children’s Residential Centres developed by the Department of Health. The HSE inspect and register children’s residential centres run by the private and voluntary sectors. HIQA inspects children’s residential centres run by the HSE and inspection reports are published on the HIQA website.

Child Care Reports

 20. Deputy Seán Kyne Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if the fact that childcare facility inspection reports are compiled in long hand and then stored for scanning and online publication by another staff member is contributing to a delay in publicising reports; and if consideration will be given to providing inspectors with tablet computers to enable a speedier and more efficient process. [38606/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald A very significant reform programme is underway in the pre-school inspection service. This involves the introduction of new national standards against which all services will be inspected. This will bring about greater consistency and transparency in the inspection process. All new reports completed by inspectors are now being published on-line, providing open access to the public to inspection findings. In addition, my Department is working with the HSE pre-school inspection service to clearly distinguish very serious breaches of Regulations from those that are more minor. I have also undertaken to strengthen existing legislation to allow the HSE to more robustly pursue providers who do not meet inspection requirements.

Finally, the staff of the HSE's pre-school inspection service will transfer to the new Child and Family Agency which will be established shortly. New national management arrangements are being introduced to ensure consistency and the best use of resources.

All of these reforms require significant changes on the part of pre-school inspectors while continuing to undertake a demanding programme of inspections. I believe the Deputy's suggestion is worthy of consideration, although the feasibility of introducing such a change on a large scale basis in the short term in the current context would be of concern. I have asked the HSE to consider the matter as part of the programme underway to enhance the effectiveness and operational efficiency of the pre-school inspection service.

Proposed Legislation

 21. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the new legislation she will introduce over the remaining months of 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38724/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My legislative priorities for this Dáil session are to introduce the Children First Bill and the Children (Amendment) Bill and to progress the Child and Family Agency Bill through the Houses.

The Government approved the drafting of the Children First Bill on 24th   July 2013. The draft General Scheme and Heads of Bill had previously been considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. Following consideration of that Committee’s extensive report and the resolution of significant policy, operational and legal issues, the General Scheme and Heads of Bill were revised.

  Drafting of the Children First Bill is progressing well and it is my intention that the Bill be introduced during this Dáil session.

  On 19 April 2013, the Government approved the drafting of the Children (Amendment) Bill 2013, to provide for the amendment of Parts 9 and 10 of the Children Act 2001 on the basis of the Heads and General Scheme. The main purpose of the Bill is to amalgamate the children detention schools in the interests of achieving efficiencies. The Bill is currently being drafted. It is intended that the Bill will be introduced during this session.

  Subject to finalisation of matters related to the Children’s Referendum, I intend to introduce the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2013 to the House. This will be along the lines of the General Scheme of Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2013 which I published in order to inform consideration of the proposed Constitutional amendment on children.

  As you know, second stage of the Child and Family Agency Bill concluded in this House on 17 July 2013 and Committee stage will be taken on 3 October next. It is my intention to progress this Bill through to enactment before the end of this year. The Agency will then be established at the earliest possible date following enactment.


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