Legislation for agency responsible for child protection to be published

Proposed legislation for a new agency that will take over responsibility for child protection services from the HSE will be published today.

Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said the Dáil would next week debate planned legislation to set up the Child and Family Agency and there would be an opportunity to make amendments.

“I am not precious about the committee stage of the bill and, if we can improve the legislation, obviously that is something we will do as we go through it,” she said yesterday, at the launch in Dublin of a new report on the mental health needs of children.

Up to 4,000 staff will be transferred to the new body that is being established in the wake of criticism over the HSE’s handling of child protection and social issues.

Ms Fitzgerald said the agency would have a very strong framework of public accountability from the area manager to the CEO.

The report, Someone to Care, was published by the Children’s Mental Health Coalition and looked at the experiences of eight young people in care. Some of the young people described how multiple placements had affected their ability to form relationships, interfered with schooling, and contributed to ongoing psychological difficulties in their everyday lives.

Ms Fitzgerald said just 2.4% of children in care in 2011 had three or more placements within a 12- month period, but she acknowledged this had to change. “Clearly, this report identifies that there is more work to be done.”

She said HSE figures for Dec 2011 showed 34% of children were in their current placement for more than five years; 42% had been in the same placement for one to five years, and 23% for less than one year.

She said the health authority was continuing to fund foster care for 630 young people over the age of 18.

James Behan, from Tallaght, Dublin, who spent six years in care, helped the report’s authors prepare a questionnaire for the young people interviewed.

James, 21, said he was in residential care until the age of 18. He remains on very good terms with his mother.

He counts himself lucky because he remained in the same care setting.

“At times it was difficult but, overall, I think it did me good because the professionals I came in contact with were strong role models.”

James wants to be a social worker but had to defer his studies last October when he became ill.

He hopes to resume again in the autumn.

While James felt Someone to Care was a good report, with a lot of attention to detail, he felt that the Government would be slow to implement its nine recommendations.

These include the establishment of a common assessment framework and continuing monitoring of young people’s mental health needs.


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