At least 16 children are awaiting a special care placement and the actual figure could be as high as 40, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald heard yesterday.
Ms Fitzgerald attended a Seanad debate on the progress of the Child and Family Agency, and heard Senator Jillian van Turnhout say some children, who could be suffering from self-harming, suicidal behaviour, and substance abuse, were on a waiting list for a special care placement.
Such a placement requires a High Court order, but Ms van Turnhout also said she understood those in charge of overseeing applications on behalf of children were also those in charge of special care facilities, a duplication she said could lead to a situation where “if we don’t have a place, we don’t make an application”.
A relatively small number of children are involved in such cases and an order must be sought before the High Court.
One special care facility, Rath na nÓg, was strongly criticised in a recent report by the Health Information and Quality Authority, after which the HSE closed it.
Ms Van Turnhout said: “It is my understanding that there are currently 16 children on a waiting list. But, in reality, there are as many as 40 children in need of a special care placement.
“I cannot understand how there can be a waiting list for special care.”
She said some children were being placed in care facilities overseas and added: “Can we not develop a home-grown solution that would be in the best interests of children?”
Ms Fitzgerald said the latest figures she had, as of earlier this month, detailed 17 children in secure special care and five in high support units.
She said there were proposals to increase the current capacity from 17 to 35 places, with nine places coming on stream next year and the remainder in the following two years.
The bill to establish the new agency is progressing through the Oireachtas, and it could be operational by Jan 1.
It will remove many of the areas of responsibility for child protection and welfare from the HSE.
Ms Van Turnhout said the agency could prove “a monumental step forward” but queried whether the budget for its first year, at around €545m, would be sufficient.
Ms Fitzgerald stressed the need for inter-agency work to help with the agency, and said: “I have to fight for the budget like every other minister.”
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