Speaking before a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, the minister also revealed that at the end of last year, there were 6,160 children in care, while as many as 71 social workers are expected to step down this month as part of the state retirement plan.
As many as 50 of those could be working in child and family services, but Ms Fitzgerald said new social workers had been employed or were in the process of beginning work, helping to fulfil recommendations made in the Ryan Report.
She told the committee:
* Fewer young people were being detained for criminal offences but more were going into care.
* The Government intends to hold the long-awaited referendum on children’s rights this year.
* Associated legislation on issues such as adoption will be published in advance of the referendum.
* She is not opposed to Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan being allowed to receive complaints from juveniles staying in St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders, but the plan is to secure some funds to begin work on a new youth justice facility at Oberstown in Co Dublin.
* Work is continuing on areas including legislation on the Children First Bill and preparation for the establishment of the new Child and Family Support Agency.
On the issue of neglect she said many referrals were linked to parental drug and alcohol dependence which was “very disturbing”.
She said that of the 6,160 children in care at the end of 2011, 5,176 had a written care plan in place.