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11/04/2015 12:00:00 AM


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Mooney, Paschal

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Bills

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015

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Second Stage

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015\Second Stage
Bills\Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015\Second Stage

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015

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Senator

Senator Paschal Mooney

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Minister


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An Cathaoirleach

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Senator Paschal Mooney

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Paschal Mooney

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015
Bills
Snippet Contents:

I welcome the Minister to the House. Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill. It is a step in the right direction towards the goal of a legal entitlement to aftercare services for all young people leaving care. The Bill imposes a statutory duty on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for such young people. However, we regard this only as a first step. The Department cannot use the legislation as a ruse to distract from the wider issue of adequate service planning for aftercare. It is welcome that Tusla has been given a legal obligation to provide young people with an aftercare plan, but we have some concerns, in that the Bill does not go far enough in obliging Tusla to put a full service framework and necessary resources for aftercare in place. It gives Tusla the "as resources allow" opt-out clause in section 8. Therefore, the Bill will not oblige the organisation to put in place fully resourced aftercare plans that are tailored to the individual needs of all vulnerable people leaving care.
The debate on the Bill allows us to discuss a related issue, that is, who has statutory responsibility for homeless young people and children. Tusla has no statutory duty to provide all children in emergency accommodation with in-reach plans that would ensure practical access to education, recreation, health and social services. The Bill presents an opportunity to oblige the agency in this regard so as to co-ordinate services for families in emergency accommodation and reduce the risk of long-term damage on a child's upbringing and development that might result from a period of homelessness.
In the context of aftercare plans and services for young care leavers, it is essentially to safeguard these vulnerable people who lack the traditional supports on which young adults fall back. Research conducted on permanent care by Empowering People in Care, EPIC, to which the Minister referred, and others has shown that young care leavers are more likely to leave State care with poor coping mechanisms, poor educations, poor life skills and a lack of support and friendships, which leaves them more at risk of feeling isolated, suffering mental health problems, engaging in risky behaviour, self-harm or suicide and becoming young parents. Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Last year, 1,698 18 to 23 year olds were in aftercare. Of these, an impressive 56% were in full-time education.
While the Bill obliges Tusla to provide an aftercare plan, it gives the organisation an opt-out clause. From my experience in the House down the years, "as resources allow" is an opt-out for Governments of all colours because it places no legal obligation on the State to provide those resources. It is a worrying and vague opt-out clause and undermines all other provisions in the Bill, including Tusla's statutory obligation to provide an individually tailored aftercare plan to all young people leaving care.
Currently, Tusla has a statutory obligation to investigate all child protection and abuse claims in a timely manner. Last Monday, however, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, revealed serious deficits in protection and care systems for children administered by Tusla. In his audit, Dr. Muldoon found that Tusla had managed to deal with just one fifth of all reports of child abuse in a timely manner last year. By any measure, this is a gross systems failure on the part of the Minister's Department and Tusla's management. Tusla was set up with the purpose of strengthening the child protection system, but it is failing significantly to investigate child abuse claims immediately. The new agency's failures to protect vulnerable young people is widespread across its service remit, with the ombudsman making the appalling disclosure that children with mental health issues were still being accommodated in adult psychiatric wards. Dr. Muldoon found that, due to bed shortages, many of these children in distressful situations were simply being put on suicide watch instead of being given the care, compassion and specialist treatment that they required. The opt-out clause will not oblige the organisation to put in a place a fully resourced aftercare plan, which is the thrust of the Bill.
We have concerns about whether Tusla will be able to implement the Bill.