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11/04/2015 12:00:00 AM


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Reilly, James

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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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Second Stage

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Senator


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Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly)

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Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy James Reilly)

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James Reilly

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015
Bills
Snippet Contents:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Bill to the House and I look forward to engaging in a constructive debate as the Bill proceeds through the various Stages. The Bill proposes to amend the Child Care Act 1991 and the provisions have three distinct elements relating to aftercare, early years services and technical amendments on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.
The Bill provides for an explicit requirement to prepare an aftercare plan in respect of a specified cohort of children and young people as they transition from State care. The Bill places an absolute obligation on the Child and Family Agency to implement national standardised structured aftercare planning provision. Although operationally the agency has been moving significantly in that direction, the Bill clarifies and copper-fastens the requirement for an aftercare plan. It puts such planning on the same footing as other statutory obligations on the agency. It guarantees that the progress made to date will continue. The Bill also provides for amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 to enable the Child and Family Agency to visit premises where it is proposed that an early years service will be provided, before such a service has been registered with the agency, to ensure they are fit for purpose. In addition, the Bill provides for technical amendments to a number of Acts on foot of the commencement of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.
Aftercare is the term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person who is leaving statutory care at 18 years of age and to assist in making the transition to independent living. It is essential that all young people leaving care are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires. The most important requirements for young people leaving care include continuity of relationships and secure suitable accommodation as well as further education, employment or training. Current aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. Other crucial elements of an aftercare service include advocating on behalf of young people to support their development as fulfilled adults in their community and, when necessary, linking them to targeted adult services. The aftercare planning process is a natural extension of the care planning process. It is a necessary step in supporting and enabling the transition to independent adulthood, a change which can be challenging for many young people.
Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Overall, of approximately 6,400 children in State care, some 93% are in a foster care family placement. On reaching 18 years of age in foster care, a sizeable number of young people remain living with their foster carers either full-time or part-time, if they leave home to continue in third level education. The Child and Family Agency supports these aftercare placements by way of an aftercare plan, in addition to a support worker and financial assistance.
Young people who do not have family support from a foster carer or family base are assisted in finding accommodation in supported lodgings, sheltered housing or independent accommodation and encouraged and supported financially in furthering their training and education. The Child and Family Agency has advised that, as of the end of March 2015, there were 1,720 young people aged between 18 to 22 years, inclusive, in receipt of aftercare service. Of those, some 1,012 or 59% were in full-time education.
Under existing operational policy arrangements an aftercare plan is prepared, in partnership with the young person, to identify supports that the young person requires. In preparing the aftercare plan, some of the supports required will fall to be delivered by the Child and Family Agency and some by other Departments and agencies, for example, income support, health services, education and local authorities, in respect of accommodation. The voluntary youth sector has an important role in supporting young people while in and leaving care by working with local statutory providers in creating a supportive network for young people. By proactively including young people in their programmes and activities, further benefits for these young people may be gained. One of the key objectives of the national youth strategy 2015-20, which I recently launched, is to support young people at critical transition points in their lives. The strategy commits to promoting a stronger role for youth services in supporting young people as they transition from statutory support services, including care arrangements and residential services, to independent living.
The legislative provisions relating to aftercare are being strengthened in response to concerns that there was insufficient focus in this area and that such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. We all remember well some years back some of the terrible tragedies that occurred to children or young adults leaving care. The approach adopted is to impose a statutory duty on the Child and Family Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. This will create an explicit statement of the agency's duty to be satisfied as to the need of the child or young person for assistance by preparing a plan, in consultation with the young person, which identifies their need for aftercare supports.
The Bill builds on the existing provisions of section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provides for a statutory entitlement to an aftercare plan. I am keen to be clear on one point. The Bill does not, nor was it intended to, provide for any change in statutory entitlement to services. The provision of services to which those leaving State care may be entitled is governed by the existing statutory and administrative criteria of the relevant schemes and programmes. As Senators will be aware, all State bodies are obliged to have regard to the resources made available to them in the provision of such services. In this regard, my Department has held meetings with other key Departments in respect of the supports those Departments offer to young people leaving State care. There has been widespread recognition that such young people carry a particular vulnerability.