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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015

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

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015

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Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015
Bills
Snippet Contents:

I want to know is it a case where services are refusing inspections for registration or is similar language used for other types of inspections. It seems quite severe language. My understanding is services really want to be registered. They want to be able to say to parents that they have been checked and inspected. Perhaps we will look more deeply into that on Committee Stage.
I will focus mainly on the issue of aftercare. We are moving from a discretionary model to a statutory model, albeit a statutory model where one will get a plan and not necessarily the resources. I heard what the Minister said in that regard. That has to be welcomed because change is incremental. To begin to include this in legislation is very welcome.
Obviously, the difficulty is that there will be gaps in that provision. Senators have quoted figures provided by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service that approximately 500 children leave the care of the State and go into aftercare each year. When one drills down into those figures, 80%, or 400 of them, were reported as having an allocated social worker. If one drills down further, 90%, or 360 of those 400, are in some form of stable accommodation. That really worried me because it means there are 140 children who leave the care of the State who we are failing. I agree with the Minister that we have 360 children for whom we are getting it right. It is happening naturally. They are probably in foster care. They are probably in more secure environments. The difficulty is, when one looks at these figures, there are 140 children who are either in unstable accommodation or have no social worker. Those are the children I will be trying to focus the lens on when we look through this Bill to strengthen it to ensure the continuity of care that is so important for children.
In preparing for today, I re-read the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Norah Gibbons. In the summary of concerns, the report states: That is where we need to move. I understand some of the caveats in the Bill but the difficulty is that while the young person has a right to refuse, that must be a considered and informed choice. There must be an obligation on the State to ensure that such is a considered and informed choice and it is not done because of the precarious situation that they are in at present.
I am also concerned about certain groups of children who may not be captured in the scope of the Bill. I refer to children in detention schools who, merely because of their pathway, whether they went down the justice pathway or the welfare pathway, have ended up in a detention school rather than in care. What will happen those children?
There is also the requirement of other public bodies to meet the needs of the care leaver, for example, the right to housing. What scope will the Child and Family Agency have to access those? Will there be a prioritisation of the need of that young person or will he or she be put in the queue with every other person?
On the assessment of needs, I welcome the much wider scope in the Bill. That is really good, but I wonder should certain issues, such as mental health, disability, or immigration and family reunification, also be part of that consideration. I want to look at the wording to ensure that those issues are part of that consideration.
As I stated at the briefing yesterday, I am concerned that the Child and Family Agency "may" rather than "shall" continue to provide assistance to the young person. We should be saying "shall" clearly.
I am also concerned about the upper age of 23. The reality of these young people leaving the care system is that in the majority of cases they are considerably behind their peers in terms of educational attainment. Many have had disjointed education. Many need to resit junior and leaving certificates or complete PLCs before, hopefully, going on to third level education. Given that masters degrees are the new undergraduate degrees, the levels of young people not in education, employment or training, and the spiralling rent prices throughout Ireland, it is not uncommon for young people to remain in the family home until their mid to late 20s. According to EUROSTAT, the average age of a young person in Ireland leaving home is 25. Surely, these young people, for whom the State has been parent, should have a similar provision. I would like to see us, not necessarily in law, looking at such flexibility where that young person is making a concerted effort and requires continuing support. How do we ensure that the plan is in place?
Although sometimes it is due to the difference between legislation, regulations and policies, the reference in section 45(5) of the principal Act to "subject to available resources" regarding the aftercare plan worries me. We develop a plan, everybody agrees it is a great plan but it is subject to available resources. I refer to the consequences of not providing those resources to an individual young person. There is no other safety net for them. There is nowhere else for them to turn. The consequences are quite severe and at times can be fatal, as the child death report clearly showed us. How do we ensure that, where possible, those resources are provided? I welcome that the plan is in place six months before, but what about those first set of children to whom I referred who, at 16, are in stable foster care. Why can we not provide them with that plan at age 16 so they will know when they turn 18 that it is there? I understand the legislative basis on which the six-months period is provided for. I am merely concerned that such people will then have to wait six months before getting their plan.
I have met too many of these young people who are dreading their 18th birthday who feel that blowing out the candle on their birthday cake extinguishes their supports and overnight they will become adults who must stand on their own two feet. The Bill goes a considerable way to address that. I want to ensure that those young people know it is not only a piece of paper but that the State really believes in them and really wants to ensure that the safety net is there, those supports are there and we are taking on our responsibility of being the parent for them.
I could obviously say so much more but I have got the signal from the Chair. I will bring up any issues I have on Committee Stage. I am concerned, for example, that out-of-hours services are not available and whether they will be available for these children who are particularly vulnerable.