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Family Resource Centres (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon] In Longford-Westmeath more than 50 activities are undertaken at the various centres. The FRC core grant was frozen from 2008 and a 5% cut was implemented in 2012. This was despite an ever-increasing demand for services and increased costs. Given the current level of austerity, poverty and exclusion being experienced in deprived communities, front-line services are more important than ever.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Deputy. He will have a further two minutes later.

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon I will finish now. It is essential that these facilities be recognised as flagship programmes in the new child and family support agency. The FRC programme should have its own budget management, data collection systems, and community policy and practice so that it can continue its work for our communities in the harsh reality of the current economic and social climate.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. He can certainly reassure the local family resource centres, on whose behalf he raised the issue, that their future will not be compromised and will be supported under the new agency. The programme for Government commits to a series of reforms in the provision of children and family services. A key part of this reform agenda is a new child and family support agency, which will be established next year.

The Government has recently approved the heads of the child and family support agency Bill and has agreed to the priority drafting of the Bill. The preparations are being prioritised so that the agency can be established in 2013. From the beginning that agency will have responsibility for a range of services, including child welfare and protection services currently operated by the HSE, and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services. This is the first time we will have a dedicated agency with its sole focus on all these issues, separated from the HSE.

The decision we have taken has been informed by the work of the task force which met all of last year and published its report in July of this year. I agree with the task force recommendations that the agency should be as broadly based as possible and should include a range of prevention, early intervention, family support and therapeutic care interventions. The work of the agency will include a particular focus on the provision of those services which help prevent problems arising for a family. It will identify problems and provide supports at an early stage, and assist children and families in managing serious problems requiring interventions beyond its own resources.

It is my intention therefore, that the agency will have a strong role in supporting families and communities. The 106 family resource centres throughout the country, including those the Deputy mentioned, will play a strong role. Responsibility for the current programme operated by the Family Support Agency will transfer to the child and family support agency upon its establishment. It will build on the excellent work the resource centres have undertaken with families and communities throughout the country. I have seen many of them at first hand and seen the work they have done. The Deputy mentioned the range of 50 activities in the resource centres in his area. I fully support that work and want to see it continuing in the new agency alongside its child protection work. They are two sides of the same coin and both are very important.

Regarding funding, the Family Support Agency, like many other State bodies, has been asked to make savings across all the programmes it administers. It is required to achieve savings of 5% per annum over the years from 2012 to 2014 on the costs of the family resource centre programme. This is tough on the centres but the cut is less than others have been asked to take in the current climate in order to get our finances right. The Family Support Agency has written to family resource centres advising them of the reduction in funding and the need to plan for this change. I am aware of the challenges the reduction in funding raises for the family resource centres on which increasing numbers of people rely. However, the Family Support Agency has not stipulated how centres should apply the revised level of funding. They have been asked, for example, to focus on the scope for greater efficiency and for a reduction in the administration and overhead costs associated with the day-to-day running of the centres, with the objective of supporting as far as possible, the services the centres provide to families and groups at local level.

The Family Support Agency and the family resource centre programme will form an integral part of the new agency that will come into being next year. Supporting families at all stages of their lives, particularly during more difficult times, is at the core of the work of family resource centres and this complements the priorities of both my Department and the new agency.

The new agency and the wider transformation of children's services represent one of the largest and most ambitious areas of public sector of reform embarked upon by the Government. Its establishment will bring a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children's services for the first time in the history of the State and is long overdue. In time it will contribute to the transformation of essential services for families and communities.

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon I thank the Minister for her response. However, in the spirit of Christmas, it is not quite the gift for which I hoped. In her response she said, "The Family Support Agency has written to family resource centres advising them of the reduction in funding and the need to plan for this change." While I understand there is nothing permanent, I accept change. I understand the great demands on the State coffers, but it is not an adequate excuse. However, I know the Minister is constrained by finances.

Aside from funding the Minister has made some concessions, but not enough for me to be satisfied. I will continue to lobby the Government on behalf of the centres in Longford-Westmeath until their societal benefits are fully recognised and rewarded. I have visited those centres and know the amount of work they have done and how beneficial they are to rural deprived communities. Being penny-wise and pound-foolish can result in greater costs in the future and does not make economic sense. I have every confidence that the Minister will do a good job. On her next visit to Longford-Westmeath I hope she will take time to visit the centres in my constituency and see the great work of the people working at the coalface and to meet the people who have benefited greatly from the services over the years.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I agree with the Deputy on the value of the work being done. However, a core part of delivering our services is to reform certain aspects of them. While I said it was up to the local resource centres to decide how to deal with these budget cuts, they need to look at the areas I mentioned. However, the most important thing for us in Government is that the national finances should be in order and that we return to economic growth. When we are in that position the family resource centre programme will be a key area to develop. Such centres reach out to families at an early stage. Early intervention makes economic sense as well as personal and social sense for the people who receive the services. I hope the Deputy understands the situation we are in. We need to take the kind of action I have outlined. However, this is also a period of opportunity for the family resource centres with the new alignment and the new agency. That will be of benefit to their work and will bring coherence at local level to the work done by the child protection services and the family support work being done in communities. That alignment is vital in giving good services to children and families. I again thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I would be very happy to continue to visit family resource centres throughout the country, including in Deputy Bannon's constituency.

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