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Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 887 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy] Many of them are non-relative childminders and many of them are dealing with children numbering more than three. It is imperative that we refer to childminding explicitly in the legislation. As I stated, good legislation must be consistent. Given that the Minister has referred explicitly to occupational therapists, I would expect him to follow suit with this amendment and refer explicitly to childminders.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Schedule 2 lists professions or occupations for the purpose of specifying classes of persons to be mandated persons in accordance with this Bill. Amendment No. 4 proposes to include a person taking care of one or more children in the home who is not a relative of the child. The categories of persons set out in Schedule 2 were included in the Schedule on the basis of their professional qualifications and their ongoing contact with children. The focus on a small qualified cadre of mandated reporters will, based on evidence, improve the quality of reports made to the agency. The receipt by the agency of better quality reports from persons who by virtue of their training, qualifications and professional experience are well equipped to recognise harm to a child is likely to have a positive effect on the process of assessment of risk to a child.

The list of mandated persons was developed following detailed consideration of both the objectives of the legislation and the research paper on how mandatory reporting is dealt with internationally. As already indicated, the persons included in the list have been selected on the basis that their qualifications, role and professional expertise mean they are aware of risks to children and their responsibilities in that regard. It is anticipated that reports from these persons are likely to be of high quality, and this will assist the agency in carrying out assessments of risk in a more effective and efficient manner.

The childminding sector is not an homogenous one. A wide variety of arrangements, including personal family arrangements, pertain. In that context, it was considered overly onerous to impose a mandatory requirement on such an heterogenous group of providers. However, it is important to note that, while not required to do so under this legislation, any person can and should report any concern about a child to the agency in accordance with the Children First national guidelines, which will operate in tandem with the legislation. This position applies to childminders in addition to any other person who has contact with a specific child or children, whether in the context of service provision or otherwise. By comparison, the formal childminding sector, comprising crèches, will be covered by requirements relating to child safeguarding statements and mandated reporting. The Deputy's concern to protect this group of children should be alleviated by the fact that there are many other professionals in contact with this roup of children, including nurses, who are mandated persons, and also general practitioners. In this regard, the recent extension of GP medical cards to children under six should ensure greater contact between this group of children and their general practitioners, who are themselves mandated persons under the legislation. For these reasons, I am not accepting amendment No. 4.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I listened to the Minister's closing sentences. It is not about alleviating my concerns but about eliminating all of the circumstances in question. One should make no mistake about the fact that we will not get the chance to revisit this legislation in the foreseeable future if we are to exclude a reference to the childminder sector. The sector comprises a significant body of people right across the country who are providing daily care and oversight in respect of children in a variety of settings, but primarily the home of the childminder rather than the home of the child, although it is the latter in some instances.

It would be a major omission not to include a reference to childminders and childminding. I know this is the view of a substantial number of voices in the non-governmental sector, who have lobbied strongly in this regard. We are very clear in the amendment, tabled by Deputy McLellan, that we are not talking about including a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such a relative. That is not the setting and the Minister made reference to that in his response. We are talking here about children unconnected to the provider.

It is essential that we put into practice the oft-quoted reference within the Proclamation to cherishing all children equally. There can be no exceptions. If we allow this legislation to proceed without the inclusion of a reference to childminders, we will be failing abysmally. I will not be an obstacle to the passage of this legislation. It is important and I support it but it is deficient and will not have achieved all that it needs to and could achieve. These are the closing moments in which to ensure we pass on legislation that is truly worthwhile and inclusive. I urge the Minister again to reconsider the amendment in the name of Deputy McLellan.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I do not want to let the opportunity pass to respond to a statement made by Deputy Troy. He said the Child and Family Agency is not fit for purpose. I reject that because I believe it is. There will always be a case for more resources. I made it very clear that in the upcoming Estimates process I will fight for more resources for the agency. I expect that the agency will give me a good evidence-based business plan that will support its case.

With regard to Deputy Ó Caoláin's concerns, I have already made it very clear, in respect of our first two amendments, that we are to keep the operation of this legislation under review. If what we intend is not the result, we will revisit the areas that are required to be revisited. However, I do not expect childminders will comprise one of the issues to be revisited.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin While I would love to be able to concur with the Minister, I am sorry I cannot. This setting could very likely present as one of real, current and topical concern, just as many such settings, both domestically and internationally, have been the focus of not inconsiderable concern and the focus of substantial sections of the media.

Deputy Troy referred to some 50,000 children. I am not able to confirm that number but I have no doubt it is at least as great as that across this State. It is essential that we recognise it is not just about four or more children, as referred to in the 1991 Child Care Act. The first, second and third children, in any combination and as catered for in any of the childminding settings across this State, are equally deserving of the full protection of this legislation. They should be "children first" in equal measure. Again, I appeal to the Minister to address this. He is missing a real and important opportunity. Speaking of keeping the legislation under review and revisiting it in time is a very inadequate position to adopt. This is our time and I hope current Members of this House will be able to pass on to those who will follow us legislation that is truly fit for purpose and inclusive. That is why this amendment is before the Minister once again.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I support my colleague. This matter was debated at length on Committee Stage. It is regrettable that the Government is not taking the amendment on board.

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