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Other Questions - Children in Care

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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 93.  Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  the number of children on turning 18 years who have left high support units or special care units during each of the past five years; and the number of these children who did not receive aftercare services. [23955/12]

 114.  Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  if she will introduce after care as a legal right for young persons in care who turn 18 years in line with pre-election commitments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24027/12]

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 114 together.

The HSE has advised me that four young people left high support or special care units in each of the past five years on reaching 18 years of age. Therefore, there are 20 young people in total. I can confirm that an aftercare plan was in place on leaving care in each case. This is in line with the policy that young people who leave care with an assessed need should receive aftercare. I am satisfied this policy is being implemented correctly and young people with an assessed need are being offered appropriate aftercare support. I am advised by the HSE that a total of 1,310 young people were in receipt of aftercare at the end of March 2012.

Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a statutory duty on the HSE to form a view in regard to each person leaving care as to whether there is a so-called need for assistance and, if it forms such a view, to provide services in accordance with the legislation and subject to resources. All young people who have had a care history with the HSE, be it foster care, residential care or high support care, are entitled to an aftercare service based on their assessed needs. The core eligible age range for aftercare is 18 to 21 years. This can be extended until the completion of a course of education in which one is engaged up to the age of 23 years.

The most important requirement for young people leaving care is secure, suitable accommodation, in addition to further education, employment or training and social support. The most vulnerable group of young people leaving care comprises those who have dropped out of education and training and those who have left residential care. Some of these young people may have mental health problems or a disability. Aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. There is, therefore, a need for a proper assessment that identifies a young person’s need for accommodation, financial support, social network support and training and education in the months before his or her 18th birthday. The level of support required will vary for each individual. It is essential that all young people leaving care be provided with the type of transitional support their individual circumstances require. There is no doubt the provision of an appropriate aftercare service is a key element in achieving positive outcomes for young people leaving care. Some 90% of children in care are in foster care and a large number of these remain living with their foster families, supported financially by the HSE on reaching 18 years of age. These young people continue in education and training as planned. That remains a key component of aftercare for young people when they leave care.

The HSE national aftercare service is underpinned by a national policy and procedures document which is being developed in co-operation with the key stakeholders, including the [236]voluntary sector agencies involved in aftercare provision and my Department. The policy which was finalised in April 2010 commits to promoting and achieving the best outcomes for young people leaving care and in ensuring consistency of support for these young people. The HSE has established an inter-agency national aftercare implementation group to monitor progress in implementing the national policy and its work is ongoing. The implementation of the policy and the ongoing provision of aftercare services is being kept under review and I will continue to engage with the HSE on this matter in the course of the year.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin There is still no statutory right to aftercare and there are no guarantees for young people leaving high support units or special care units regarding accommodation or support. Am I right in saying that in response to my question the Minister said that four young people have left either high support or a special care unit in each of the past five years, a total of 20?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Yes.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin In respect of the second part of the question, the Minister said the number of these children who did not receive aftercare services was zero, that they all received aftercare services.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald They all received after care services.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The Minister will be aware there has been great concern in relation to this area for quite a number of reasons that we have articulated here in the past and, indeed, shared. The logical question is whether there is ongoing monitoring of these young people as they make their way through very difficult years into adult life. Is there ongoing monitoring of the level of support? Where the supports were provided, were they appropriate and successful? Did they ensure and guarantee that those young people had at least the comparable opportunity to prepare for the challenges of later years as those placed in foster homes, the greater number of whom would remain in those foster care settings where there is already a strong bonding and relationship with the family unit? I am concerned at the absence of a statutory right to aftercare. Does the Minister plan to ensure this right is provided for? We teased out this issue during a protracted engagement on previous legislation last year. I believe it is something that is absolutely required and I would be interested to hear what she has to tell us in respect of the profile of supports and care provided to the 20 young people of whom she has advised the House.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald It is clear from the information I have given and from other information we have discussed here that there is an increased focus on aftercare services for young people leaving care. I congratulate groups such as EPIC which have highlighted the issue and the young people who have been involved. On Saturday I met a group of young people in care who are part of the implementation group in respect of the recommendations from the report published last year. I have set up a group of young people who are in care to tell us of their experiences and to ensure the recommendations from that report, about the voice of the child in care, are implemented in the coming year. I have said before, and I repeat here, that section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a statutory duty on the HSE to form a view of each child leaving care as to their assessed need for aftercare services. It is important not to underplay the importance of that because that is the statutory provision that places the obligation on the HSE to assess the needs of the young person leaving care and to work out an appropriate plan for him or her.

[237]The information I have received from across the country indicates that increasing levels of resources are being devoted to aftercare services. In addition, the number of those in receipt of aftercare has increased from 800 three years ago to 1,100 today. There has been a steady rise in the number of young people who are leaving care and in respect of whom provision is being made. In response to discussions that took place in the House, I have asked that the HSE routinely collect more quality data for the numbers leaving care each year. The collation of such data would allow us in the coming months and years to consider both the numbers leaving care and the numbers who require aftercare services. Many will remain with foster families.

I do not have details for the 20 young people to whom the Deputy referred, but collating data for them would certainly be a worthwhile exercise. I will see what information I can obtain on these young people. I agree with the Deputy that they are most vulnerable.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin It is because they have been in high support special care units that I am concerned. The fact that they were in those settings means they had particular requirements and high support needs. The position for them is not the same as that for everyone else who reaches the age of 18 years and moves into young adult life. It would be very important to obtain some of the specific details relating to the specific supports which applied to them. I would welcome it if such information was obtained. If possible, I would like to gain some sense of how matters are with these young people. We need to take an ongoing interest in their welfare.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I agree. Of course, there should have been an aftercare plan in place for these 20 young people. There was such a plan, but I concur with the Deputy that there is a need for further research of outcomes. There is also a need to carry out additional research of young people in detention. We need to evaluate outcomes as we do not have enough research findings in these areas. I will certainly see if it is possible to obtain data for the 20 young people in question in order to try to assess what actually happened. There was an aftercare plan in place and I would like to discover what progress was made. These young people would, of course, be most vulnerable, as evidenced by the fact that they were placed in special care by the High Court for their own safety.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue My question on this matter is relatively straightforward. I join Deputy Ó Caoláin in emphasising the importance of providing aftercare services once someone leaves the care of the State on reaching 18 years. When they reach that age, young people who were previously in the care of the State will in many cases continue to have needs and we must ensure they are met. Why did the Minister do a U-turn on the first item of legislation for which she had responsibility following her appointment? Why did she go against what her party and the Labour Party had been arguing in favour of just weeks before last year’s general election when what became the Child Care (Amendment) Act was being debated in the House? When she and her party colleagues were on this side of the House, they advocated in the context of the legislation to which I refer the imposition of a statutory requirement on the HSE. However, when she became responsible for ensuring the legislation was passed by the Houses, she performed a complete U-turn. Will she explain why she took that course of action and why Fine Gael and the Labour Party changed their positions on this matter after the election?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The answer is very straightforward. The clear advice from the Attorney General confirmed that section 45 was legally sound and placed a statutory responsibility on the HSE to form a view in respect of each person leaving care in the context of whether there was a need for further assistance. If the HSE is of the opinion that there is such a need, it is obliged to provide services in accordance with the section and subject to the [238]availability of resources. The information I have provided clearly shows that there has been an increased focus on aftercare services, that increasing amounts of money are being spend on these services and that more and more young people are in receipt of services. My initial reply also indicates that there were aftercare plans for all of the children who were in special care and who left such care on reaching 18 years.

The practice has certainly changed. The clear legal advice I received from the Attorney General was that section 45 covered the situation legally and that there was no need for further provision. When we debated what became the Child Care (Amendment) Act, I stated that if there was a gap or if the provisions were not being implemented, we could certainly consider introducing further regulations if such a course of action was deemed necessary. I have discussed this matter directly with managers throughout the country and I am aware that quite a demand has been placed on their resources at a time of major financial difficulty. The information they have made available to me indicates that more and more money is being put aside for aftercare services for young people leaving care.


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