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 Header Item Child Care Reports (Continued)
 Header Item Private Residential Tenancies Board Remit

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald]  In Dublin south-east the social work department has been restructured and the new arrangements are working more effectively. There has been a blitz on the waiting list there and unallocated cases have been significantly reduced. There are quite a number of other points concerning each area, which are identified in the report. I want to reassure both Deputies that there has been a follow-up implementation plan.

The audit found that parental alcohol misuse was a factor in 62% of families in the overall sample. It states that family dysfunction, which ended up with the kind of neglect that both Deputies have described so graphically, was often associated with chronic alcohol and drug abuse. The audit also found that domestic violence was a key issue, parental mental health issues featured in two thirds of the Dublin cases, and standards of hygiene and physical conditions were unacceptable in more than half the cases.

There is a need to identify neglect at an earlier stage and intervene more effectively. The report makes the point that many children were left in family settings for too long. That is a similar finding to the report on child deaths. The new national approach to managing social work cases involves more streamlined procedures, a national risk-assessment and national standards. It will make a huge difference to the disturbing findings that were outlined in this report.

In addition, we are currently undertaking the recruitment of new social workers. Some 84 were recruited recently and the recruitment of a further 90 is under way.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten We owe it to the children at the centre of the Roscommon case to ensure that their courage and bravery is recognised. No other family should be failed by the State again to the extent that they were.

When will the national audit of neglect files commence? What steps are being taken to develop a national training programme, which was identified in this report, not just within child care services but also in An Garda Síochána, the courts system and the Judiciary? Will a review of other neglect cases take place in light of the inadequate protections that are in place? I refer specifically to Roscommon. Based on the number of neglect files in Roscommon, 50 more families are potentially under threat in circumstances similar to the seven identified in this audit. Will a full audit of all the files take place now?

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Having read this and other reports, we are aware that alcohol and drug abuse is one of the main factors in child care and welfare issues. Is the Minister happy that this report, which was finalised over 14 months ago, only came to her Department in May of this year? Did the Minister receive notification of the report before May?

Given that her Department is hiring additional social workers, I take it that the Minister is no longer satisfied with the current staffing levels. She says that 80 new social workers are being employed with a further 90 coming on stream, but when will they come on stream? Will they be deployed to the relevant areas that are so badly in need of them?

What is being done to ensure that this area is being prioritised? It was clear that children were being neglected and nothing was being done about it. What immediate actions will the Minister take to ensure that in instances where the HSE is aware of neglect concerning child protection and welfare issues, but is not doing its job, a safety net will be put in place to protect children's welfare?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald There is at least a 30-year legacy concerning Ireland not dealing as effectively as it should have with vulnerable children. My Department's goal is to ensure that children do not fall through the cracks. That is why we are changing the way these services are being delivered. We are developing a focused management team and national leadership which was not there before. I would point out that during the previous ten years, as Deputy Naughten rightly observed, these children were being dealt with like this during the so-called Celtic tiger period. We must now focus on ensuring that these children and their families get the kind of services they have not received previously.

The development of the new child and family agency, together with a more structured approach with national standards and greater risk assessment at an earlier stage, will ensure that children will receive a much better service. The recruitment of social workers is an important part of that. The 270 social worker posts, which were recommended by the Ryan report to bring social work teams to an appropriate level, have been recruited. We do have high levels of maternity leave and some sick leave, but recruitment is going on as we speak. Some 84 social workers have been recruited which has to make a difference to the quality of work that is being done.

Major efforts are being made by front-line staff. Training has already started and there is a new awareness of neglect as a result of this report. The work that is being done in each area will make a difference to standards. Each area will commence a review and audit of all child neglect cases. This phase will be implemented in line with the recommendations of the Roscommon report. It will also use the methodology applied to complete the national audit of child neglect cases, which will commence in August 2013.

A lot of work has already been done by the HSE as a result of this report. It complements the work the HSE is doing nationally to ensure that we have services that are fit for purpose and which will meet children's needs. As the report outlined, their needs were clearly not met hitherto.

Private Residential Tenancies Board Remit

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The next matter is in the name of Deputy Derek Keating. The Deputy has four minutes.

Deputy Derek Keating: Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, for attending. I also thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this issue, which is of national importance.

Many Deputies on both sides of the House can relate in some way to the services of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. This arises from the increased dependency over the years by people needing to occupy rented accommodation. As a consequence, they depend on the services of the PRTB when required.

On many occasions in recent years, I have received representations not only from my own constituents but also from others throughout the country who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the PRTB's deliberations. I wish to bring one recent case to the Minister of State's attention. It concerns a young family which is now living in my constituency, but which previously lived elsewhere up to 2008. It vacated rented accommodation and was distressed because it could not recoup a deposit of €2,000 that was due to it from the landlord. It took great heart when three years ago a determination was made by the PRTB that the deposit should be refunded. It could not believe, however, that the landlord did not turn up or engage in the process at all. As a result, it lost heart. The family's opinion of the PRTB is that it is powerless and useless. Five years later, that young family still has not recouped its deposit.

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