Speech by Minister Frances Fitzgerald T.D. at the Publication of the Final Report of the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency
Friday July 20th 2012
I want to start with some numbers.
Is the number of major statutory reports on child protection failings in Irelands we have had since 1980.
Is the number of Agencies involved with just one young person who was subject to the most recent report, that of the Independent Child Death Review Group
Is the number of years that passed before the board of the HSE first put child protection on the agenda of one of its meetings.
For too long in this country, child and family services have not been priorities.
For too long in this country, too many different agencies and services all did their own things – no joined-up thinking; no working together.
For too long, children have been failed.
Today I am delighted to launch the Final Report of the Task Force on the Child and Family Service Agency, which is central to responding to those failings.
The Taskforce was presented with detailed terms of reference and was asked to report to me with advice and recommendations to be considered in the design of a new Agency.
What they have come back with is the outline of one of the most significant shifts in child welfare in the state’s history.
We are going to move from a position where child and family welfare was barely a priority, to a position where it will be the sole focus of a single dedicated state agency, overseen by a single dedicated government Department.
I wish to welcome the Chair, Ms. Maureen Lynott and the members of the Task Force; and I wish to express my sincere gratitude to you for your hard work over recent months in producing this report and its recommendations.
I wish to welcome Mr. Gordon Jeyes, CEO-Designate of the new Agency, who as National Director of HSE Child and Family Services is already delivering much-needed change.
I wish also to welcome Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary-General of my Department, and Task Force member; whose leadership continues to be so important in the implementation of our change agenda.
The authors of this report have sought to exploit, as it says in the document: a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to fundamentally reform children’s services in Ireland.
This report maps out a way forward for Irish child and family services, under a single agency.
It maps out a vision, a governance structure, a service model.
It maps a range of services, brought together in a manner that has never been achieved before.
This Government’s overarching intention has always been clear.
We must break down the barriers between agencies and services.
We must have much more seamless integration of policy and service delivery, not fragmentation.
We must do better for children and families.
This week the Cabinet approved the drafting of legislation for the establishment of the new agency and for a new reality in service provision for children and families.
It will take time for us to create that new reality out of the rubble of a system that has been crumbling for decades. But this report is a major step on the road.
It’s major because it outlines how to the new agency will address – and finally resolve – the problems that have dogged the system.
This agency will have real accountability; every senior executive must have child and family services as their exclusive job.
Never again will child and family welfare be just another responsibility on the overloaded desk of a health service manager.
This agency will dissolve the silos between services.
We must ensure that one branch of the state system, while trying to get support for a child or family, is not hampered or ignored by another branch of the same state.
This agency must create efficiency and excellence out of systemic chaos.
This report is a major step in resolving the long-established systemic issues that the Independent Child Death Review Group outlined last month. That Report showed what happens when you have people trying their best in a system that is broken. It showed that in some cases children had five, ten, fifteen separate interactions with services but with not enough logical connection between them, not enough shared information, not enough shared objectives and not shared oversight.
Never again should we discover that resources are being wasted in well-meaning – but chronically inefficient – un-coordinated service provision.
This agency will – over time - bring us to a position where services are planned; and don’t just happen. Where there are national standards, national data, common national procedures and where the chronic waste is converted into efficient systemic delivery for the most vulnerable.
The process will start with the existing HSE Child and Family Programme, led by National Director Gordon Jeyes; and with the existing Family Support Agency, including its nationwide network of 106 Family Resource Centres.
In support of this, I have increased the budget for 2012 and recruited 60 further social workers; and as this week’s latest figures indicate that the filling of vacancies, which have arisen since the start of this year, has been proceeding and the total number of child and family social workers is increasing.
Although, as this report makes clear, we must shift from an assumption that all child protection problems can be solved by social workers alone, to an understanding that delivery of child and family services is about blending mental health interventions, primary care, public health nursing, youth justice, domestic violence supports, community outreach, child protection and child welfare as well as numerous other functions into one efficient, coherent service.
At the heart of the new Agency will be a new Service Delivery Framework, which will differentiate between child welfare and protection cases, such that family and child welfare concerns can be responded to by new multi-agency, community-based models for early intervention and family support.
The new Agency will represent the practical application of a new approach towards 'proportionate' service responses – an approach which will be also at the heart of the Constitutional Amendment on Child Protection which the Government and I will put before the people later this year.
We will create new multidisciplinary local teams.
We will bring various local services under one local manager.
We will get people working in unison, working together for children.
We will establish a single, consistent mechanism for assessment, referrals and tracking supported a new child protection notification system. So whether a child comes to the attention of social worker or an educational welfare office or a Garda Diversion Project, that child will come in to a single system; a single continuum of services all focused on that child’s wellbeing.
We will put in place sustainable systems to manage caseloads.
Children in Care
There are over 6,200 Irish children in care of the state. The number of children in care increased by 195 during 2011.
We are fortunate in this country that over 91% of children in care are in foster care in a stable family setting.
We are fortunate that we have so many dedicated foster carers willing to open their homes to children in need;
We are fortunate that so many young people’s experience of the care system is as positive and rewarding as ever possibly could be
In addition we have 1,340 further young people receiving aftercare and I am pleased that services have greatly improved in recent years.
But challenges remain from the use of overly-expensive private care arrangements to the need for more strategic management of special care and high-support.
Again, we have begun to address these challenges. For example, as a result of the €21m budget increase which I secured for HSE Child & Family Services for 2012, the proportion of children with an allocated social worker has increased since the start of this year; and in fact is up significantly since 2009. Similarly, in recent months the number of foster carers awaiting final approval has been reduced.
But it’s not just about improved practice on the ground. It must equally be about improved management nationally.
We will dispense with layers of bureaucracy; and establish direct lines of accountability, from area manager to CEO.
We will ensure we collect, collate and then utilise real-time data on demands and performance so as to better manage service provision and to better allocate resources.
We must ensure more sustainable budgetary planning.
We must deliver real value-for-money and effectiveness.
Of course, a number of relevant services will never form part of the Agency, such as Gardai and schools and GPs. So we will have to build interface processes with these services, just as we will have to do with some of the services which are referred to in the Task Force report but which may remain situated in other settings.
The further development of local structures, building on the 16 existing Children’s Services Committees, will be a key step in building these interfaces at a local level; and this will be a key policy priority for my Department, to be addressed in the Children’ and Young People’s Policy Framework which is currently being prepared.
In summary, all of this is about reform.
Reform has been the hallmark of this government’s approach to every sphere of national life.
We see it in economic and fiscal reform, in banking reform, in reform of our insolvency laws.
And today’s report; and our broader agenda; are equally important elements of this government’s reform programme.
Indeed the establishment of this new Agency must; and will represent public service reform in practice.
Gordon Jeyes, Jim Breslin and I are committed to this; and we will be championing a change that is greater in scope and challenge than has ever before been attempted in the area of child and family services. This government is committing to this effort in a way no government has, and we are supported by the most dedicated and expert people available.
Press Release on the publication of the Report of the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency
For more about the Child and Family Support Agency click here