Minister FitzGerald on Child Services Policies

Dear Member,

I thought it would be useful to provide you with an update on the
comprehensive and ambitious reform agenda that the Department of
Children and Youth Affairs and I are driving. This reform programme,
of course, sets the context for the referendum on children which the
government is committed to holding this autumn.

My Department has the task of strengthening child protection and
improving the outcomes for all children and young people. We have
already made significant reforms in these areas.

Our reform agenda represents an essential response to many of the
recommendations of the various reports which have been published on
child protection, and the legacy of child protection failures in Irish
history.

Central to our reform programme is my plan to take child protection
services out of the HSE and into a new dedicated Child and Family
Support Agency. This Agency will be up and running by 2013, and will
mean a move from a situation where child and family welfare was barely
a priority, to a position where it will be the sole focus of a single
dedicated agency, overseen by a single dedicated government
department.

I recently published the final report of the taskforce that I set up
to advise on how to best organise services for children in this
country. This report maps out an executive agenda for the development
of our services, so that we can do the very best for parents, children
and families.

The report is available here should you wish to review it. I look
forward to continuing discussions with all my political colleagues,
and all those providing essential services to children around the
country, as I continue to work on the establishment of this agency,
and indeed as I bring forward legislation on Children First, the
national guidance for the protection and welfare of children.

During the summer, I was joined by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, at the
launch of the New HIQA National Standards for the Protection and
Welfare of Children for the HSE Children and Family Services. For the
first time ever, we now have a standards-led approach to these
services and this is central to enforcing a new culture of quality,
effectiveness and accountability in our child protection system.

We have delivered real reform in the area of youth justice. I moved
quickly to introduce changes which had been recommended for decades,
but never acted upon. In April, I announced that I would end the
practice of sending under-18s to St Patrick’s Institution, and secured
€50 million for the development of new child detention facilities at
Oberstown. The path from St. Patrick’s to Mountjoy has been well worn
through the decades, and I hope this change will help end that cycle.

My Department recently ran a massive online public consultation which
gave children, young people and parents the opportunity to help shape
government policy affecting children and young people. Young Fine Gael
helped promote this successful initiative, and people right around the
country participated in this consultation, which my Department will be
using to help shape the Children and Young People’s National
Framework.

Despite the pressure to deliver €3.8billion of cuts and savings, this
Government showed its commitment to children and young people in
protecting the future of the universal free pre-school year.

We also provided €6million in capital funding for 290 childcare
settings around the country. In 2012, my Department will have provided
€57million in funding to youth work services and we previously
provided €1.7million in capital funding for youth cafés, many of which
I have opened around the country.

Over the summer, I published Ireland’s first guidelines for the
responsible retailing of children’s wear. These guidelines were
prepared by Retail Ireland on foot of an invitation I issued earlier
this year to address increasing concerns over the sexualisation of
childhood.

I believe this voluntary code will play an important and constructive
role in informing future decision-making by retailers. I have been
overwhelmed by the warm and positive reaction I have received for this
from parents.

I have been working closely with the Adoption Authority of Ireland
(AAI) to improve systems for people involved in inter-country
adoption. At present, the AAI are working with countries including
Vietnam and India on finalising administrative agreements.

The Authority has travelled to a number of jurisdictions in order to
make contact with the Central Authorities to advise of our processes
and procedures and asses the need for additional administrative
arrangements. If you have a particular query in relation to
inter-country adoption you might like to contact my advisor Marion at:
marion_mannion@dcya.gov.ie.

I hope this snapshot demonstrates the depth and breath of our ongoing work.

I have had the privilege of visiting every constituency in the country
since I became Minister. It’s been a pleasure meeting so many of our
members and councillors and engaging with local organisations and
families, opening youth cafes and youth services, and meeting with
childcare providers.

I hope to meet as many members as possible during the upcoming
campaign when I tour constituencies asking people to support the
referendum on children. I will be in touch with you in the coming
weeks, once the wording of the referendum has been finalised, to
explain the detail of the proposed amendment.

I want to thank you for the warm support I have received in carrying
out my job since I became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. If
I can be of any assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact
me. You can reach me directly at: frances.fitzgerald@oir.ie.

Kind regards.

Yours Sincerely,

Frances Fitzgerald TD
Minister for Children & Youth Affairs