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PQ - Children

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of the fact that more than one third of all asylum seekers living in direct provision are children, if she has been in contact with the Department of Justice to review and update the existing child protection safeguards in direct provision centres; her views on whether the remit of the Health Information and Quality Authority should be extended to inspect the direct provision accommodation centres; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 13 May, 2014

REPLY.   As the Deputy is aware, direct provision centres and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.  His Department has responsibility for the welfare of children in those centres but  I would like to assure the Deputy that I have had ongoing contact with my colleague on this topic and that senior officials within my Department have engaged with the Child and Family Agency  to ensure that children who are living in Direct Provision are afforded the same levels of welfare and protection as their peers in the wider community.

I understand that children are protected in a number of ways in the Direct Provision system - primarily through the Reception and Integration Agency's child protection policy, its house rules and its requirements that all centre staff are Garda vetted.  I also understand that any concerns about the welfare, safety or wellbeing of a child in Direct Provision are reported to the Child and Family Agency in line with Children First.  Referrals include welfare concerns such as a parent being hospitalised, parental illness, a child being left unsupervised by an adult or mental health concerns regarding the parent, while a smaller number would relate to child protection concerns.  There is a specific unit within the Reception and Integration Agency - the Child and Family Services Unit- whose role is to manage, deliver, coordinate, monitor and plan matters relating to child and family services for all asylum seekers living in the Direct Provision system.  Where necessary this Unit also links directly with An Garda Síochána.

The Children First Bill 2013 which is currently before the House further provides that managers of centres providing Direct Provision services are on the schedule of mandated reporters.  Under the Bill such centres are also required to develop and make publicly available a Child Safeguarding Statement.

In relation to the Deputy’s question about extending the Health Information and Quality Authority's remit to inspect direct provision centres, I am advised that the current arrangements is that direct provision centres are monitored three times a year, twice by Department of Justice and Equality staff and once by an external company.  Any decision to change this would be a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the contact she has had with the Department of Justice in relation to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill; her views on whether this legislation should be proofed against Ireland's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

-Mick Wallace T.D.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 13th May, 2014

-REPLY.

 

Correspondence from the Department of Justice and Equality regarding the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill was recently received by my Department and officials are currently considering the submission.

I understand that work is ongoing between the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and officials in the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to the Bill and that it will come before Government again later this year. At such time, my Department will have the opportunity to provide observations on the Bill as part of the normal process of interdepartmental consultation on legislation.

Ireland’s obligations as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are among the considerations that inform a sponsoring department’s preparation of proposed legislation impacting on children. Consideration of the provisions of the Convention in the case of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality.

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To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on reports that only 11 children have been adopted from abroad under the terms of the Hague Adoption Convention, which Ireland ratified in November 2010, even though there are 537 active declarations; her plans to speed up this process; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace For ORAL answer on Thursday, 27th March, 2014.

REPLY.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is a multilateral treaty concluded on May 29, 1993 in The Hague, Netherlands. There are currently 93 contracting states to this Convention. Ireland ratified the Convention on 1st November 2010. Ireland strongly supports the principles of the Convention, which strengthen protections for children, birth parents, and prospective adoptive parents in the adoption process. The Convention provides a framework for Convention countries to work together to ensure that adoptions take place in the best interests of children and to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children in connection with intercountry adoption. The Convention requires authorities to prioritise the improvement of domestic systems for the care and adoption of children.  This is in line with Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has also ratified. The increasing international recognition and commitment to the Hague Convention, particularly amongst a growing number of developing countries, is extremely welcome in providing safeguards for adoption processes and for those children whom are now benefiting from improved child welfare, protection and care arrangements in their own countries.

Under current Irish legislation, applicants who seek an assessment as to their eligibility and suitability to adopt are entitled to that assessment from the Child and Family Agency. The assessment leads to an application to the Adoption Authority for a Declaration of Eligibility & Suitability to Adopt. If the applicants are found to be eligible and suitable, then a Declaration is issued. A declaration allows an applicant to apply to adopt, it is not a guarantee that an adoption will take place. It is now a reality that the numbers of children available for intercountry adoption has fallen worldwide. For example, total number of children adopted into the top twelve receiving states in 2004 was 43,142. In 2011, this figure had dropped to 21,911 or by some 50 per cent.  The Adoption Authority can only authorise placement of children with applicants where the children are available for adoption and have been referred by the sending country in question.

Significant work is under way with suitable countries where there is potential to promote closer cooperation in intercountry adoption matters.  Following Vietnan’s ratification of the Hague Convention Ireland was the first country to conclude an administrative agreement relating to intercountry adoption. A similar agreement has been put in place with the United States.  The Adoption Authority is currently engaging with a number of other Hague Convention countries in relation to intercountry adoptions including the Central Authority for India, China, Thailand and the Philippines.  Haiti is due to enter into the Hague Convention next month and a delegation from the Adoption Authority will visit there next week.  I am also aware that Ethiopia is currently seeking to bring its adoption standards up to those required under the Hague Convention and I have asked the Adoption Authority to keep me updated on the position. It is important to recognise that, although a country may be a member of Hague, legal and administrative obstacles may remain, there may be no children available for adoption or restrictions may be set in relation to the categories of children or prospective adoptive parents qualifying for intercountry adoption.

The Adoption Act, 2010 requires that adoptions from countries which have not ratified the Hague Convention can only take place where there is a bi-lateral agreement in place or under certain transitional arrangements which applied to certain prospective adoptive parents who had commenced the adoption process before the Adoption Act came into effect.  Russia has not ratified the Hague Convention.  However, my Department is continuing its discussion with the Russian authorities with a view to exploring the possibilities of establishing a bi-lateral agreement. I visited Russia in September of last year in this regard and my Department and the Adoption Authority subsequently hosted a visit from the Russian authorities. Official discussions are continuing.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the contact she has had with the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána in relation to allegations that prejudice against Travellers is endemic within An Garda Síochána and that Traveller children, including a 16 day old baby, have been registered on the PULSE system and ascribed a criminal intelligence number without any proper foundation; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace For ORAL answer on Thursday, 27th March, 2014. REPLY.

I can inform both deputies that I have had no contact with the Department of Justice and Equality or with An Garda Síochána in relation to the matter outlined in the questions above. I have no function in this matter. I am aware that my colleague Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter has recently replied to similar questions which have been put to him in this matter.

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To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on reports that at least 200 social work posts are currently vacant even though there have been significant increases in the number of reports of children at risk of abuse or neglect; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  - Mick Wallace For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 12th February, 2014.

REPLY.

The staffing complement for the Child and Family Agency (CFA), which was established on 1 January, 2014 includes 1,385 social workers who transferred from the HSE. The complement was determined following a detailed census and re-classification process undertaken in 2013, through which social workers were formally assigned to particular care groups, including children and families. This work was necessary in order to prepare for the establishment of the new Agency and to allow for the transfer of designated staff.

Staffing vacancies arise for various reasons including retirements, resignations, career breaks and unpaid leave.  In addition, gaps in service cover arise where staff are on paid leave.  Social work staffing levels across the whole country are at 93% according to the CFA.   Vacancies are covered by temporary staff as required to ensure staffing levels do not fall to an unsafe level.  This is risk assessed by Area Managers.

Over the past 18 months a total of 153 social work posts have been filled. In addition to this, there are a further 181 posts in the process of being recruited.

23 of these have been offered and accepted positions and starting dates are being agreed;

6 offers have been made and are awaiting a response

The remaining 152 posts have been approved to be filled.  A recruitment campaign is already underway for 32 of these posts and a further offers/campaign for the remaining 120 is expected to start shortly

Budget 2014 included the provision of €6.7m (€12m in a full year) to support the continuing implementation of the reform programme across children and family services.  This additional funding will assist the CFA in meeting identified service pressures.  This will include the filling of social work vacancies taking account of identified need, with a particular focus this year on the filling of vacancies arising from maternity leave. The Agency is also finalising proposals, arising from the provision of this additional funding, for the introduction of a guaranteed and protected one year induction programme for newly qualified social workers.  The scheme will include protected workload and weekly tutorial/mentoring provision.

The initiatives described above will assist the CFA in responding to particular service pressures arising over the course of the year and allow for a targeted response to such pressures taking account of identified need and service priorities.

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To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the very low success rate of the National Contact Preference Register in matching only about 5% of the people who sought their assistance; the action she will take regarding same; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 17th December, 2013

 -Mick Wallace T.D.

 REPLY.

The National Adoption Contact Register was established in 2005 to assist adopted people and their natural families to make contact with each other, exchange information or state their contact preferences.  They decide, through a range of information and contact options, how they wish to proceed.  The Adoption Authority of Ireland has responsibility for the operation of the Contact Preference Register. The Authority has stated that there are currently in the region of 7500 adopted persons and 3400 relatives registered and there have been 660 matches to date. Each "match" involves an adopted person and at least one natural relative; therefore, based on these figures the result is around 9% of adopted applicants and just under 20% of natural relatives have been matched. The Authority advises that this would be comparable with the 10-15% success rates reported in similar registers in other jurisdictions.

The Authority, the Health Service Executive and accredited adoption services routinely inform enquirers about the existence of the register and encourage anyone interested in tracing or gaining information to sign up.  I am conscious of recent media coverage of the issue of information and tracing and I would hope that this will encourage more birth mothers in particular to access the  Contact Preference Register and where possible to consent to the release of information.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs what her interaction with Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has been since receiving the internal Health Service Executive and Garda inquiries into the removal of Roma children from their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. Mick Wallace. For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 17th December, 2013 REPLY. The Ombudsman for Children Ms Emily Logan has initiated an investigation of the actions of the HSE in relation to these cases under provisions of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002. The Ombudsman for Children has also agreed to undertake an investigation of An Garda Síochána's actions, under Section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs what her interaction with Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has been since receiving the internal Health Service Executive and Garda inquiries into the removal of Roma children from their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I can confirm that I have received reports in respect of each of the cases from HSE Children and Family Services. The reports have been referred by my officials to the Ombudsman for Children Ms Emily Logan, for her consideration. The Ombudsman for Children is an independent statutory authority and will independently assess the actions of the HSE.

In respecting the independent investigations of the Ombudsman for Children, which will now take their course, it would be wrong of me to comment in detail on the cases or the reports received from the HSE. I look forward to the conclusion of the process and to the independent findings of the Ombudsman for Children, once she reports on her investigations.

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