Kenny in children's rights pledge
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he expects legislation to pave the way for a referendum to strengthen children's rights to be produced shortly after the Dáil resumes in September.
He said he has asked Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald to work with other interested parties to help draw up a proposed referendum wording and related legislation on adoption over the summer.
The Taoiseach was speaking at the launch of new national standards by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) for child protection services.
These standards will ensure that frontline services will be subject to independent inspection for the first time to ensure they are providing adequate care and protection to vulnerable children. This follows a series of damning reports which have highlighted serious failures in child protection and welfare services.
The standards set out clear requirements for HSE managers, social workers and other professionals on how to deliver a consistent and speedy service for young people at risk.
Tracey Cooper, the chief executive of Hiqa, said that for too long the needs of children have not received a sufficiently significant priority.
“All children have a right to be safe and to have access to appropriate services and support to enable their growth and development,” she said.
Ms Cooper said Hiqa will monitor child protection and welfare services to ensure they comply with new standards and complies with its statutory obligation to ensure young people are adequately protected.
Mr Kenny said there have been numerous "devastating" reports into the failures of children's services in the past. The new standards, he said, would help build a new service that places children at the centre.
The key principles behind the standards, which have legal effect and will apply to all child protection services, include ensuring that:
- Official guidelines on handling abuse and welfare concerns - known as Children First - are fully implemented
- Children are protected from risk of harm
- The needs and views of children are taken into account
- There is a focus on positive outcomes for children
- Effective governance and clear leadership with lines of accountability
- Services are delivered based on evidence and good practice
Ms Fitzgerald said the standards set out for the first time the essential features of an effective child protection system.
“From now on, Hiqa will constantly and consistently monitor and interrogate services being provided to the nation's children,” she said.
“The critical aspect of these standards are that they will be tested, checked, assessed and audited. That is a radical step.”
Hiqa will begin gathering evidence and monitoring services later this year.
Niall Byrne, the deputy director of the social services inspectorate in Hiqa, said judgements will be "fair and balanced", and highlight good practice as well as failures. The reports will be published and the first inspection are likely to be available early next year. He said that, over time, they expected to see significant improvements where there have been significant failures.