Agency to take over child protection


A NEW standalone agency will take over responsibility for child protection from the Health Service Executive early next year, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said.

Speaking at a forum on children’s rights at NUI Galway last night, Ms Fitzgerald said significant progress had been made in establishing the new Children and Family Support Agency, which will have a budget of almost €600 million.

“The establishment of a single agency incorporating key children’s services will provide a focus for the major reforms already under way,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Child protection and welfare services that are currently with the HSE will transfer to the new agency, as will the family support agency, which currently funds many projects around the State.

It would also have close links with other services, such as primary care and public health nursing.

Ms Fitzgerald said the new agency would ensure there was much greater integration and co-operation between State-funded services for children.

In addition, there could be considerable scope to deliver greater efficiencies. “We are dealing with a legacy where services aren’t co-ordinated as closely as they should be.”

The Minister is due to receive a report from a taskforce soon that will advise on the shape of the new agency. A senior management team is being recruited, which will be led by the current head of the HSE’s child and family services, Gordon Jeyes.

Ms Fitzgerald also said she had ordered a review of how high support and special care services were delivered.

Many services in this field have been the subject of highly critical reports by the health standards watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority.

The Minister also said she hoped to meet the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin soon to discuss legal issues that have arisen over data protection laws and the sharing of child protection information.

Dr Martin has said that church authorities are concerned they may be in breach of the law by passing on sensitive information to non-statutory third parties, such as the church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was keen to resolve any potential issues and was willing to consider whatever legal changes may be necessary.

She also restated her plans to hold a referendum on children’s rights later this year, which, if passed, would prove to be a “momentous” moment in the country’s treatment of children.

Speaking at the same event, Prof Pat Dolan, Unesco chair in children, youth and civic engagement at NUI Galway, said strengthening children’s rights would also help parents and was “ultimately to the benefit of civic society”.