Child agency delayed by row over staff transfers

No agreement over plans to transfer child psychologists to new body

The long-promised creation of a single agency with responsibility for child welfare and protection is being delayed by a row over the transfer of psychologists to the new body.

Legislation to set up the Child and Family Support Agency, a cornerstone of the Government's plans to improve services for children, was first promised last year, but has yet to materialise, in part because of disagreements over staff transfers.

Efforts to agree a compromise allowing the transfer of community psychology services have so far failed to reach agreement, according to an informed source: “They’re stuck and it needs a political solution to get things moving again.”

The directors of the psychology service have expressed strong opposition to the move in documents seen by The Irish Times. The transfer of the child psychology service from the Health Service Executive to the new agency could sabotage and dismantle primary care services and disadvantage children with disabilities, as well as leaving children suffering from anxiety and depression without a service, they have warned.


Promised delivery
The agency is now unlikely to be be set up until 2014, a year after it was originally promised.

The heads of Psychology Services Ireland claim the proposal to transfer psychologists is "tantamount to working against the best interests of children", and has the potential to sabotage progress made in the development of primary care services.

It could also contribute to a “dismantling” of primary care services and significantly impact on GPs’ access to psychological services for children, adults and families, they warn.

The psychologists argue that they may be expected to focus on court reports in care proceedings and crisis management work rather than on the delivery of psychological interventions to improve the lives of children.

They point out that 80 per cent of referrals are for children who do not fall under the child protection banner.The psychologists claim the new agency essentially replicates the social work management structure within the HSE.

“This approach is generally crisis-driven, late in the timeline and often adopted when other interventions have failed, frequently as a result of poor assessment, lack of analysis and formulation, and reactive or hasty decision-making.”

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald responded to the row earlier this year by tasking a group of officials to carry out an impact analysis of the changes and talk to psychologists’ representatives. However, it is understood that two contradictory proposals emerged from this process and no agreement was reached.

It is envisaged the new agency will have a staff of about 4,000 and a combined budget of almost €600 million a year. A spokeswoman for Ms Fitzgerald said the legislation would be ready in the current Dail session. The impact analysis was being examined by her department and the Department of Health, she added.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times