Minister calls for better data collection on child cases


THE MINISTER For Children has called for better data collection on child cases as an essential step towards the delivery of improved childcare services across the State.

Frances Fitzgerald said reform of childcare services must be based on reliable and insightful data but the quality of data coming through to her office when she became Minister was “far from satisfactory”.

Stressing that decision-making and planning must be evidence-based, Ms Fitzgerald said improvements in the collation and management of data were already happening through the ongoing development of the National Child Care Information System.

“We have started this through the HSE monthly performance indicators and, as a result, we are already beginning to get back a detailed range of data on referrals, fostering, care planning and so on, on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis,” she said.

The availability of timely and accurate information was of critical importance to allow Health Service Executive managers allocate resources equitably and to enable her, as Minister, to make a strong case at Cabinet for additional resources for children and family services, she said.

At a conference in Cork yesterday, entitled Protecting Children Post Ryan: Real or Virtual Change in an Era of Social Crisis, Ms Fitzgerald said there would be more than 25,0000 referrals to social work child-protection teams across the State in 2011.

“As of August, there were 6,215 children in the care of the State and this figure has increased steadily in recent years – up by 900 in just over three years,” she told the conference organised by the HSE, UCC and the Irish Association of Social Workers.

Ms Fitzgerald also called for a nationwide consistency of practice to ensure universal compliance with best practice in child protection and greater inter-agency collaboration given the diverse number of bodies dealing with children.

“There is a pressing need for greater collaboration and co-ordination in the care and welfare of troubled and vulnerable youths – some get caught up with the justice system, some with child welfare and some fall through the cracks in-between.”

Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged that these reforms would prove a major challenge particularly in the current budgetary climate but she also called for more sustainable financial planning particularly given her plans for a new overall agency.

The new child and family support agency would be separated out from the HSE and was likely to come into being at the start of 2013, but between now and then, she added, a shadow agency would be established within the HSE.

The conference also heard from Prof Sue White of the University of Birmingham, who cautioned against embarking on the type of reform carried out in England over the past 15 years which led to a bureaucratisation of childcare services.