Norah Gibbons to chair Child and Family Agency

Legislation for establishment of new agency expected before Dáil next month

Norah Gibbons previously chaired the Roscommon Child Abuse Inquiry and co-chaired the Independent Child Death Review

Former Barnardos director of advocacy Norah Gibbons has been appointed as the first chairwoman of the board of the new Child and Family Agency.

Ms Gibbons served as a member of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, chaired the Roscommon Child Abuse Inquiry and co-chaired the Independent Child Death Review.

Speaking at an event to mark International Day for Street Children today, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said legislation currently being drafted to subsume functions of the HSE, the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board and reassign them to the new agency was expected to come before the Dáil next month.

She said this is “the first time we’ll have an agency with a dedicated focus on children, a sole agency with a dedicated focus, as opposed to being part of a bigger HSE where I do think the issues around children were somewhat lost”.


Vulnerable children

At the event, organised by Focus Ireland and its charity partner Aviva to raise awareness of child homelessness, Ms Fitzgerald said there was no room for complacency around vulnerable children despite a Unicef report published earlier this week which ranked Ireland among the 10 best countries to grow up in.

“We come 10th but there is no room for complacency, absolutely none. When you go into the detail and that needs to be examined, we still have children who are in very vulnerable situations,” she said.

“We have 30,000 referrals to our child and family services every year; we have 1,500 cases of abuse and neglect every year confirmed; we have very vulnerable children where there is alcohol and drug addiction in families... we have young children in in daycare centres who are not getting enough food.”

Ms Fitzgerald said vulnerable children needed the very best which society could give them and that services needed to be co-ordinated to ensure children were given a better response to them than in the past.

“In some ways it’s extraordinary to think that we came out of a period of 10 years of the Celtic Tiger and that we still have so much work to do in relation to vulnerable children.”

At risk

Joyce Loughnan, chief executive of Focus Ireland, said the agency had dealt with about 700 children last year who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

She said 288 children were accommodated in emergency placements in Ireland in 2011 while a further 141 were referred in the first six months of 2012: “That’s far too many children to be out of home,” Ms Loughnan said.

She pointed out that out-of-hours service for children were currently only available in the greater Dublin area. “The central point of contact for children who find themselves out of home remains the Garda stations. That really isn’t a place for children to present when they are vulnerable and frightened.”

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin is an Irish Times journalist