Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Written Answers. - Child Sexual Abuse.

191. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health the number of cases of child sexual abuse recorded in each health board area throughout the country in each of the past two years; the number of cases which refer to children in residential care, children at home or children in other forms of care; the action or actions, if any, he has taken to prevent recurrences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2697/94]

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): The detailed information requested by the Deputy is not available in my Department. Arrangements for the collation of statistical data from the health boards relating to the reporting and investigation of alleged child abuse and neglect, including child sexual abuse, are currently being reviewed by my Department in the context of obtaining more comprehensive information from the [1574] boards regarding the incidence and outcome of cases. This process has of necessity given rise to some delay in the compilation of information in respect of the past two years.

The dramatic increase in recent years in the number of suspected cases of child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, being reported to the health boards is a matter of grave concern to all of us. I am committed to ensuring, as far as is humanly possible, that children are protected from abuse of all kinds. I want to reiterate that the full and proper implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991, is the single most important contribution that can be made towards promoting the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. This is fully recognised by the Government which is committed to bringing the Act into operation in its entirety by the end of 1996.

The next phase in the programme for the implementation of the Act involves the commencement of Parts III, IV, V and VI which deal respectively with the protection of children in emergencies, care proceedings and the powers and duties of health boards in relation to children in their care. These provisions will strengthen the powers of the health boards, the Garda and the courts to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect.

As I have explained to the House on previous occasions, these are the most complex provisions of the Act. Various sets of new regulations, as well as rules of court, are required to be made in order to give full effect to them. I am determined that the Parts in question will be brought into operation next year. Extensive preparatory work is currently under way in my Department to ensure that this is achieved. Two working groups were established to assist my Department in the preparation of the initial drafts of the new regulations relating to foster care and residential care. The foster care working group has completed its task and yesterday I circulated the draft regulations prepared by [1575] it to the various interest groups for comment. The residential care working group is at an advanced stage in its deliberations and it is my intention that its draft will also be the subject of widespread consultations with interested parties.

Since I took up office, I have secured unprecedented levels of funding for the child care services to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is put in place to support the Child Care Act and that the health boards will be in a position to discharge the additional statutory responsibilities being assigned to them under the legislation. I have approved a range of new child care and family support services, the full year cost of which is in the region of £20 million. The scale of these developments demonstrates my determination to ensure that the Act is not simply implemented on paper but is backed up by a sustained programme of investment.

In approving the various new child care initiatives, I have placed a special emphasis on strengthening the health boards' multi-disciplinary child protection teams. A significant proportion of the 370 new social worker, child care worker, child psychiatrist, psychologist and other specialist posts that I approved have been created specifically to enhance the capacity of the health boards to combat the horrendous problem of child abuse and to provide a range of supports to the unfortunate victims of such abuse and their families. It is my firm intention that further progress will be made next year in the development of additional measures to deal with child abuse and for the care and protection of children generally.