Dáil Éireann - Volume 448 - 26 January, 1995
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Child Sex Abuse.
Mr. M. Smith Mr. M. Smith
 4. Mr. M. Smith asked the Minister for Health if he has received reports on alleged incidents of child sex abuse in any of the residential care centres under the aegis of his Department; if so, the investigations, if any, that have been undertaken on foot of those reports; the stage of each investigation, at which the Garda authorities were made aware of the problems; the actions; if any, he is taking or proposes to take to ensure that no repetition occurs in residential care centres operating within the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1599/95]
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) Mr. Noonan (Limerick East)
Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Under the child abuse guidelines issued by my Department in 1987, responsibility for the identification, investigation and management of suspected cases of child abuse rests with the health boards. This approach is now reflected in the Child Care Act, 1991, which imposes a statutory duty on health boards to identify and promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection.
The guidelines also provided for the notification of cases of alleged abuse to the Garda Síochána. My Department, in consultation with the Department of Justice, the health boards and the Garda Síochána, is developing new procedures for the notification of suspected cases of child abuse between health boards and the Garda. These procedures, which revolve around a standardised form for the notification of suspected cases of abuse, are aimed at ensuring closer co-ordination between key personnel from both agencies to facilitate the twin objectives of protecting the child and the full investigation of any crime. I expect these procedures to be finalised within the next few weeks. There will then be a series of training sessions for members of the Garda and relevant health board personnel in relation to the new procedures.
My Department is not directly involved in the investigation of any  alleged cases of child abuse whether in the child's home or in residential care. Therefore I am not in a position to comment on the details of the handling of alleged cases of abuse in residential care centres other than to assure the House that all such allegations are treated very seriously and are investigated thoroughly by the health board in conjunction with the Garda.
I wish to assure the House that concerted action has been and will continue to be taken to try to secure the safety and protection of children at risk and particularly those in residential care. Over the past two years over £20 million extra has been provided to develop and improve our child care services in preparation for the full implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991.
Among the developments approved were:— the creation of over 370 new posts for the child care services around the country, including child psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and child care workers; the provision of additional hostel places for homeless children; the establishment of new family resource centres and community support projects to assist disadvantaged children; the expansion of the homemaker and home help services to help families in difficulty and the establishment of community mothers programmes in a number of boards; increased financial support to pre-school services of social deprivation and the provision of additional places and, the development of foster care and other alternative family placement services.
In the area of residential care a number of specific initiatives have been taken. Early last year each health board was asked to put in place interim arrangements for the review of children in residential care on the following basis:— (a) review all cases of children currently in residential care to ensure that they are receiving appropriate and adequate care and to make arrangements for six monthly reviews thereafter; (b) establish the appropriateness of the placement of children currently in  residential care and to put procedures in place for their transfer to other appropriate placements if this is necessary i.e., foster care, home, relative, etc.
This will be an ongoing process pending the introduction of regulations under the Child Care Act.
In preparation for the introduction of these regulations a working group was established to advise on standards for children's residential centres. The working group includes representatives of the Department of Health, health boards, Residential Managers' Association, the Conference of Religious of Ireland, who represent the proprietors of most of the homes, and the Irish Association of Care Workers. The group has prepared a draft guide to standards for residential child care centres which is being circulated today to all interested parties for their views.
The group also reviewed the guidelines on recruitment of child care workers which were first issued by the Department of Health in 1979. As a result of this review, my Department has issued new directives to all children's residential centres in respect of the recruitment and selection of staff for employment in such centres. As part of this process agreement has been reached with the Department of Justice and the Garda Síochána to introduce a formal system of Garda clearance for applicants for posts in the children's residential centres. While this system is an important addition to the selection procedures, it cannot, of itself, be a guarantee that unsuitable persons are prevented from working in residential child care. I urge all concerned with the recruitment of staff to be constantly vigilant in all aspects of the selection procedures to ensure the safety and protection of children in residential care centres.
I assure the House that the Government is committed to all practical measures to ensure the safety and protection of children in care.
I should like to apologise to the House because, in normal circumstances  the Minister of State with responsibility for Child Care, Deputy Currie, would reply to this question but he is abroad on Government business.
Mr. M. Smith Mr. M. Smith
Mr. M. Smith: I welcome the Minister's comprehensive reply from which it is quite clear that a number of very progressive steps have been taken in recent years. I do not doubt his commitment to their continuance. Nonetheless, it is also clear that there is greater child abuse, repugnant to most of us, more widespread than any of us had anticipated or believed. Is it possible to devise some kind of register — I know the Minister spoke about Garda support in terms of residential care staff recruitment — but it is clear that, wherever there is a problem, offenders sometimes have been able to obtain similar posts in other places without the knowledge of the relevant recruiting officers. I should like to be assured that that scrutiny will be continued as comprehensively and rigorously as possible.
Mr. Noonan Mr. Noonan
Mr. Noonan(Limerick East): It is true that the incidence of child abuse, in residential care and elsewhere, surprised many of us who were not familiar with the subject. I note Deputy Smith's concern and assure him that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure there is no re-employment of offenders in similar positions.
Dáil Éireann 448 Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. Child Sex Abuse.