Proposed child welfare and protection agency: a good move or not?
Last Monday (28 April 2011), the first full Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald said that the new Child Protection and Welfare Agency will ‘strip away the procrastination, the deception and evasion that has allowed abusers go unpunished’ – high ambitions indeed for an agency we know little about. So what do we know about the plans to set up a new Child Protection and Welfare Agency and is it a good move or not?The programme for government commits to “fundamentally reforming the delivery of child protection services by removing child welfare and protection from the HSE and creating a Child Welfare and Protection Agency (CWPA), reforming the model of service delivery and improving accountability in the Dáil.”
So in effect that means removing child welfare services out of the HSE and putting them into this new agency. There is little more detail in the Programme for Government.
The fact that Frances Fitzgerald is the first full Minister of Children is significant as its the first time children’s issues with full rights at cabinet table, up to now, there was just a super junior minister with no voting rights.
The argument for the new agency is that children are being failed when these services are in the HSE. This is evident in inability to count number of children who had died in care, the continued failure of services to meet people’s needs such as Roscommon case or Daniel McAnaspie, the high numbers of missing unaccompanied minors. Many including Barnardos and Andrew Madden have argued that these services need to be taken out of the HSE and have it owns dedicated agency.
I spoke with Emily Logan who welcomed Frances Fitzgerald as senior minister with responsibility for children and the new agency. She said their work on the child protection guidelines showed clearly they had not got the attention they needed between 2003 and 2008 however she cautioned not to underestimate the task of restructuring and that it should not be HSE child protection services by another name.
However, we have no idea how it will work, what is its budget, who’ll be in charge. I asked all these questions to the Office of the Minister for Children and got no answers however if one looks at the Fine Gael pre election publication on this, it gives us some detail. It proposed
- Minsiter for children having executive function and responsibility for these services
- this new CPWA to be delivered in 18 months
- Use model used in Minnesota, New South Wales New Zealand
- Talks about early intervention, inter agency working, putting CF on a statutory footing, social workers with 2 yrs plus experience working in CP
But these are not in PfG and when I asked I was told, it was work in progress, just beginning, and they’ll tell me when they know.
According to HSE service plan, the child welfare and protection budget for 2011 is €587 million (out of €14 billion) and just under 3,000 WTEs – however this is solely those staff whose roles are fully focussed on child protection, and if you think about early intervention it is the public health nurses and family support workers who also work with these children and families.
The arguments against a CPWA were clearly articulated two weeks ago by Fergal Landy, a Galway researcher wrote an op ed in the Irish Times questioning the evidence for setting up a Child Protection and Welfare Agency – Fergal Landy clearly raised points that some others I spoke to also made, that
- the HSE has a new Children’s services director, Gordon Jeyes in place since Dec, first time at top table, dedicated budget, like Tom Keane and that he should be given time to reform services
- that taking services out of HSE might make it more difficult to link with mental health services or PHNS or all other HSE services
- Also that all the energy will go into setting up a new agency instead of making the services in place that exist – cause problems for children, families and those who work with them.
I also spoke to another Galway based academic, Paul Michael Garret who has researched and written extensively on these issues specifically looking at what has been learned in a UK context from high profile cases like Baby P or Victoria Climbie and he said one of the lessons from there is the need to join the dots between the economy and society, that we know that higher levels of unemployment, job losses and stresses lead to families in more difficult circumstances and that we need to address bigger soc, pol and ec issues, that a dedicated child agency alone won’t solve these problems….