The Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 was discussed in the Seanad this week. The Bill provides a statutory scheme for the High Court to have exclusive jurisdiction to hear special care cases, abolishes the Children Act Advisory Board (CAAB), and makes a number of changes to the 1991 Child Care Act.
A number of other bodies took the trouble to brief Members on the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009. The information they provided has proven extremely useful to Members as they consider the Bill. It is always of assistance when interested bodies take the time to prepare briefings, meet Members and share with them their experiences and also the difficulties they perceive in respect of the practical, day-to-day operation of agencies, services of the State, etc. relating to children and also the problems they believe may arise in the context of legislation being brought forward.
Focus Ireland took the trouble to provide briefing information. To some extent, that organisation’s document provides an answer to the question posed by others in respect of the possible or potential cost to the State if aftercare services were to be placed on a statutory footing. It is not possible to make a direct analogy with Northern Ireland in this regard. However, the example of Northern Ireland was the best Focus Ireland could provide in estimating the ultimate cost. Focus Ireland indicates that the equivalent cost of providing the range of aftercare services available in Northern Ireland in the Republic of Ireland would be just under €11 million per annum. That figure is based on a total of 411 care leavers per annum. If it is possible for Focus Ireland to quantify the cost, it should also be possible for the Minister of State to do so. I agree with those who stated that it would be important to place aftercare services on a statutory footing in order that there might be some expectation among people of their being available. It is also important that proper controls, guidelines and supervision be put in place in respect of such services.
The Bill is welcome. However, it provides a curious case study in respect of failures in public policy. I do not lay all the blame for such failures at the door of the Minister for Children. These failures date back many years, perhaps even a number of decades. The Minister may wish to reflect on this and refer to it in his reply.