New child agency no quango, insists Fitzgerald
DETENTION centres and hospital social workers will all be answerable to a single dedicated agency under a blueprint to overhaul child protection services.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald denied the creation of the Child and Family Support Agency (CFSA) would be yet another 'quango' when it takes over the HSE child services and the work of other agencies.
"It is a response to the 17 reports into child death and inadequacies in our child- welfare system. We need to do things better and this is the blueprint," the minister said, after the recommendations were issued by the task force charged with examining the role of the new agency.
"This will be a dedicated agency with a sole focus on children's wellbeing and protection. We haven't had that before. We've had child and family services as a small part of the HSE."
Ms Fitzgerald touted the new agency as a "once in a generation" opportunity to reform child protection services, which came in for heated criticism following recent revelations of the deaths of 200 young people who had been under the care of the State for more than a decade.
The task force recommended that the new single accountable agency should come under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and should be independently run and governed by a board.
Maureen Lynott, a management consultant who chaired the task force, highlighted how the "fragmented" services spread across various agencies and departments had failed to meet the needs of children. She said the structures and the "silence" they created among professionals did not enable agencies to work together.
Gordon Jeyes, the national director of HSE child and family services who will take over as the agency's head, said progress had been made over the past 18 months with "clear lines of accountability" established.
Among its recommendations were that detention schools for children should be directly managed by the agency and that social workers in maternity and paediatric hospitals should remain in the facilities but be employed by the agency.
It was also envisaged the services provided by the National Educational and Welfare Board should be taken over by the CFSA. The report highlighted the importance of early intervention and community-based services.
The body will take over the HSE's child and family services with a budget of €551.7m and incorporate the Family Support Agency's budget of €26.5m.
Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged it was a "major change" and discussions would be required with the existing service providers and ministers in relation to the drawing-up of new legislation for the agency.
Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay welcomed the blueprint but cautioned it would be a "challenge" to meet the 2013 deadline.