Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children & Youth Affairs has today addressed the Fine Gael Árd Fhéis in the RDS, telling delegates that Fine Gael in Government has made significant progress in disrupting the decades-long legacy of inaction and failures by previous Governments in the areas of child protection, youth justice and childcare quality.
Minister Fitzgerald told delegates: “Fine Gael is putting Children First.”
The Minister announced that the landmark Children First Bill will be published in the coming weeks. The Minister stated: “This bill has been talked about by Fianna Fail since 1999. Fine Gael is now delivering it. This new law will put Children First guidelines on a statutory footing, require reporting of child protection concerns; and will lay down the statutory safeguarding obligations of organisations working with children.”
Minister Fitzgerald told delegates that “on coming to office as Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, I was faced with a legacy of failure and inaction by Fianna Fail; as children suffered and families fell apart. But just as Fine Gael acted to get Ireland’s public finances and economy back on track, so Fine Gael acted to disrupt the legacy of failings in child protection, youth justice and childcare quality.”
“There was much to be done. In many cases we had to start from scratch.”
The Minister spoke of the recent launch of Tusla, Ireland’s first-ever Child & Family Agency, by an Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD. “We have moved from a position where child and family welfare was barely a priority, to a position where it is now the sole focus of a single dedicated state agency. For the first time we will have child and family social workers, family support workers, social care workers and education welfare officers all working together to protect children and support families.”
Minister Fitzgerald also outlined major developments being pursued by Fine Gael in Government.
“We are building new National Child Detention Facilities in North County Dublin, taking 16 and 17 years old out of St. Patrick’s Institution – something talked about for decades but not being done till now.
“We are working across Government to implement a new Youth Justice Action Plan, to tackle youth offending and steer young people away from crime.
“We are bringing in a new Aftercare Bill, the heads of which were agreed by Government this week, to require the Child & Family Agency to better plan for the needs of young people leaving state care.
“We have made substantial and unprecedented progress in implementing, for the first time, new quality supports and regulation of the early years and childcare sector.
“None of this was done by Fianna Fail. It was all done under Fine Gael.”
However Minister Fitzgerald told the Árd Fheis that that the reforms and service developments being implemented by her were laying important foundations for Government to do better for all children and to improve outcomes for all children.
Minister Fitzgerald reaffirmed the vision of An Taoiseach to make Ireland the best small country in which to grow up in and to raise a family.
The Minister added: “This must be seen not just as aspirational. It should be seen a policy imperative, as an absolute must in economic terms. Ireland’s human resources represent an immense wealth and potential. When other Western countries are experiencing reducing birth rates, Ireland’s population of children and young people is growing.”
The total population of children and young people (aged 0-24 years) is 1.54 million. Since 2002 the 0-4 age group has grown by 32%. The Government’s Medium-Term ‘Strategy for Growth’ rightly recognises “ensuring the best possible outcomes for this group is therefore an important element in our future economic planning.”
The Minister added “Supporting childhood is building for Ireland’s economic future. I believe this Government is the first to fully recognise the importance of childhood and to embrace the economic imperative of investing to support better outcomes for all children.”
The Minister announced that the Government will publish a new and comprehensive National Policy Framework for Children and Young People. It will outline what, we across Government, want for children and young people and how we will seek to secure better outcomes
and a brighter future for all children.
Minister Fitzgerald concluded by noting that for all that has been done, many challenges remain. She stated: “Child protection services continue to face significant challenges. Let’s not think everything has been sorted. It hasn’t. We will also still face challenges
when it comes to quality in early years and childcare services. The years of underinvestment and absence of regulation have taken their toll.
“We must not be complacent. Instead, our task now must be to continue to strive to:
- the new Child & Family Agency succeeds; and continues to deliver further reforms and new developments in 2014; from 24-hour access social work services; to better managing caseloads; to improving the preservation and access to adoption records;
- we work across Government to confront outstanding significant challenges such as access to appropriate supports for children in early years’ service with a special need or disability.
“Our children are our future. Fine Gael recognises this; and we will continue to do everything we can to shape the best possible future for our children and for our country.”