The new Department of Children is to take control of child protection and welfare services from the HSE. As part of the process to dismantle the HSE, its functions will be returned either to the department or to the new Universal Health Insurance System. A dedicated child welfare and protection agency is also to be set up.
The child welfare and protection agency will reform the model of service delivery and improve accountability to the Dáil, which will include implementing the recommendations of the Ryan Report, putting the Children First Guidelines on a statutory footing and legislating for the use of ‘soft information’.
The current Children First Guidelines were first issued by the Department of Health and Children in 1999 and are not on a statutory footing but are “national guidelines which should be applied consistently by the Health Service Executive, Government and organisations which deal with children and they are meant to provide best practice in dealing with children and young people”. The guidelines outline procedures for strengthening arrangements for the protection of children and to assist people in identifying and reporting child abuse. The guidelines are currently being revised.
One priority for the Department of Children will be to achieve a positive outcome in a constitutional referendum. The wording of the amendment is hoped to better protect and advance the interests of children then the current text allows at present. Minister Fitzgerald indicated that she would look at the wording for the referendum proposed by the last government and also wording proposed by an all-party Oireachtas committee.
Before becoming Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald was the party spokesperson on health. It is not yet known what involvement, if any, the new Department of Children will have with the new National Children’s Hospital, which is confirmed as a project for the new Government to complete.