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EPIC’s plea to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs – an open letter: All I want for Christmas - A Christmas Wish List

Dec 19th 2019

EPIC’s plea to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs – an open letter

All I want for Christmas - A Christmas Wish List

EPIC-Empowering People In Care, received with disbelief the news that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone, and her department, had returned almost €60 million to the exchequer unspent.

It might be argued that current financial procedures within government mean that underspends within any budget cannot be re-allocated. We believe that such an enormous amount of money should not be returned to the exchequer when so many children and young adults are in desperate need of services that they can’t access due to lack of adequate resources and significant underfunding. They should be entitled to an explanation from the Minister as to why they are being left in dire need when money was available to address this.

We endorse the  recommendation from the Public Accounts Committee that a proper management system be established by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, to ensure that when funding is provided by the Oireachtas,  it is utilised in the appropriate manner, and is used to fund services that are necessary and lacking. However, we also believe that the Government should be held fully accountable for budget decisions that affect the lives of children and young people, and we  are calling on the government to implement a more cohesive budgetary policy for children and youth that allows funding to be reallocated to meet critical needs.

Despite full employment and the relative prosperity of the country, most of us are very aware of the severe gaps and shortages in our services, many of which impact children and youth. As an organisation that works with and on behalf of children in care, EPIC sees daily, where services are failing this group of very vulnerable children.

Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC, said

“It’s simply unacceptable to have such a massive amount of money returned, unspent, when there are so many areas crying out for funding– from services, to infrastructure, to our overstretched child protection system. We urgently need transformational change, with effective cross departmental budgeting and child guarantees that will help to ensure that every child at risk of poverty or social exclusion has access to: free healthcare, free education, free early childhood education and care, decent housing and adequate nutrition. The decision to return this money to the exchequer, when such critical need exists, while undoubtedly politically expedient, is morally reprehensible.”

Our child protection and welfare system and child and youth services are operating beyond capacity at many levels. EPIC, as an organisation working with and on behalf of children in care, witness every day the urgent need for funding of services supporting our most vulnerable children and young people.  We do not accept that a way could not have been found to use this money to improve the lives of children and youth. A budgetary policy which dictates that money cannot be reallocated, simply works against the best interests of children, when there are so many in such desperate need. This policy can, and we hope, will be changed. However, this will be too late for those whose lives could have been transformed by this €60 million.

In terms of how and why this money could and should have been used to improve children’s lives, EPIC would like to point to just some of the areas where we feel this money is needed to alleviate the strains on our system – not least for the many organisations, like EPIC, who work with some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people in our country, and struggle year on year to meet their needs.

Children with disabilities:

  • children with disabilities, from home help to respite care, access to special needs assistant support, access to mental healthcare, reduced school hours and access to school places
  • Children in inappropriate settings because of a shortage of appropriate places.

Social workers:

  • A national social work recruitment and retention action plan and roll out is required. There has been a shortage of social workers for far too long. As a result, social workers are under unnecessary, unhealthy and unreasonable strain. We need more social workers and better supports for them.  There should be better and more regular contact between children and their social workers, but this can only be achieved if social workers have a less onerous case- loads.

Young parents:

  • more and better supports for very vulnerable young mums/dads from especially early in a pregnancy and following the birth of the baby to help ensure she/he can care for the child and help avoid the child being taken into care.
  • Automatic therapeutic support for all children entering care and in care; from art and music therapy to more specialised supports and therapeutic interventions. Each child who enters the care system has experienced trauma and this needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

Foster care:

  • More foster work recruitment drives and better supports for foster families

Sibling and family contact:

  • More resources must be made available to support sibling and family contact for children in care, including holidays for siblings.

Education supports:

  • All children in care, who have either often moved schools or missed school due to placement moves or because of their care experience, should automatically receive extra supports. More funding must be made available for children in care or at risk of being placed in care. to enable them to participate in homework clubs and extracurricular activities, with positive supports for engagement and participation.

Mental health:

  • Dual diagnosis and the role out of therapeutic supports for addiction and mental health issues must be rolled out nationally as a matter of urgency.

Aftercare:

  • All children leaving care, who marginally fail to meet the threshold to receive an aftercare package should be granted this critical support. In every case, the long-term benefit will far outweigh the cost incurred in providing this.
  • All children seeking to pursue further education and training should be given support beyond the age of 23.
  • All young people who are not in full time education or training (for whom supports end at 21 years) should be provided with continuing support to enable them to become independent and participative members of society. This continuing care should be extended beyond 23 years based on assessed need.
  • The development of a ‘Big brother big sister’ support model would ensure that young people in care would be empowered to develop additional positive relationships and role models.

Housing:

  • The development of more supported accommodation and step-down facilities for those young people who are more vulnerable and may require a low level of support as they transition to independent living.
  • A specialist facility to enable us to stop sending vulnerable children out of state care that we   should be able to provide here. We urgently need to develop specialised facilities for some of our most vulnerable children. In 2008, the cost of sending nine young people out of the state for treatment to locations in Britain, and Nebraska in the US, cost €2.2 million, or almost €250,000 per child. In 2010 a spokesperson for the HSE said this practice would cease within 12 months. Almost ten years later, despite our relative wealth, we still depend on other countries to care for some of our most vulnerable children, because we, apparently, as one of the most developed nations in the world, lack the facilities and expertise to care for them in Ireland.

Information (Data collection):

  • A longitudinal study on children in care and leaving care, first recommended in the Ryan Report 2009, is long overdue. This would help track children in care and those leaving care in order to see how they compare to their non-care peers and point to gaps that exist in supports and policies. This should include tracking data on educational outcomes for children in care. If we don’t have the data, how can we be expected to address the issues affecting them?

ENDS

 

Notes to the Editor

  1. EPIC is an independent organisation that works throughout the Republic of Ireland, with and for children and young people who are currently living in care or who have care experience www.epiconline.ie
  2. Care experience includes children and young people who are or were cared for by family members with the support of social workers; by foster carers; or children and young people from children’s homes and residential units.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview please contact:

Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC

Telephone: 01 8727 661 Mobile: 087 2370269

Email: terrydignan@epiconline.ie

 

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