Seanad Éireann - Volume 127 - 21 February, 1991

Child Care Bill, 1988: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. N. Treacy): Is cúis áthais dom bheith ar ais arís i Seanad Éireann chun freastal ar an mBille an-tábhachtach seo. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh Seanadóirí an-taitneamh as páirt a ghlacadh sa Bhille, mar táimid go léir chun aire níos fearr a thabhairt do leanaí agus aos óg ár dtíre.

It is always a pleasure to be in the Seanad but I am particularly pleased today to have the honour of introducing the Child Care Bill. I had charge of the Bill during my appointment at the Department of Health and I am grateful to my [1569] colleague, the Minister for Health, for asking me to complete the task of processing the Bill through this House. I regard it as one of the most important pieces of socially reforming legislation ever to come before the Oireachtas and I feel privileged to be associated with it.

The Bill comes to this House after a long and detailed consideration of its provisions in the Dáil. In particular, the Bill was examined in great detail by an all-party Special Committee of the House which was specifically set up for that purpose. I am happy to say that the Special Committee carried out its task in a constructive, non-party political manner and it was possible to reach agreement on many of the issues that arose in our discussions.

I was happy to accept all worthwhile amendments to the Bill in the spirit in which they were proposed by the various members. A large number of amendments were made to the Bill as a result of its examination by the Special Committee.

Important changes were made in the original provisions of the Bill, a large number of new provisions were inserted and other provisions have been extended and reformulated. The result is that the Bill now before the House is greatly improved and I am confident it will be widely supported by this House.

The purpose of this Bill is to update and strengthen the law in relation to the care of children, particularly children who are being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, sexually abused or who are at risk. The existing legislation in relation to the care of children is based largely on the Children Act, 1908. It has served us well and many of its provisions are still in use today. However, there have been sweeping changes in society in the intervening period which need to be reflected in our child care legislation. Our political and administrative structures have changed, new values and attitudes have evolved and there is a greater awareness of the rights of the child.

While we live in a more enlightened society, there continues to be unhappy and deprived children in our community. [1570] At any time about 2,600 children are in the care of the eight health boards. Many are in care because their parents are unable to look after them, whether due to alcoholism, marital breakdown or other family crises. Most are reunited with their families after a few weeks or months; others unfortunately remain in care for years.

There is another group of children who come into care in much more dramatic circumstances. They are the victims of child abuse, whether it be physical, emotional or sexual. In 1989, the total number of confirmed cases of all sorts of child abuse known to the health boards was about 1,300, of which the number of confirmed cases of sexual abuse was about 500. These figures represent an increase of some fourfold in five years. The Department of Health have not yet completed the collection of statistics from health boards in respect of 1990 but all the indications are that the total number of confirmed cases in 1990, including child sexual abuse, will show a further increase. These figures clearly illustrate the need for up-to-date and effective legislation to protect children who are at risk in the community.

However, while we must have the legal means to protect children whose health or welfare is in jeopardy, it is equally important to safeguard children and families from unnecessary or excessive interference by the State. I would see children being taken into care against the wishes of their parents only in exceptional cases where, for example, they have been ill-treated or sexually abused or where there are compelling reasons why their welfare demands that they be removed from their family. The Bill has been drafted on this basis and I wish to emphasise that it poses no threat to the vast majority of parents who are doing their very best to rear and care for their children.

I now wish to turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides that the Bill is to be known as the Child Care Act and empowers the Minister to bring the various provisions into effect by order. It is the intention that the Bill, [1571] when enacted, will be brought into operation as quickly as possible. In this connection, I might mention that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress includes a commitment by the Government to make the necessary resources available to enable the Bill to be implemented over the period of the programme.

Section 2 defines various terms used in the Bill of which the most important is the definition of “child”. At present, the Children Act, 1908, as amended, defines a child as a person under 15 years. This means, in effect, that a person over 16 years may not be placed in health board care regardless of how desirable this might be in his interests. There is a small but growing number of older children who would benefit from being in care but cannot be admitted under the present law. It is proposed, therefore, to define “child” for the purposes of this Bill as a person of up to 18 years; the main effect of this will be to raise to 18 years the age up to which health boards will be responsible for children and the age up to which children may be admitted to care.

Part II, that is sections 3 to 11, contains a number of provisions aimed at promoting the welfare of children, and supporting families in difficulty.

Section 3 places a statutory duty on health boards to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. This is one of the most important provisions of the Bill. It imposes a clear obligation on health boards to provide child care and family support services so as to assist parents in caring for their children and to prevent children having to be placed in care. These services may include social work support for families at risk, counselling and advice services, pre-school services, home help and home maker services, child guidance, day fostering, family resource centres and special projects for the young homeless and other “at risk” groups. Thus the emphasis is on providing support and assistance so that children can remain at home; only in [1572] exceptional cases are children to be taken into care.

I draw particular attention to the amendment to subsection (2) (b) made at the Special Committee so as to require a health board in its actions under the Bill to regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. This makes explicit what has always been implicit: that the whole basis of the health boards' action is to promote the welfare of children in need.

Section 4 deals with voluntary care. It will enable health boards to receive into care without reference to the courts orphans and abandoned children and, with parental consent, children whose parents are unable to care for them due, for example, to serious illness, sudden bereavement, marital breakdown or other family crisis. At present about half of the children in care are there on a voluntary basis rather than under court orders. While there has been some increase in recent years in the number of children entering care through the courts, I expect that a significant proportion of admissions will continue to be on a voluntary basis.

Section 5 is an entirely new provision which was inserted at the Special Committee. It aims to deal with the problem of children and young persons sleeping rough on the streets of our cities and towns. It requires a health board to provide accommodation for homeless children who have no accommodation that they can reasonably occupy.

Section 6 is another new provision inserted at the Special Committee. It requires each health board to provide or ensure the provision of an adoption service in its area. For this purpose a health board may arrange to have the service provided by a registered adoption society and may assist, financially or otherwise, a society with which it has made such an arrangement.

It is proposed in section 7 to establish one or more child care advisory committees in each health board area to advise the board in the performance of its functions under the Bill. The committees will be composed of persons with a special [1573] interest or expertise in child care and will include representatives of voluntary bodies providing child care services.

Voluntary bodies have played and continue to play an important part in our child care services, particularly in the provision of residential facilities. I wish to acknowledge the excellent work which they have done over the years and hope that they will continue to work with us for many years to come. Section 9 enables health boards to make arrangements with voluntary bodies to provide child care and family support services on their behalf. Section 10 empowers health boards to grant-aid voluntary bodies providing child care and family support services.

Part III, sections 12-15, deals with the protection of children in emergencies.

Since the Garda are often the first to come across cases of child abuse and neglect, section 12 provides that in an emergency a garda would be empowered, without warrant, to remove a child to safety. This section was extensively amended during its passage through the Dáil. Subsection (1) now provides that a garda may act where there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child and where it would not be sufficient to await the making of an application for an emergency care order by a health board. New provisions have also been inserted granting the Garda powers of entry, without warrant, for the purposes of this section and enabling them to be accompanied by other persons — for example, social workers — in exercising the power of removal.

Subsection (4) has been amended to make it clear that where a child is removed to safety by a garda and is duly delivered up to the health board, the board must apply for an emergency care order as soon as possible. Where no sitting of the District Court is due to be held within three days, it will be necessary to arrange a special sitting within three days to consider such an application. It will not be lawful for the board to retain custody of the child beyond the three day period unless the court makes an emergency care order.

[1574] Section 13 empowers a district justice to make an emergency care order which would authorise the removal of a child from his home and his placement in the care of a health board for up to eight days where there was an immediate and serious risk to his safety. I might also mention that this was amended at Special Committee to enable a justice to make an order if there is reasonable cause to believe that a child would be at risk if he were removed from the place where he is for the time being. This is to cover cases where, for example, a child is in voluntary care or in hospital and there is concern that he would be at risk if he were to return home.

Part IV, sections 16-23 deals, with care proceedings. It sets out the circumstances in which the courts may place children who have been assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused or who are at risk, in the care of or under the supervision of health boards.

Section 17 was inserted at Special Committee. It enables a justice to make an interim care order placing a child in the care of a health board pending the outcome of an application for a care order. This is designed to bridge the gap between the expiration of an emergency care order after eight days and the determination of an application for a full care order.

Section 18 provides for the making of a care order, which would in effect suspend the parents' right to custody of the child and place him in the custody of the health board. A care order could remain in force until the child attained the age of 18 unless it was discharged by the court because of changed circumstances. In order to obtain a care order it would be necessary for a health board to satisfy the court that the child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused; or that the child's health, development or welfare has been or is being avoidably impaired or neglected; or that the child's health, development or welfare is likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected. These grounds differ entirely from the present legislation. The focus is on the needs of the child rather [1575] than the wrongdoing or shortcomings of the parents. I believe that this is the more appropriate approach and it will ensure that the needs of the child are given full and careful consideration.

Where a care order is in force subsection (2) empowers a health board to do what is reasonable to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child in its care and, in particular, gives it authority to decide the type of care to be provided for the child; give consent to any necessary medical or psychiatric examination or treatment; and give consent to the issue of a passport or the provision of passport facilities to enable the child to travel abroad on holidays etc.

Section 19 enables the court to make a supervision order, which would authorise a health board to visit a child in his home to ensure that he was being cared for properly. The concept of supervising a child at home under a court order is new to our law. Unlike a care order, which will have the effect of removing a child from his family, a supervision order would enable the child to remain at home while requiring the health board to have the child visited regularly to ensure that he was being properly cared for. If necessary the board could ask the court to give directions to the parents as to the care of a child. The court could direct the parents to bring the child to a day care centre, child guidance clinic, hospital etc. A supervision order would apply for 12 months and would be renewable.

Section 20 is an entirely new provision which was inserted on Report Stage. It provides a link between the Bill and the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, and any other proceedings for the delivery or return of a child. In any such proceedings the court will be able to refuse to grant custody to either or both of the parents and instead place the child in the care of a health board or, alternatively, to grant custody to one or both parents subject to the child being supervised by a health board under a supervision order.

Section 23 is another new section which [1576] was inserted on Report Stage. It provides that a court, which finds or declares that a care order is invalid, may refuse to order the return of the child to his parents if this would not be in his best interests; instead it may either make a new care order or remit the matter to the relevant district court so that it can consider the need to make a new care order.

Section 24 is another new section inserted at special committee. It requires the court, having regard to the rights and duties of parents, to regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration in any proceedings in relation to the care and protection of children.

I want to draw particular attention to section 25 which was inserted on Report Stage. It empowers a court to make a child a party to all or part of care proceedings and to appoint a solicitor to represent the child in any case where the court is satisfied that this is necessary in the interests of the child. Where a solicitor is appointed by order of the court, the costs and expenses, including solicitors' fees, incurred will be paid by the health board involved unless the court orders otherwise.

Section 26 is another new section which enables the court, of its own motion or on the application of any party, to procure a report from any person on any question affecting the welfare of the child. The reports may be received in evidence at the proceedings and the person making the report may be called as a witness.

Sections 28, 29 and 30 contain a number of provisions aimed at reducing, as far as possible, the stress and anxiety associated with court proceedings.

Section 28 provides that care proceedings will be heard in private and will be as informal as possible. It also prohibits the wearing of wigs and gowns and provides that care proceedings are to be heard at a different place or at different times or on different days from those at which ordinary sittings of the court are held. Section 29 provides that the child involved need not be brought before the court for all or any part of the hearing unless the court so directs. Section 30 [1577] prohibits the publication or broadcast of any matter that would serve to identify a child who is the subject of care proceedings.

Part VI, section 35-46, sets out the arrangements which may be made by health boards in looking after children in their care. Under section 35 a health board may place a child in care in foster care, in a residential centre or, where he is eligible for adoption, it may place him for adoption or it may make other arrangements for his care, which may include placing the child with a relative.

Section 36 was entirely redrafted at the Special Committee. It now requires a health board to allow reasonable access between a child in care and his parents or any other person who has a bona fides interest in him. A person who is dissatisfied with the access offered by a health board may apply to the court and the court may make such an order as it thinks proper regarding access. There is also provision for a health board to apply to the court for an order authorising it to refuse to allow a named person to have access to a child in its care.

Section 38 provides for regulations governing the placement of children in foster care and section 39 contains a similar power in relation to residential care.

Section 41 deals with the circumstances in which a health board may remove a child from foster care or residential care.

Under the original draft, a health board had an unrestricted power of removal. This was amended on Report Stage and it is now proposed that the circumstances in which a health board would be entitled to remove a child will be subject to regulations to be made by the Minister for Health.

Section 43 enables a health board to provide “aftercare”, for example, support and assistance for persons who were formerly in care.

Part VII, sections 47 to 55, provides for the introduction of a system of inspection of services for pre-school children, for example, day nurseries, creches, playgrounds and pre-schools. There is a wide variety of pre-school services. Some operate on a commercial basis while [1578] others are run on a community or self-help basis. Some simply mind the children while their parents are away; others provide educational programmes designed to stimulate the child's physical and intellectual development. Some services provide full day care while others operate for only part of the day. The Department of Health estimate that there are over 1,500 different services around the country. All of these services will be subject to regulation under this Part.

Section 48 will enable the Minister for Health, in consultation with the Ministers for Education and for the Environment, to make regulations for securing the safety and promoting the development of children attending pre-school services. Persons carrying on pre-school services will be required to notify the local health board and there will be a statutory duty on them to take all reasonable measures to safeguard the children concerned. Health boards will be required to arrange for the inspection of pre-school services. Where services have an educational dimension, the inspection process will be carried out in consultation with the Department of Education. Section 54 empowers health boards to provide pre-school services and to make available information on pre-school services.

Part VIII, sections 56-64, deals with residential centres for children. This entire Part was overhauled on Report Stage to provide for the introduction of a system of registration for children's residential centres.

Section 57 provides that it will not be lawful for any person or body to operate a home for children unless it is registered with the local health board. Section 58 provides for a system of registration which is closely modelled on the recently enacted nursing homes legislation. Section 59 provides for appeals to the courts against decisions of health boards in relation to registration.

Section 60 will enable the Minister for Health to prescribe requirements as to the standard of accommodation and facilities, staff numbers and qualifications, etc., in all the centres. Section [1579] 61 provides that a person guilty of an offence under this Part shall be liable to a fine of up to £1,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both.

Section 63 provides for the introduction of a superannuation scheme for the staff of certain children's residential centres. This is something that has long been sought by the staffs of the centres and their representative associations. The staff concerned will be brought within the scope of the local government superannuation scheme.

Part IX, sections 65-70, contains various technical provisions in relation to the administration of the Bill.

Section 66 will enable the Minister for Health to supervise health boards in the performance of their functions under the Bill. Section 69 reserves to chief executive officers of health boards responsibility for the day to day operation of the Bill, particularly those functions which affect individual children. I expect that most of these functions would be delegated by chief executive officers to social workers and other officers of health boards.

Part X, sections 71 to 76, contains miscellaneous and supplementary provisions.

Section 71 proposes to make it an offence to sell solvent-based products to children where it is known or suspected that they will be abused. Provision is made for fines of up to £1,000 or 12 months' imprisonment. A new provision was inserted on Report Stage giving a garda power to seize any substance in the possession of a child in a public place which the garda has reasonable cause to believe is being misused by that child in a manner likely to cause him to be intoxicated.

What I have outlined are the main provisions of the Bill. As Senators will see there are many other detailed, technical provisions contained in it. In preparing this Bill, we have paid careful attention to the relevant provisions of the Constitution and to relevant decisions of the High Court and the Supreme Court. We have also obtained the advice of the [1580] Attorney General to ensure in so far as it is possible to do so, that the provision in relation to taking children into care are constitutionally sound. What is now proposed is firmly based on Article 42.5 of the Constitution which states:

In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

It is clear from this that the Constitution not only permits the State to intervene where children are not being cared for properly but indeed obliges the State to do so. I am confident, therefore, that the various provisions of the Bill are in conformity with the Constitution. As I indicated earlier, the primary purpose of this Bill is to protect children who are being, or who are at risk of being, assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused. There is an urgent need to update the law in this area and I believe this Bill represents a significant improvement on the present situation.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. O'Reilly: There are many aspects of the legislation that we find acceptable and it will not be opposed by us because we believe it to be in the best interest of children. I would, however, make the point that if the Bill errs, it errs mostly in omission. What concerns me are the aspects of the Bill that are vague and the areas not covered by it.

I will start by reading section 3 (1) which states: “It shall be the function of every health board to promote the welfare of children in its area who are not receiving adequate care and protection and to co-ordinate information from all relevant sources relating to children in its area.” That is a fine platitude which nobody would oppose but when we give the matter further thought we realise that the fundamental weakness in that section is that there is no clear indication that the [1581] appropriate resources will be available to the health boards. We address this Bill at what I would term a time of crisis for the health services in this country and I am not being unduly alarmist.

The shortfall in the North-Eastern Health Board budget for this year will be £1.4 million; and it will be £6 million in the Eastern Health Board budget. The shortfall in the Southern Health Board will be £4 million, and in the Mid-Western Health Board it will be £2.3 million. The North-Western Health Board will have a shortfall of £1.5 million. The Western Health Boards' shortfall will be £3.25 million and in the South-Eastern Health Board it will be £1.8 million. Those figures call the implementation of the provisions of this Bill into question. In the Programme for Economic and Social Progress being voted upon today by a special delegate Congress of the ICTU there is a vague reference to the Child Care Bill. I will avoid quoting the first paragraph because it just states the proposed enactment of the Bill but section 41 states:

It is proposed to implement the Bill when passed on a phased basis and gradually to increase the number of social workers, psychologists and medical staff over the seven year programme. Additional residential facilities will be provided and there will be an increase in home support services for problem families. Arrangements will also be introduced for the inspection and supervision of pre-school services.

I consider it an absolute absurdity that we could discuss the increase in staff, back-up facilities and in infrastructure necessary to implement this Bill and, at the same time, be faced with a massive shortfall in the budgets of the health boards.

Many health boards are proposing that hospital wards be closed down for periods of the year. The psychiatric services in Castlerea may be put at risk. If such is the case, how would a health board faced with that kind of dilemma divert money to implement provisions of the Child [1582] Care Bill? I foresee a massive problem here and I am concerned about it. I will be delighted if the Minister when he is replying on Second Stage and on later Stages can give the House an assurance that the funding will be provided. If the funding is to be provided it will have to come from a special Estimate not yet available. It is clear that the money to fund the services proposed in this Bill is not available to the health boards at the moment and that is a central consideration.

What we are considering at the moment is a cutback of existing services rather than the expansion of services which is implicit in the very fine sentiments of this Bill. The Minister and his colleagues will have to accept that this entire debate is unreal and worthless in the absence of assurance regarding finance.

The report of the Task Force on Child Care recommended specific programmes in each health board area to deal with child care. That recommendation would necessitate a massive injection of finance quite apart from the provisions of this Bill. My contention — there is no point in putting the cart before the horse — is that the money has not been provided. Unless it is written into this legislation, that health boards will be sufficiently funded for this purpose, the provisions of the Bill are but a series of platitudes; aspirational but with no realistic foundation. That is an unfortunate criticism of the Bill but I would be failing in my duty as a public representative not to draw to the attention of the House to what is foremost in any consideration of the Bill.

The point is made in the Minister's speech and stated in the Bill on a number of occasions that the rights of the child will be paramount but section 3(2)(b) refers to the rights and duties of parents whether under the Constitution or otherwise. I would draw the House's attention to Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution which confer on parents inalienable and imprescriptible rights and similar rights with regard to education of their children. Article 42 also confers similar rights on children. However, these later rights [1583] seem less important and less qualified for constant protection than the rights of parents in the context of marriage.

The Supreme Court in a decision of March 1985 in the case of MC and MC and KC and AC v. An Bord Uchtála issued a unanimous five judge verdict on that occasion which stated: “The State cannot supplant the role of parents in providing for the infant the right to be educated conferred on it in Article 42”. The court could not decide solely on the basis of what was best for the child.

In a further case in the Supreme Court on 22 June 1977 J. v. D. it seems again that the rights of children are subservient to the inalienable and imprescriptible rights of parents. These constitutional provisions, and specifically Article 42 of our Constitution, were born of outmoded thinking and they are a product of a historical reality that no longer obtains.

There is no-one in this House who is not aware that one of the great problems in this country for many of us who have attempted to do some social good in our communities has been the exaggerated sanctity of the family. There has been a belief, quite apart from the constitutional provision and quite apart from the law of the land — practising politicians are very much aware of this — that when two people got married and set up a family unit an untouchable entity, an independent republic, was created, beyond interference by anyone. That was a product of a certain outdated philosophy. I often think that that militated against the good of children. A child could have been abused for many years within those confines and nothing could be done about it. It militated tragically against the good of spouses on many occasions as well. It is interesting that despite the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission report — it is not suggested in this legislation and it is not often talked about — we do not consider removing the offender in a barring order case arising from sexual abuse. I submit to the House that it might often be more appropriate that the offender be removed rather than [1584] the child. Many countries, apart from our own, have adoptd the Toronto principle which would bar the offender, rather then the offended, in grevious cases of sexual abuse.

The point I am making in drawing attention to Article 42 of the Constitution and to the Supreme Court interpretation of that Article in subsequent cases and, indeed, to the Toronto principle is that in this country we need to look at constitutional amendment in the light of new thinking and to set out the fundamental rights of children in no uncertain terms. The forthcoming local elections, which seem certain at this stage, would provide a great opportunity for the Government to introduce a constitutional amendment, which I have no doubt would pass with overwhelming acclaim. It would delineate the rights of children in our Constitution more clearly and in a way that would be less susceptible to adverse Supreme Court interpretation than has been the case.

While we have been considering and identifying correctly the very special needs of those who are abused, I would recommend to the Minister that consideration be given to the needs of the abusers. There can be no doubt that for the purposes of this Bill it is right to term sexual abusers, physical abusers and other abusers of children criminal, and I accept that definition in the Bill. The point however, is that abusers are invariably tragic figures, victims, often, of child abuse themselves and worthy of some support system within our State. I recommend to the Minister and to the House in consideration of this Bill that we tackle the problem in a holistic way and consider the problems of the abuser also.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and other Irish bodies have identified the need for mandatory reporting of cases of sexual abuse to health board professionals. I believe this should be provided for in the Bill. It would have to be done in a very subtle fashion, there would have to be proper channels for it and adequate legal protection for the health board workers. [1585] At the moment a health board worker who reported a suspected case of sexual abuse could conceivably be guilty of defamation of character and guilty in civil proceedings of doing something outside their sphere of duty. I think a mechanism should be created to facilitate the reporting of sexual abuse and, indeed, I would submit that it should be mandatory for health board workers to make those reports where appropriate.

Section 3 (3) states:

A health board shall, in addition to any other function assigned it under this Act or any enactment, provide child care and family support services.

I feel there should be a very real emphasis on prevention, which should be our real strategy in dealing with child care. We have had much talk in recent years — some of it sincere, some of it quite hysterical and some of it almost neanderthal — about the rights of the unborn child. It is proper that all of us, as elected representatives, should now turn our attention in a very positive way to the rights of the born child. With this in mind, prevention of problems should be our real strategy. We should be looking at a programme of preventative exercises which would save money later in the Department of Justice Estimate and in the Education Estimate.

We must look at urban poverty and at the new phenomenon of rural poverty identified by the Combat Poverty Agency recently and, in a very splendid fashion by “Today Tonight” on RTE, as sources of problems. There is no explicit reference in the Bill to the development of the community-based preventative services that will be essential, particularly for families where a supervision order has been issued. It is exciting and challenging to consider the kind of things that could be done in the preventative area. I ask the Minister to give this matter very serious consideration in his recommendations to health boards later.

There is a need to look specifically at deprived urban areas. We have to look, obviously, at questions like job creation [1586] and establish social and community facilities in these areas. An interesting study was conducted in 1989 by Focus Point and the Eastern Health Board together. They studied 77 children in a deprived area of Dublin. They discovered that 25 per cent of them were known to have or were suspected of having engaged at some time in prostitution. Thirty-nine per cent were known to have engaged at some time in shoplifting or petty crime. Thirty-three per cent were known to be involved in alcohol abuse.

Another reason for a preventative programme must be the growth of one-parent families. One-parent families are often housed in areas where the mother has no relative to turn to. Many Members here, including myself, spent some time living in flatland in Dublin. I know that one could find an unmarried mother from rural Ireland living on her own in a highrise one-bedroom or two-bedroom flat.

Children of single mothers are more likely to have to be taken into care and they are more vulnerable to money problems. As stated by the Task Force on Child Care Services ten years ago, we need a network of playgroups and nurseries in which children are encouraged and given a sense of stability. Children would be given self-esteem by these experiences. In this area we also need home helpers who are trained to work with children and who can give support to harassed mothers and fathers.

If we were to develop strategies to prevent problems in the child care area later, I believe it would be money well spent. In cold economic terms it would pay, but it would also pay in social terms and that is important.

The European Parliament Draft Report issued in July 1985 emphasised the importance of prevention and early detection in dealing with children's difficulties. First, I would ask the Minister to respond to the question of our school attendance laws and the functioning of our school attendance officers. I am not convinced — and I have some practical experience of this as one who taught in a national school for a number of years and also in a vocational school — that the [1587] school attendance laws are working properly or that we employ the right strategies to maximise school attendance and to deal with non-attenders, particularly those who come from difficult situations. We will have to look at the question of school attendance in the context of this Bill. As the Minister and all Members of the House will appreciate, when school attendance becomes spasmodic a whole myriad of problems arise such as delinquency, illiteracy and retarded learning.

I would recommend that we do something to ensure that school attendance laws are enforced. I submit that this would involve improved personnel in the school attendance area. Perhaps there could be greater training for our school attendance officers and greater numbers of them and a much more active school attendance programme.

I would like to raise the question of children in travellers' halts. It is an urgent matter. In my own constituency we have one very well run and successful travellers' halt but I am convinced that there is nothing for the children in the halt. I know that they go to special classes and that they go to the local primary schools but there seems to be little back-up in the halt and little that they can do in the evenings. Of course, their school attendance would not be very good so I think we need to look at the needs of children in travellers' halts. There is a very practical requirement here.

Yesterday when coming through town and thinking of the Child Care Bill, I noticed that the problem of children sitting and begging around O'Connell Bridge still exists. Very often these children are sent out by their parents and told that they must come back with X amount of money and perhaps they are physically abused if they do not. It is a traumatic sight. Immediate steps should be taken in this House to deal with the problem. That is why I began by saying that I am genuinely concerned about resources. I am not convinced that the resources will be provided in the light of the contemporary situation to enforce the provisions of this Bill, but I do think that [1588] the serious question of the children on O'Connell Bridge and elsewhere needs to be looked at.

The introduction of a State-sponsored pre-school or kindergarten system should be high on our legislative agenda. This would initially target certain areas of mass unemployment and of specific social difficulty. This is very necessary and especially for children in deprived areas.

The 1987 NESC report on Community Care Services has indicated a major shortage of social workers in the health board areas. I think that a shortage of social workers would fundamentally affect the implementation of this legislation. I would want a specific commitment from the Minister that there will be an increase in the number of social workers over the coming years. I do not think it adequate that we have a vague commitment in principle to such an increase. We need a specific number of social workers to implement this legislation and an adequate child care programme.

Section 7 mentions child care advisory committees. I wholeheartedly welcome these committees in principle. They are an important part of the mechanism of child care and a valuable adjunct to the health boards in dealing with child care problems. Given that it is over 80 years since we had the last significant child care legislation in the 1908 Act, it is important that these committees become operative. I would ask the Minister to indicate to the House in his reply what mechanism will be put in place for the selection, election, co-option, or whatever methodology will be used, to select the child care advisory committees. What composition will these boards have? What kind of lifespan will they have? What functions will they perform? I would like some elucidation on those committees.

It may be that, as a result of the Seanad debate, there may be a change of heart on the introduction of a national children's council, like the Council for the Care of the Aged. I do not see any reason we could not have a national children's [1589] council in place. It would have great merit. It would prove a very worthwhile forum for debating the needs of children on a national level. It would allow for constant debate and a thorough review of our strategies in child care areas. It would result in the Government being constantly provoked, agitated or reminded of the need for an updating of child care policies and for increased resources being budgeted for child care.

There are many interesting reports in the child care area that could be discussed at such a national council. For example, the Tuairim Committee report of 1966, The Kennedy report of 1970 and the Task Force report of 1981 could come into the ambit of the national children's council. It would provide an interesting forum for discussion, for provoking new ideas and for agitating Government and other sectors into effective action in the child care area. I would urge the Minister, even in something of a conversion from the Dáil, that he would take the initiative in the Seanad of accepting the principle of a national children's council. It can only be for good. It can only give us the benefit at national level of an ongoing, positive, worthwhile debate on child care in this country. It will have a certain anticipatory role, as well as a review and analytical role in relation to what is being done. Any Government, confident about their future strategies for child care, should have no difficulty with such a council. I would urge the enactment of a children's council.

One very important area is that of child care facilities. There can be no doubt that the absence of child care facilities throughout the country is a major cause of the unequal position of women in employment. I am thinking here specifically of the absence of creches in the workplace, the absence of the availability of creches available throughout this the absence of family support services. We could look at the UK as a model of what is available there. It would be my contention that there should be a network of creches available throughout this country for working mothers. Where [1590] there are working mothers and fathers, the children could be left at such creches and taken care of there.

It is funny that we should be here today discussing the health boards and of giving new responsibility to them while, at the same time, in virtually all our hospitals run by the health boards there are no creche facilities available to the nursing staff; there are no creche facilities available to the administrative staff. I submit that this is an area worthy of urgent attention. We must look at creche facilities for children where the two parents are working.

It is suggested in the Bill that the area for the court orders will be the District Courts. In an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil the legislation was looked at to improve the modus operandi that will exist in the District Courts when child care cases are coming to them. I would urge the Minister to look at family courts as the correct place for dealing with child care cases. These family courts could be staffed by people with professional training. They could have a much more informal character. I would be the last to adversely criticise our District Courts. The District Courts play an important role in contemporary Irish society. The judgments of the district justices tend to be tempered with a lot of local knowledge, humanity and good sense. That is the case in our District Courts. It would be remiss of any elected representative to criticise our District Courts for the good work they do. When you are dealing with family law and things as sensitive as this Bill proposes to deal with, then the correct mechanism must be a network of family courts with professionally trained people. This is not a reflection on the District Courts but we see the family courts as the best method of dealing with this subject.

I accept the principle of supervision orders. They have to be in place but it must raise the old chestnut of staffing because to implement properly the supervision orders there would need to be increased staffing in the health boards and increased resources to fund such a level of staffing. I would ask the Minister to specify how many visits he anticipates the children being supervised would [1591] receive, how often they would be visited, what kind of monitoring they would get, etc. Those situations would need very close monitoring. That would involve a bigger staffing commitment than exists at the moment. That brings me back to the fundamental question I raised at the beginning as to how this is to be financed at a time when the health boards are creaking for want of finance.

Part VII of the Bill deals with the supervision of pre-school services. I notice that the legislation will require cleanliness, heating, lighting, maintenance and ventilation in pre-school areas. I do not take issue with that. That is quite laudatory and is something we all want, but I notice there is nothing about training those who work with children. They will have to be professionally trained. Specialised training for people working in the pre-school area and in all child care areas must be mandatory. Naturally, there will be very experienced child care workers, in other words, people who have worked in the pre-school area up to now; some of whom would be excellent and some would have a lot of practical experience. Some of them would be unquestionably good. This would have to be taken account of.

I am not suggesting that we throw out the baby with the bath water. If people working in the child care area and have established their credentials and are doing a very good job, that would have to be taken into account. They would need to undergo some short form of formal training to put them in touch with the most up to date contemporary thought and professional strategies in this area. By and large, I would expect that existing expertise would be taken into account. From now on that should be the case with people going into the areas of pre-school and taking care of children. It is not wrong to say that people who care for children ultimately control the destiny of the country. Ultimately, they decide the quality of life in the future. This is the most sensitive and important of areas. People in that area should be professionally trained. They should have the kind of expertise necessary to do the job. People working in creches, in pre-school [1592] groups and in Montessori schools need to be trained professionally. I do not believe that people necessarily need PhDs in child psychology. I am not for one moment suggesting that, but I do believe that a form of training should exist and certain regulations should be set out providing for that training. There should be national certification to deal with this.

I submit that the inspectorate must also be trained. The people who inspect the pre-schools for the purposes of registration must be trained. They must not just be trained in their capacity to look at physical surroundings and buildings because, while that is quite important they would also need to look professionally and with the right kind of focus on the entire emotional environment, the atmosphere in which the child was living, on the number of children there, the kind of resources they have and the kind of strategies in place for the child to develop. That would have to be part of the focus of any inspectorate going into the pre-school areas. That is why we need a trained inspectorate as well as trained personnel operating the pre-school services.

There can be no doubt that the pre-school services must be required to register in advance of being set up. In other words, they must set out clearly what their ambitions are, their targets and what they hope to do, rather than just simply give notice to the health board, that they intend to set up a pre-school or a child care centre. They must be registered properly. There must be regulations on the ratio of adults to children and on the qualifications and training of the adults providing the service. This is extremely important.

In England there is a register of child minders available to the State and there are tax allowances available to people involved in child minding. The question of personal taxation would provide difficulties in administering a register system of child minders. Nonetheless, it is something that will have to be looked at. It will have to be looked at in an intelligent way, making allowance for the reality of the income levels of the child minders and for their particular circumstances.

[1593] Obviously, this would all have to be worked intelligently into our tax codes.

As I said, there should be a register of child minders. There should be trained personnel in our pre-schools. Our pre-school services must be required to register. This whole area must be regularised. There can be no doubt that this is becoming a major growth area at the moment and it will go on increasing. That makes it all the more important that regulations would be put in place properly.

We have to look at the question of after school services. At the moment they are precluded from the Bill. These can be important where the primary schools close early in the day and the children will be involved in after school services care often for a period of hours. There are other areas where after school services do not exist at the moment and such a service should be put in place for some few hours of the week because of particular difficulties children would experience, and as a preventive exercise. Prevention must be our strategy rather than dealing with the problem after it arises.

I welcome broadening the definition of the child — increasing the age. That is something to be welcomed. It is important that that would be the case, particularly since there was an anomaly. Other Departments were looking upon people as children until they were 18 years of age. It is important for the purposes of this Bill that they be so recognised.

In conclusion, I would make the point that ultimately we need to be assured that the funding to put the Bill in action will be available. I repeat, all the portents are bad. If the health boards are going through a whole range of cuts at the moment and cutting services, it is hard to believe they can take on board new responsibilities when they are already getting rid of old ones. I find that a very worrying aspect of the Bill. We need to look more positively than the Bill does at such matters. We need to look at ways of preventing problems in the future. That must be our ultimate goal.

The thrust of the Bill is to deal with difficulties already in existence. That is laudatory and necessary. We must also look at strategies to prevent problems in the future, at strategies that will prevent [1594] children having to go into care in the future. That is why there is a necessity for the provision of family support services, kindergartens, creches, a whole range of community services, increased number of social workers and whatever may be necessary. We have to look in a more positive way at the question of child care. We will have to accept the principle of putting trained personnel into all our child care areas. I propose to leave the matter at that and will introduce amendments to cover some of those suggestions later.

Mr. Farrell: I would like to congratulate the Minister on his change of office from Health to Justice. As Minister for State at the Department of Health, the Minister worked with great dedication, sincerity and in a very earnest and upright manner. At all times the welfare of the people, especially the weakest, the vulnerable and the sick, was always uppermost in his mind. No doubt it is because of that that the Minister has been sent back to pilot this Bill through this House and also because of the deep concern and great interest he has taken in this Bill from the outset. The Minister in his new Ministry will take on board many of the problems of crime present today. I feel confident he will deal with it with the same sincerity, dedication and determination as he tackled health. No doubt, the Minister will bring in some legislation to come to grips with teenage problems in crime in due course.

I welcome this Bill. It is a Bill which acknowledges and recognises the role of the family and its duties and rights, particularly the rights of natural parents. It is only when the family has failed that this Bill and its provisions will come into play. Child abuse has been a great problem for sometime. It was not as prevalent in the past as it is now. The reasons for that I will come to later. First of all, there is sexual abuse. While I am sure there was always abuse of this nature, certainly it was not as popular a pastime, because that is what it has become nowadays. All this started when we became a liberal society and threw out a lot of the things our grandparents and parents nurtured for centuries, when we became this newly [1595] educated, great liberal society where good solid customs and practices were thrown away as foolishness of the past. We are now reaping some of the results of that new found happiness we thought we were getting today.

Sexual abuse is very serious, very traumatic and is terrible for the child who is a victim of it. It is sad that a lot of it is within the family unit. It is completely unnatural. What has come over society for developing such an unnatural instinct as to sexually abuse our own nearest and dearest? Serious research needs to be done as to what has pervaded the minds of the human being to act in such a manner. We have allowed in a lot of pornography. This type of corruption is eroding our society.

Physical violence is another very serious aspect of crime today. In my day there were rows in dance halls. At that time a man was heard saying; “He went down and when he got up I put him down again.” There was no such thing as hitting a man on the ground. That was unprofessional. It was a fist to fist fight, a clean fight. A person would not be abused on the ground. Nowadays, it is knives, chains and so on. Society has become outlandishly cruel.

Children are out on the streets collecting money even though their families are getting quite a lot of social welfare money. I was looking at a case on television recently where a woman was getting £154 a week, but it never mentioned her subsidised rent, children's allowance and how much she was getting in free clothes and shoes. The total sum of money going into that house was an awful lot more than many a good home in this city and rural Ireland where people are living and rearing their families well. Something needs to be done to educate people how to use money and not abuse it. It is the abuse of money that leads to those children being sent out on the streets to beg. If they do not return home with so much money they are abused again. I have on a few occasions, when waiting for somebody, observed children begging in the streets and have noticed an adult arriving and taking whatever money they collected and disappear. The [1596] poor child has to sit there and continue begging. A law is necessary to apprehend those culprits who are putting those children out on the streets. When observed taking money from those children they should be charged and brought before the courts. This is having a psychological effect on those children. We have criticised many homes in years gone by, but the environment was a lot better than what some children have to put up with today. A survey needs to be carried out to assess this problem. This law may help us to come to grips with that. Those children should be taken off the streets and checked out to see exactly what kind of parents they have, where they come from and why they are out on the streets. This is a type of physical abuse that must be brought to a sudden conclusion.

There is also the problem when children are deliberately sent out to steal. It is unfair dragging the children before the courts; it is the people who send them out who are responsible. This is a very severe type of physical abuse that we must come to grips with. It is more than a physical abuse. Parents may have a drink problem or a problem with drugs. They may be in an erratic mood and do not know where to stop. The abuse of alcohol and drugs is where the real trouble is. There should be a prohibition on the sale of intoxicating drink in cash and carries, supermarkets and take aways. They are being bought by the bottle, not by the glass. It is taking from people a great deal of money that should be going to the care of their children.

As a result of sexual and physical abuse the child suffers emotional trauma. I congratulate the health boards on the work they are doing. They are providing a very good service. One of the reasons why the health boards are doing such a good job, for which they do not always get credit, is that they comprise medical people, politicians and a good spread of people and they are dealing with the general public all the time. Politicians are talking to their constituents, doctors are talking to their patients and social workers are talking to people generally. With all that information collected and collated we are pinpointing where we think there are [1597] problems and many cases are coming to notice now in that manner. That may not be as easy in a big city like Dublin but certainly in rural Ireland that is the attitude. We are keeping an eye out for such problems. People hear and see things that maybe they cannot prove but they can pass on information. Then you have the appropriate person keeping an eye out and coming to grips with the situation before it gets out of hand.

In days gone by we had the extended family. We no longer have the grandfather, grandmother, grandaunt or granduncle living with the young family. When the grandparents were there there was less opportunity for some of those abuses, because of the age and wisdom of the grandparents. There was no such thing as babysitters then. While the great majority of babysitters do a very good job, there is the occasion where some of them will unfortunately experience problems, for example, with a parent leaving them home or maybe experimenting with children when they are on their own. There was none of that type of thing when the grandparent was present and able to adopt a supervisory role.

Today people are in new housing estates and built-up areas and it does not augur well for keeping a good community together. That is where some of those problems lie. The day of the extended family is gone, which is a great pity. When the children, teenagers, adults and the old people all rambled together, and went to dances together, there was a good mix and some control and supervision without it being seen but it was there. Nowadays every group go on their own. It tends to a lack of control that can lead to some problems. If we had such control we would certainly not need to have a Bill like this before us. It is important that we have a Bill because children are the weakest of our society and they must be protected.

My health board, the North Western Health Board, last Monday launched a primary school educational course, the first in the country as far as I am aware. We launched a health education programme four or five years ago in secondary schools which has been a great success. Now we have introduced health [1598] education into the primary schools. There is a working group consisting of teachers, psychologists and social workers, etc. They have worked on it and presented a very good course. This will help to eliminate some of the problems. Some of those people will be visiting schools and may be able to spot things in the schools much quicker. When you had the smaller schools a lot of problems were detected earlier on. With the smaller school there were only two or three teachers, who knew every child and every parent.

Over the years we strove for better education. With better education of course we may have gone overboard with perfecting the ABC and lost sight of all the other advantages of the small school which we took for granted. When a teacher had a child from infants to second class that teacher watched them for two or three years. When they went into third, fourth and fifth classes there one teacher watched them again so there was some continuity. Now it is a different teacher for every class. Scottish people would call it a horizontal system whereas we had a vertical system. The argument about switching children from class to class, from one teacher to another each year, was that if children had a bad teacher they would not be stuck with that teacher. However, the teacher dealing with a child for some years could detect little problems far quicker, whereas now they do not even get to know them, never mind knowing the parents.

I would like to pay special tribute to national teachers who are doing a wonderful job. They got very bad publicity in the media, who lacerated them. I speak as one who has no friend or relation in the teaching profession whatsoever. It was deplorable the abuse national teachers got. We all know what it is to try and mind four or five children on a day when you have a birthday party for a child. The teachers have a party every day, five days a week. They have to correct school exercises when they go home and they do a wonderful job.

They are not alone teachers but psychologists. If a child only gets knocked down in the school ground, the teacher takes out his car, brings the child to a [1599] doctor and brings him home. If the evening is bad and the school bus has broken down, teachers will take their cars and leave all the children home. The amount of work that teachers do and the way they have been treated by our media is nothing short of scandalous and I condemn it.

I would not agree entirely with the previous speaker when he said there was a lot of talk about the unborn child. The implication there is that we should not consider the unborn child. The unborn child to me is something very dear. We have a duty to protect unborn children. It is rather sad in this day and age that we have so many children not being allowed to see the light of day. We talk about Romanian children and what is happening to them, but what about the thousands of children who are being denied the right to live? I do not want to get emotional.

I am sad that some of the medical profession in other countries, people who studied and worked hard to acquire a profession to protect life, are now terminating life. There is plenty of proof of it now. Do they not see the psychological effects and emotional effects it is having on people years later? We will have to have more counselling and do more work. I know the health boards are doing a great job and are doing their best and other organisations like Cura are also doing their best.

There is a movement afoot which wants to encourage terminating life. I appeal to them to realise that there is nothing as important as life. Recently I read of a case in the newspaper where some woman had a car accident when she was eight weeks pregnant and she received compensation for the loss of the child. Yet we have abortions taking place at 28 weeks and they try to tell us that a foetus is involved. It does not make sense. We all know that it is not a foetus, it is another human being. I feel we should provide more counselling services in this area. We all know, especially those of us who have been sick and who have had to make decisions. I had to make a decision whether a hand could be kept or taken from me. It is a time when you are [1600] at your weakest. You are vulnerable and you say to the doctor “Whatever you think is best.” You do not know. Those people are in a traumatic state. They are emotionally upset, they do not know what to do and they should receive full counselling and advice on all aspects. Then they should have a choice after full counselling, but to my mind they are being pushed by people in the medical profession trying to make money. It is not for the love or betterment of the girl involved.

We have a duty to these people. We must help girls who get into that kind of problem. We must put more money and resources into providing better counselling and give them a clear picture of what the whole thing entails. We all know how much time parents who give their children up for adoption spend years later trying to trace the children and of the children who are trying to trace their parents. In the other situation it is a finality — there is no tracing, that is the end of it.

Our adoption societies are doing a good job, too, but unfortunately they are not receiving babies for adoption today. It is a pity because there are many good homes with good people who cannot have a family of their own. They would love to give some child a home. It is a pity that some of those people who have abortions do not have the children and then put them up for adoption where they would be allowed to live and they would get a good home to live in. There are many parents so desperate for children they go out to Romania to get them. We could solve that problem here at home. We will have to work on that. I would like to see more counselling and help given to girls who find themselves in that situation. I congratulate all unmarried mothers. They are great people and God will reward them for keeping their children and rearing them. They deserve all our support. The Government have done a lot of work to help those people. It is only right and proper that it should be done.

There is one aspect that the Bill does not deal with, perhaps some other Bill will do so. It is something I will mention anyway. There is an old Italian proverb [1601] that says “It is a wise child that knows his own father” and a French proverb says “The father names the child, but the mother knows it”. When those old proverbs were written many years ago it must have been a problem then too. It is nothing new. The father's name should be registered. That is important. I do not think the men should get away scot free. It takes two to tango, it takes two to create a child. One should not have to carry the can.

Where it is known if at all possible in the father's name should be registered so that that child when he grows up will know who the father is. We need to do something in that regard. I would like to see us working on this, to keep records on it, because otherwise brothers and sisters could end up getting married and they would not know they were related. We owe it to the children: that when they grow up there will be a register somewhere where they will be able to find out who their fathers were. That is a natural instinct for everybody. We all know the work that has been done in trying to trace family trees. If a child cannot trace its own father it will not have much hope of being able to trace a family tree. That is something I would like to see some work done on. Our health board works with two adoption societies in the north-west and we have a satisfactory arrangement.

I am delighted that in this Bill the health boards have received a bit more power than they had. Health boards will not act unless they have to. It is important that they can take care of children. That is what they do, no matter what may be said and even though you may have cases proven in court to the contrary. The professional people social workers nurses, doctors and so on who go out and bring in some child do it for the very highest motive, the protection of the child. They are fully convinced that that child needs attention.

We talked earlier about pre-schools and creches. I am not for too much training. We were told that if we had a driving test in this country we would eliminate accidents and make our roads safe. We set up a driving test and now that we have all expert drivers we have more accidents than ever today. Someone goes in to do [1602] the test and comes out on the road an ace driver. They do not know if they are a good or a bad driver. As one who has done the test — I had to do the test long before others did because I used to drive a hackney car — I never saw much in it.

I do not know if all of this training is the answer to all our problems. In fairness, the best people in the world today and the best people in Ireland to look after children are their mothers, by and large. Many of the people who are involved in creches and in child care are mothers who cared for their own families. Now their families are gone they have time on hands and they love to mind children.

My criteria would be that if a mother reared a good family then she will look after those children well because she is a mother. Most Irish mothers are the best in the world; that cannot be taken from them. I do not think that because a person goes to a college and comes out with a diploma, it means anything special. When woodwork theory came into the schools people could write 40 pages of foolscap about a three inch nail and never once say it was a straight bit of wire, but they could not put a foot on a stool. They could do the practical work but they could not tell you how it was done. The Irish mother is very practical and would be a good person to care for children. I would not like to think that some of those people might be disqualified because they have no paper to say they are professionals.

I would like to see children getting very good care, but they need more than care; they need love and being talked to. Children love to be talked to, to be taken on the knee and to be cared for. That is what is needed in a creche not just feeding children by the clock or changing nappies on time. All those things are very important but more is needed.

Children are human beings. They must be talked to and you must let them talk to you. There must be a bond between the child and the carer. That is more important for people running creches, to realise whoever is in charge should ensure that the children get what they need — care, attention, love, a little cuddle and a kiss. This is a very important to a child [1603] growing up. That is an area we must work on.

Pre-schools are doing a very good job. I never know whether to agree or disagree with them because in a way we are putting children into school too quickly and they do not get time to be children. When children did not go to school until six years of age, they were at home or out in the field with their parents, older brothers or neighbours and they were learning. When you send them to pre-school, they are mixing with children of their own age all the time. They are not getting the same attention we got. When we were young there was always the old philosopher who told stories and we sat and listened. If a child robbed a bird's nest, someone saw him and told him why it was wrong to do that.

Mr. O'Reilly: I did not think the Senator would rob a nest.

Mr. Farrell: It was very important. The philosopher would tell you the story of Murphy who, had a white horse and the other fellow had a brown horse, and rides with a saddle worth £50. If the saddle goes on the white horse he is worth twice the price of the brown horse, and if the brown horse is worth three pence, what is the price of each horse? That was education too. These were tricky questions but it was great fun working them out. These children are missing out. That is all gone today. That is a great pity.

There are not enough people now to talk with children, but the pre-school does a good job. However, I think we are going over the top educating children. I read that an American scientist said that at 12 weeks into pregnancy a child was starting to learn and mothers should teach them while they are still in the womb because they are capable of learning. Scientists carried out some research into this area by playing music. They found that the child who listened to music while still in the womb was more musical than the child who did not. My point is that the unborn have a life too. This is something we should be concentrating on.

I like to see pre-schools but they should [1604] create the right environment. Overemphasis on the chalk and blackboard is not the thing for children at that age. In playschools they should get an opportunity to play, talk, mix and have a good line in conversation. They should be taught to communicate with each other. That is real education. Being able to spell cat and mat comes in its own time. Children should communicate with each other and realise that they must share with one another. That is very important, and that is a provision I would like to see in the Child Care Bill.

I am very pleased about the supervision order. The last thing we want to do is to take a child from the parents or parent. The law was black and white. If things were not going right at home the child was taken into care. That was traumatic for the child and the parent. Now, the authorities can apply for a supervision order. The health boards will be able to send their social worker or local health nurse to see what is happening and they can talk to and counsel the parents. They can talk to the child for two or three hours to see how the child is doing. They can assess the child in their own time and then bring the child home again. That way the child is not being taken away he is being supervised at home. That is very important because the parents know they have to play their part and that is better than separating them.

The supervision order is a very good thing. I am delighted it is in the Bill because it certainly will give parents the opportunity to learn how to cope with problems. The fact that a child will be taken away for three or four hours gives a parent time to reflect. The parents know that if they do not get their act together their child will be taken into care. Under the old system, the child would have been taken away and parents would have had no say in it. Now they know that their child will return in a few hours.

I still think the motherly instinct is so strong that if there was a backup service it will be of tremendous benefit to the child. Above all, we must try to keep families together. The family is a very important unit. If you do not have a good family, or a close family, you will have a [1605] very unstable society. It all hinges on the family. I welcome that provision.

We must come to grips with the real problems. We can have all the Bills and laws we like, but we must come to grips with the main social problem today, which is the abuse of substances — alcohol, drugs, sniffing glue, etc. Throwing more money at the problem is not the answer. That is what is wrong with children. When a child walks into a house, the parent sometimes says, “Here is some money, go and buy yourself an ice cream”. When a child is in need they want someone to talk to them and to give them some love and care. They do not want money for sweets.

Debate adjourned.

An Cathaoirleach: May I ask the Acting Leader when it is proposed to sit again?

Mr. Fitzgerald: Molaim go gcuirfirmis an Seanad ar athló go dtí an Chéadaoin seo chugainn ar 2.30 p.m. — next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.