The new vision for child and family services

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Gordon Jeyes
Gordon Jeyes

There is no boundary solution to children’s services – children invaded every aspect of life in respect of their care and education and every government department should have a policy on child care, which should be integrated in the programme for government at the highest level, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, CEO Designate, Child and Family Support Agency, told the HMI Dublin Mid Leinster Forum in the Dublin Dental Hospital. Maureen Browne reports.

There is no boundary solution to children’s services – children invaded every aspect of life in respect of their care and education and every government department should have a policy on child care, which should be integrated in the programme for government at the highest level, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, CEO Designate, Child and Family Support Agency, told the HMI Dublin Mid Leinster Forum in the Dublin Dental Hospital.

Gordon Jeyes
Gordon Jeyes

Mr. Jeyes, who was awarded an OBE in the UK Honours list for his services to children, said he had been invited to the HSE as the first National Director of Children’s Services to oversee a programme of reform and establish a new structure.

“In this time of change and restricted resources, we want to hold on to things we do well and look at things we want to do differently.”

The Agency’s vision for a quality Irish childhood was that children should have both physical and mental health, be supported in active learning, safe from accidental and intentional harm, secure in the immediate and wider physical environment, economically secure and part of a positive network of family, friends, neighbours and the community.

Children needed a loving nurturing home, community support, school/education support and health support.

There were unfinished equality issues for children in terms of age, race and gender. We had to recognise everybody’s humanity and ensure that their human worth and their rights were fully protected.

In this time of change and restricted resources, we want to hold on to things we do well and look at things we want to do differently.

He favoured the idea of universality – ideally if something was given to everybody, nobody would be stigmatised but resource constraints made this impossible at present. “So we are now back to targeted services, but these targeted services have got to have a universal basis.”

They needed to map children’s services. Services must be grouped around the client and we needed to have an holistic approach. “You cannot pull apart nurture, health and education – you have to be healthy to learn and nurtured and loved to reach your potential.”

He said that because, until recently, Ireland had strong extended families, our problems were different from other countries, but they did have an international context.

The design of the range of services to be overseen by the CFSA centred on the needs of children and families, rather than existing professional or organisational boundaries.

For the time being, the Agency would take over the range of services for children and families at present run by the HSE, including the 106 family support centres around the country.

Management lines would be from  the Minister to the National Director to the Chief Operations Officer to the four Regional Service Directors to the 17 Area Managers to the Social work teams.

The management team consisted of a Head of Finance, a Head of Quality Assurance, a Chief Operating Officer, a Head of Strategy and a Head of Corporate Services.

If children are still at risk of significant harm after a year’s intervention, then there is an issue.

“As regards budget, we have to take the argument forward and ask what can we afford and what are our priorities.

“I think we are a bit underfunded but there is no point in looking for more resources because that is not going to happen. We have to set out what we can do with our existing budget but we must be realistic about what can be done – we can’t keep doing more and more with less and less.

“I do not expect to be running all the services, but I will want to be assured of their existence. For example, I won’t be running services for children with eating disorders but I will want to know that these services exist now and will exist next year.  We have to develop new relationships and I am worried that under restructuring and financial pressures we do not play ‘pass the parcel’ with children’s needs .

Take children with autism or Asperger’s. The family may be supported by a number of agencies. We need to find a way of funding the service through a mechanism involving the professional and not through designated budgets.  New relationships will be crucial.

“There are five to ten per cent of children in care who are very challenging. We must not lose sight of the progress we have made.  We need to work with the voluntary community sector. We have to encourage the voluntary community sector to rationalise and ensure we are getting best value for our tax spend.

Joint working is not as good as it should be for children and not as good as best practice in other countries.

“We spend nearly €100 million on the voluntary community sector and we must ask if we are getting value for that?

“We require the support and permission of the community and well defined local mechanisms of accountability to ensure focused, disciplined relationships among all those promoting the welfare of children, with clear lines of management accountability. Strategy and policy should be on a national basis and decisions and practice taken at the most local practical level.

“Social workers are key professionals but children need a range of individuals to influence their lives. We strongly believe that service delivery must be at local level.

“Professionals should have flexibility in how they respond. They should use their judgment in how they structure the service, but this judgment needs to be based on quality assurance….on evidence of impact”

He said that care for children who needed to be held in secure accommodation because they were a danger to themselves or others would not be spread around so there would be some central specialist or support services but it was his firm belief  that you should begin with the budget at the lowest practical level so that area managers knew their budget and were fully empowered within that.

Mr. Jeyes said that he believed that in child protection cases, children and families should be supported for six to 12 months to see if problems can be stabilised and then the family should be moving on. If children are still at risk of significant harm after a year’s intervention, then there is an issue. If there is a properly organised child care protection system, there may be fewer children in care.

He said there were things we did well in child care in Ireland. It was not so long ago that most of our youngsters who were in state care were looked after in orphanages, yet now 93 per cent of our children in care were in foster care, which was the nearest we had to a loving family. This was a fantastic turn around and far higher than in any of the jurisdictions in the UK. After-care was also very good in Ireland. It was up to world class with children who had been through the care system getting the leaving certificate and many going on to university.

Turning to the moratorium, he said that highly paid professionals got more protection and were more likely to be replaced than highly important clerical staff. This meant that the professionals were becoming deskilled.