Separation from HSE
The main object of the Child and Family Agency Act is to provide for the establishment of the Child and Family Agency. The Agency will, on the establishment day, assume responsibility for functions currently performed by the Health Service Executive relating to child welfare and protection. In addition, the functions transferring to the Agency will include the provision of services relating to the psychological welfare of children and their families.
The Act also provides for the transfer of the existing responsibilities of the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board to the Agency. This will facilitate the greater integration of services for children and families and also accords with the Public Service Reform Plan and the rationalisation of State agencies.
The Act also provides for a governance framework in order to ensure that the Agency operates within a strong framework of public accountability. It establishes structures which clarify that the policy objectives for the Agency will be set by the Minister, supported by the Department and that the Agency is responsible to the Minister for its performance. It also seeks to strengthen the governance of services through a greater focus on the management of performance and improved organisational accountability for outcomes and public expenditure.
In addition to provisions providing for the establishment of the Board and the functions of the Chief Executive Officer, the Act further provides for a number of supplementary matters relating to the commissioning of services by the Agency, staffing, complaints in relation to services and transitional matters relating to the functions transferring to the Agency from the different bodies.
The Minister by order, appointed a day to be the establishment day of the Agency. This provision provides for the establishment of the Agency on establishment day.
The functions include the existing functions of the National Educational Welfare Board and the Family Support Agency. It includes the functions provided by Child and Family Services of the HSE currently which include supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children.
The functions of the Agency include supporting and encouraging the effective functioning of families which may encompass care and protection for victims of domestic, sexual or gender-based violence whether in the context of the family or otherwise. They include the provision of services relating to the psychological welfare of children and their families.
The Agency is to have regard to the best interests and views of the child when making decisions. When performing its functions under the Adoption Act 2010 or the Child Care Act 1991, the Agency will ensure that the views of the child are ascertained and given due weight.
Agreements between Agency and public bodies
The functions of the Agency may be performed by a public body by agreement between the public body and Agency. There are reciprocal arrangement between a public body and the Agency by agreement. There may be informal agreements between the Agency and public bodies concerning duties relating to their respective functions.
There is to be an annual report in relation to the Agency’s functions during the previous calendar year. It provides for the specifics of the annual report, its adoption by the Agency, its submission to the Minister, its laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Minister and its publication by the
The Agency is to furnish information to the Minister which the Minister is likely to consider significant for the performance of his or her functions or information that has been specified by the Minister as falling within a class of developments of public interest or concern. It also provides that the Agency shall, when required by the Minister, submit a report on any matter connected with the functions of the Agency.
The Minister may require the Agency to furnish certain information or documents to him/her where he or she considers it necessary in the public interest to do so for the performance of his or her functions. The Agency is required to provide the information in any period specified by the Minister and in any event without delay.
The Minister may share information and documents in certain circumstances. The Minister may use information and documents obtained for the performance of his or her functions. This power is qualified in relation to the publication of such information or documents.
Board of Agency
The 2013 Act provides for the composition of the Board of the Agency. In addition to the standard provisions relating to the composition of the Board, it provides for the method of appointment, term of office, credentials of members, gender balance and resignation.
The Board of the Agency is the governing body. It also specifies various functions of the Board that may not be delegated to the Chief Executive Officer. It also provides that the Minister may issue directions to the Board in relation to the delegation of functions to the Chief Executive Officer.
There is provision for the holding of meetings by the Board. It provides for a minimum number of meetings per year, the number of members required to be present to have a quorum, how matters are to be determined at meetings and that the Board may regulate the procedures and business of the Board.
The Act provides for the conditions of office and the circumstances in which the Minister may remove a member of the Board from office. It also enumerates those eventualities which will result in immediate cessation of membership of the Board. In specified circumstances, the Minister may remove the entire Board of the Agency from office. It contains standard savers in regard to the delegation of the Agency’s function to the Chief Executive Officer in such a situation.
The Board may set up committees to assist and advise it on matters relating to its functions. Persons who have special knowledge and experience related to the purposes of the committee but who are not members of the Board may be appointed to such committees.
The Act provides for the remuneration and expenses of members of the Board and of committees of the Board to be paid by the Agency at such rates as the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may determine.
Chief Executive Officer
The Act provides for the appointment of a Chief Executive Officer of the Agency. The remuneration and allowance of the Chief Executive Officer are payable by the Agency. S/he may attend meetings of the Board and make submissions and advise the Board in accordance with the procedures of the Board.
The Chief Executive Officer is responsible to the Board for the performance of his or her functions and the implementation of the Agency’s corporate plan and business plan. It sets out the functions of the Chief Executive Officer and provides for their delegation to an acting Chief Executive Officer if the Chief Executive Officer is absent or the position is vacant.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Agency may delegate functions to employees and for their subdelegation to or by other employees.There may be delegation of functions. The Act provides for the effect of a delegation and sub- delegation of functions by the Agency to the Chief Executive Officer and by him or her to an employee of the Agency. It provides that the delegation or subdelegation is to be taken to include the delegation or subdelegation of any power or duty incidental to or connected with that function.
The Chief Executive Officer is to attend before the Public Accounts Committee whenever required in writing to do so. In such circumstances, the Chief Executive Officer will appear as an accountable person and not an accounting officer.
The Chief Executive Officer is to attend other Oireachtas Committees as and when requested in writing to do so. He or she is not required to give an account of any matter relating to the general administration of the Agency that is or is likely to be the subject of proceedings.
Standards and Disqualifications
There are provision for the maintenance of proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest by specified persons performing functions under this Act or any other enactment. The Agency will issue codes of conduct to provide guidance on standards of integrity and conduct to be maintained by persons in the performance of their functions.
The Agency is to make its code of conduct available to the persons to whom it is intended to be directed as soon as practicable after issuing the code. The Agency may not accept gifts if the conditions attaching are inconsistent with the functions or obligations of the Agency.
Certain defined confidential information may not be disclosed except in certain circumstances.
Accountability and Funding of Agency
There is to be a Performance Framework by the Minister at specific times to inform the Agency’s corporate planning processes. It will provide the Agency with policy guidance, direction and prioritisation parameters. The Minister may consult with the Minister for Health or the Minister for Education before developing a Performance Framework which includes matters relating to their functions.
The Agency at 3 year intervals is to prepare and submit to the Minister for approval a corporate plan which has regard to the Performance Framework provided by the Minister. The corporate plan will include the Agency’s key objectives, outputs and related strategies, a review of the Agency’s statutory functions in the previous three years and accord with any directions issued from time to time by the Minister and the policies and objectives of the Minister and the Government.
The corporate plan is to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as practicable after its approval by the Minister and for its publication subsequently. There is to be an annual Performance Statement by the Minister to provide the Agency at specific times each year with specific policy guidance, direction, prioritisation and resource parameters for the preparation of the annual business plan.
The Minister is to issue a determination of net expenditure to the Agency for a financial year. The Minister may amend a determination and notify the Agency in writing of the varied amount.
A business plan is to be submitted to the Minister within 30 days of the provision of the Performance Statement to the Agency. The Act provides for the contents of the business plan and for the implementation of the business plan by the Agency unless the Minister directs the Agency to amend the plan within 30 days of the submission of the plan to him or her.
Power of Minister to give direction to Agency
The Minister may give an additional written directions to the Agency concerning any matter or thing and the implementation of any policy or objective of the Minister or the Government. A direction given shall not interfere with the exercise of professional judgment in a particular case. A direction given under the section shall be published in Iris Oifigiuil and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as practicable after it is given.
The Minister may issue additional written guidelines to the Agency notwithstanding guidance provided above. The guidelines may relate to additional policy guidance or changes in policy and changes in prioritisation of business plan commitments.
The Agency must obtain the Minister’s prior permission in writing before it may commit to major capital spending.
The Agency to prepare a code of governance to be submitted to the Minister for approval. The Act provides for the specific matters to be included in a code of governance and for its publication by the Agency following approval by the Minister.
The Chief Executive Officer is to keep accounts including such special accounts as may be directed by the Minister. There is provision for the submission of accounts of the Agency prepared by the Chief Executive Officer to the Comptroller and Auditor General within 3 months of the end of the financial year to which they relate. A copy of the accounts and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Minister within 2 months of their receipt by the Minister.
The Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, may make, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, advances to the Agency with a view to enabling the Agency to perform its functions.
Employees and Advisers
New staff may be appointed to the Agency. The Agency may determine terms and conditions, grades and numbers in each grade, with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
There is provision for the preparation and submission of a scheme to the Minister for the granting of superannuation to employees, other members of staff as may be appropriate and former members of staff of the dissolved bodies. Save in accordance with a collective agreement, such a scheme shall not be less favourable than that which applied to employees and former members of staff of the dissolved bodies immediately before establishment day.
The Agency, with the agreement of the Minister, may engage consultants or advisers and provides that the fees due in respect of such services will be paid by the Agency.
Arrangements with service providers
The Agency, subject to certain matters including the resources available to the Agency,may enter into arrangements with not for profit service providers for the provision of services similar to activities carried out by the Agency and consistent with its functions. It also sets out certain processes to be adhered to in the interests of effectiveness and transparency.
A statutory body may by agreement provide services to the Agency with a view to the performance of its statutory functions and for the appointment of authorised officers for the purposes of the contract.
The Agency may make arrangements with any suitable person to discharge its obligations in relation to special care and residential places for children in the care of the Agency. There are certain processes to be adhered to in the interests of effectiveness and transparency.
The Agency may, subject to any direction of the Minister, to provide financial or other assistance to a voluntary body to provide services to children and families supplemental to services provided by the Agency.
A person may bring a complaint in respect of a service by the Agency or a service provider as defined on the basis that the action does not accord with fair and sound administrative practice and adversely affects or affected a person. Specifed types of actions that do not accord with fair and sound administrative practice.
A complaint must be made within 12 months of the date of the action giving rise to the complaint or within 12 months of the date the person who is to refer the complaint or on whose behalf the complaint is to be referred became aware of the action giving rise to the complaint. The time limit may be extended by the complaints officer in special circumstances.
Certain matters are to be excluded from the complaints mechanism. A matter may be dealt with by a complaints officer notwithstanding that a complaint was referred to the Ombudsman or Ombudsman for Children
Complaint and review procedures to be established
The Agency is to establish complaint procedures and procedures for reviewing recommendations made by complaints officers. A service provider may with the agreement of the Agency establish its own complaint procedures. The Agency may assign to another person the Agency’s functions in relation to dealing with complaints and reviewing any recommendation made by a complaints officer.
There are circumstance in which a complaint will not be investigated at all or processed by further investigation following preliminary investigation. The complaints officer will inform the complainant in writing as soon as practicable after making his or her determination or decision.
There are restrictions on the type of recommendations that complaints officers may make. A complaints officer shall not make a recommendation which would require or cause an amendment to the Agency’s business plan, corporate plan or an arrangement with a service provider. If such a recommendation is made, the recommendation may be amended so that no amendment is necessary to the business plan, corporate plan or arrangement or rejected and such other measures taken to remedy, mitigate or alter the adverse effect of the matter to which the complaint relates.
It is a condition of any arrangement with a service provider that it will adhere to the complaints procedures established by the Agency or establish its own procedures as agreed with the Agency and adhere to those procedures.
The Minister may prescribe matters by regulations for the purposes of dealing with complaints.
A person, who is dissatisfied with a recommendation or step taken in response to a complaint or review of a recommendation of a complaints officer, is not prohibited or prevented from referring the complaint to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children. Any action taken by a service provider shall be deemed to have been taken by the Agency.
The Agency is to include a report on the performance of its functions relating to complaints as part of the Agency’s annual report. A service provider who has established a complaints procedure by agreement with the Agency will each year provide the Agency with a general report on the complaints received by the service provider during the previous year.
If the Agency assigns its functions in relation to complaints or reviewing and establishing procedures for reviewing any recommendation made by a complaints officer to another person, that person will each year provide a general report on the complaints dealt with and reviews conducted by it during the previous year.
Dissolution of Agencies
The 2013 Act provides for the dissolution of the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board on establishment day. There was a transfer of specified functions of the Family Support Agency and the functions of the National Educational Welfare Board on establishment day to the Child and Family Agency.
There was a transfer of staff from the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board to the Agency on establishment day. The 2013 Act preserves, on that day, the terms and conditions of staff transferring and provides for the reckoning of previous service as service for the purpose of certain specified enactments.
There is a standard provision providing for the continuation in force of contracts, agreements or arrangements entered into by the Family Support Agency or the National Educational Welfare Board which are in force immediately before the establishment day.
References to the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board, in any enactment, will after establishment day, be read as references to the Agency.
Transfer of certain staff, functions,
There is a transfer of specified functions from the Health Service Executive to the Agency on establishment day. The functions vested in the HSE by or under the enactments specified in Schedule 1 are transferred to the Agency on the establishment day.
The Minister for Health following consultation with the Minister, is to designated the transfer of staff to transfer to the Agency on a day as may be specified. It preserves, on that day, the terms and conditions of staff transferring including remuneration and tenure and provides for the reckoning of previous service as service for the purpose of certain specified enactments.
The Agency may, with the consent of the Minister, make regulations specifying such charges as it considers necessary and appropriate in consideration of the exercise of specified functions and the provision of specified services. A charge may not be made by the Agency when the charge relates to services provided to a person under 18 years.
- Schedule 1 sets out the enactments under which functions are to transfer to the Agency.
- Schedule 2 provides for matters related to consequential amendments.
- Schedule 3 provides for matters related to enactments being repealed.