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Minister Fitzgerald addresses EU Presidency Conference on Family Support in Dublin Castle

04.02.2013, 17:45 GMT

Minister says Ireland’s new Child & Family Support Agency will prioritise early intervention and family support. COFACE European Conference brought to Dublin by ICA Minister highlights emerging Irish research proving benefits of family support and early intervention.

Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has today said that EU policy developments as well as the development of the new Child and Family Support Agency in Ireland must include a priority focus on early intervention and family support so as to support both children and their parents.

Minister Fitzgerald was addressing the Confederation of Family Organisations of the European Union (COFACE) at their European Conference held in Dublin Castle to mark Ireland’s EU Presidency. The Conference was brought to Dublin by the Irish Countrywomen’s Association who are members of COFACE and is being supported by the Department of Children & Youth Affairs. The conference theme is ‘Vulnerable Families – What Can Europe Do?’

Addressing the conference Minister Fitzgerald stated:

Protecting children starts with supporting the family. Family is so important to our personal life but it is also of immense importance to society in general. Research tells us that successful families are the building blocks of a strong, cohesive society. Research also tells us that parenting is key. Put simply, good parenting and good family processes will increase the likelihood that children will have better life chances. Bad parenting can do just the reverse.”

The Minister said at that both Irish and EU level “we should be doing all we can to support children through supporting parents.”

The Minister added, “Early intervention to promote family functioning offers the best chance to support vulnerable families and avoid crisis intervention.”

Commenting on EU policy developments during Ireland’s Presidency, the Minister said she looked forward to the EU Commission’s expected announcement in coming weeks of a new ‘Social Investment’ package including a proposal to the Council of Ministers on child poverty and well-being. Minister Fitzgerald said she met with her colleague the Minister of Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, last week to discuss this matter and that both Ministers would continue working closely to progress the proposals during Ireland’s Presidency.

Addressing developments in Ireland the Minister told the conference of Ireland’s ambitious ‘change agenda’ in child and family services, including the creation of a dedicated Child and Family Support Agency.

The Minister stated:

While improving child protection has rightly been an issue of much focus in recent times; and will be a key objective of the new Agency, I also want the message to go out that early intervention and family support are equally, if not more important goals for the new Agency.

The Minister said that new community-based models for early intervention and family support will be at the heart of the new Agency, supported by the inclusion of the existing nationwide network of 106 Family Resource Centres.

Minister Fitzgerald also stated that at EU and national and local level, decisions-making on early intervention programmes should‌ be evidence-based so as to ensure the best fit to local need and services.

The Minister highlighted the learning emerging from three Prevention and Early Intervention projects (PEIP) funded by Government & Atlantic Philanthropies at West Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale. 

“Early intervention to promote family functioning offers the best chance to support vulnerable families and avoid crisis intervention.”

Evaluations coming to date from these three sites have demonstrated significant improvements in outcomes for children in a number of domains.  Initial findings have shown that:

  • work with parents around birth plans resulted in significant reductions in the number of caesarean sections, and in the incidence of induced labours;
  • parenting programmes have a positive impact in tackling the early onset of behavioural and emotional problems among children as well as reducing parental  stress and improving parental wellbeing;
  • programmes to support pro-social skills, emotion understanding, social problems have shown significant improvements in school attendance and improvements in children’s behaviour towards each other;
  • locating therapeutic services in schools support children’s development and active parental engagement;
  • placing a focus on giving children a love of learning, as well as on what skills they gain, can help improve outcomes and support life-long learning; and
  • it is important to understand the transition points between the different learning environments experienced by children at different stages.

The Minister referred to the announcement in the recent budget of €2.5m in 2013, rising to over €4.5m in subsequent years, for a new area-based poverty initiative building on the learning from the three PEIP projects.

Minister Fitzgerald added:

“This new initiative will extend the learning from Tallaght, Ballymun & Darndale to three further sites. But I believe it is vital that we go further; and seek to mainstream the learning from these pilot projects at a broader systemic and cultural level through changing the way we deliver services; in particular through the work of the new Child & Family Support Agency.”

Read the full text of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs' speech

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