Early Intervention and Economic Benefits: Statements

Wednesday, 6th March 2013

As always the Minister is more than welcome to the House and we are delighted that she is here. Her statement and speech to us today are seminal. It should be circulated generally. She was very fair in trying to give us a summary of what she has said to us today and it lays a strong foundation for a new home for children. I cannot commend enough what the Minister has said. More people should read her statement. We often focus on only one part of a child’s life but it is important to consider the child’s journey. I thank the Minister for providing that vision and starting this discussion with a very strong foundation. Everybody supports prevention and early intervention but it is music to our ears to hear a Minister promoting these strategies and putting them first and foremost. All too often people only talk about these theories in seminars and symposia while in the House we talk about firefighting and dealing with crises and do not give prevention and early intervention the thought and deliberation that they need.

I welcome the area-based approach to the child poverty initiative but have a difficulty with the selection criteria for the three new sites and the additional four that will come on stream. How do we ensure that the selection process is transparent, that the programmes are rooted in evidence and best practice? Programmes may look good but how do we ensure that they provide the outcomes for children and the delivery that we all want ? I want to see more details.

Often when we talk about early intervention we refer only to early years. That is why I welcome the Minister’s speech because she has looked at the child’s journey, the key transition points, the flash points in a child’s life that are all too often missed. This is true of disability services, where life chances are affected at an early age if we do not intervene when the child is very young. Mental health problems tend to become more apparent in early adolescence. The Minister mentioned the Heckmann curve. In 2010 Cunha and Heckmann wrote a working paper on investment in our young people. Their research showed that the effect of early intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children is reduced if it is not followed up by investment at later stages. We all talk about the importance of investment and what we reap from investing in early years but if we do not provide that continuum of support the investment is lost.

I welcome the Minister’s focus on how to provide services and the suggestion that we might take a step back and ask what is the purpose of child benefit and how do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes it should and that people want. The Minister mentioned the advisory report on which we had a good brief debate in the House with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, which we will continue. We were glad that she came in so soon after the report was published. There are different ways in which we can provide services and support to children. Should we consider the affordable, accessible and quality child care, or extending the scheme to a second year, or after-school care which is ad hoc and does not have a defined structure. Should we consider universal primary health care for all children or school book schemes?

The Minister mentioned the development in data which is very welcome. I welcome her approach to ensuring that we have an evidence base for moving forward and that we understand why we are doing something. Very often when I hear economists talk about demographics I shout at the radio “That is birth rate”. We have an increasing birth rate but economists do not want to talk about that. Too often children are forgotten in these issues.

The Minister mentioned Eurofound, the foundation based in Loughlinstown for the improvement of living and working conditions. I recently visited the foundation. It is doing some really interesting research on how parenting supports can best be delivered to children. Ireland has the fourth highest rate in the EU of young people who are not in education, employment or training, the NEET category. We do not want to be so high up on that list. Schoolteachers and youth workers can point to those young people much earlier in the cycle. That is where we should intervene. Eurofound did research on the loss to the economy that jobseekers represent. It calculated that they cost Ireland in the region of 2% of GDP which indicates that the cost of youth unemployment is €3.16 billion. Those are the figures but it has been proved that if a young person lives in poverty he or she is likely to continue to be unemployed. The pathway is laid. It is important to intervene early and help to change those young people’s lives. I welcome the fact that the Minister has asked the youth work sector to investigate how we could intervene and best ensure that we do so. We need to find the tipping point at which the young person ends up unemployed rather than going into education, training or employment and see how we can support those young people.

I know that next week the Minister is hosting the EU Youth Conference on social inclusion. It is significant that Ireland has chosen to host that conference under its Presidency and I was delighted to see that the Minister is doing so in co-operation with the European Commission, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The European Youth Forum was born during the fifth Irish Presidency. It held its inaugural meeting in Cork on 6 July 1996. I was there. I am a co-founder of the forum. I was a secretary general of one the three youth platforms. We came together to merge into one. Two of the three secretaries general were Irish. That is why I am so delighted to see them coming back to Dublin.

I welcome the development of the child and family support agency and look forward to seeing the Bill. I have made public my opinion of it to ensure that we debate this. The new agency will have a budget of approximately €545 million for 2013 and at hearings held by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week we heard that approximately €100 million will go to NGOs and services. When my opinion of the new agency was published in The Irish Times I was surprised by the number of organisations which contacted me because they are afraid to speak publicly about this fearing that their funding will be cut. There is a chilling effect. We need to create an environment in which people can make constructive proposals to ensure that the agency works. I know that the Minister does not intend this chilling effect but I was surprised by the number and types of organisations that came to me about this matter.

I thank the Minister. The statement she made to us today should be circulated to all Deputies and Senators.

Human Rights in Ireland – Guest Post: Van Turnhout on Criminalising the Purchase of Sex

21st November 2011

 

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Senator Jillian Van Turnhout on the efforts of the Independent Group in the Seanad to criminalise the purchase of sex.

On 12 October 2012, the Independent Group of Senators tabled a motion in Seanad Éireann to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland in order to curb prostitution and trafficking. The impetus for the motion was twofold. First, recognition that demand for prostitution in Ireland is intrinsically linked to increased cases of woman and girls being trafficked into and around Ireland for sexual exploitation. Second, recognition that trafficking for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery, an egregious human rights abuse and a violation of international law.

Having given my consideration to a number of arguments against criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland, I find myself unconvinced by them. One argument contends that criminalising the purchase of sex violates a sex worker’s right to exercise self-determination over their own body. I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that when we peel away the complex layers of how and why women, and to a lesser extent men and boys, sell their bodies for the sexual gratification of others, it is clear that the path into prostitution did not start with the simple exercise of their right to self-determination over their body. Indeed, research indicates that a significant number of women end up in prostitution as a result of poverty, debt, homelessness, addiction, or having been groomed by a partner, family member or friend. Many will have experienced serious abuse or neglect in childhood or early adulthood.

I believe that the inherent coercion, whether the result of violence or economic hardship, and the exploitative nature of the sex industry, which in Ireland alone is estimated to be worth €250 million each year, renders free and informed consent to prostitution all but impossible. Furthermore, for those who argue in defence of prostitution on the basis of consent, I would ask these people to be mindful that the age identified internationally for entry into prostitution is 14, an age at which consent cannot be given.

The Turn Off the Red Light Campaign (TORL) to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland has done tremendous work in this area. Most TORL members are civil society groups and NGOs that have direct experience of the devastating effects prostitution can have on women, children and men involved in its practice. These devastating effects are physical, such as sexually transmitted infections, injuries sustained as the result of beatings and rapes, gynaecological difficulties owing to multiple terminations, and many other health complications relating to prostitution. There are also mental and emotional injuries, deeply embedded in the psyche of sex workers and victims of trafficking, which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. As devastating as these effects are for adults, the impact is almost unimaginable for children and child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. I am particularly concerned about the vulnerability of homeless and separated children in Ireland to prostitution and trafficking.

Focus Ireland has estimated that as many as 1,500 children are homeless in Ireland each year. 800 of them are unaccompanied, and a quarter of these are under the age of 12. Inadequate resourcing in this area, coupled with an insufficient number of places for children in safe, sheltered accommodation, is said to be forcing some children to resort to prostitution to survive. An increase in substance abuse amongst homeless youths, particularly males, has also seen increased recourse to prostitution. There is evidence to suggest that boys as young as 13 are involved in prostitution in Dublin City. Cognisant of the link between youth homelessness and child prostitution, and in addition to the introduction of the legislation called for in our Seanad motion, I believe that the Government needs to breathe life into its pledge to address the issue of existing homelessness, with a specific focus on youth homelessness, by reviewing and updating the existing Homeless Strategy.

Separated children or unaccompanied minors are defined as being under 18 years of age, separated from both of their parents or their legal/customary primary caregiver, and outside their country of origin. Separated children are an extremely vulnerable group owing to their unaccompanied status. Many have experienced war and violence, and some have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. There have been a number of improvements in the situation for separated children in Ireland under the Ryan Report Implementation Plan, particularly in relation to accommodation arrangements. Measures are also being taken to tackle false family reunifications through the use of DNA identification.

Nevertheless, instances of children going missing from care are of deep and ongoing concern. Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch TD informed the Seanad debate that there are 16 cases of children missing in Ireland still outstanding in 2010 alone, and 11 of those are unaccompanied minors. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a number of these children could have been trafficked into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. In September 2011, the Children’s Rights Alliance submitted to the Department of Justice and Equality’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit collated case studies of suspected and confirmed child victims of trafficking in Ireland. The case studies paint a dreadful picture of exploitation and include:

A 15 year old Somali rescued from a brothel in 2006 after being trafficked into Ireland; a 16 year old Nigerian girl who arrived to Ireland as a separated child in 2009 and was enticed out of HSE residential care by a man who later got her involved in prostitution; and a 16 year old girl from Burundi, held captive in a house in Co. Louth and abused. She had been taken from her village in Africa at the age of 12 and introduced into sex slavery in different countries before being trafficked to Ireland for more sexual exploitation. I have also heard dreadful accounts by an NGO, which were subsequently documented, of Eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to “break them in,” before being shipped off to various brothels around the country.

These are just a few examples, but I fear they represent just the tip of the iceberg. This is an intolerable situation. The sex industry in Ireland is extremely lucrative. Children continue to be victims of prostitution and trafficking because it is good business for organised criminals and traffickers.

After much research into the issue, I firmly believe that legislation is needed. I was very disappointed that our motion did not succeed on 12 October. Instead, the Government proposed a six-month timeframe in which to hold a considered public debate before the issue is revisited. I look forward to this renewed debate. As Leader of the Independent Group of Senators, I have extended a number of invitations to the Turn Off the Blue Light Campaign, a sex worker led association campaigning against calls to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland, to come and discuss their concerns with the authors of the motion. They have indicated that they will do so after completion of a survey they are currently undertaking with sex workers.

Readers may be interested in following the debate as it unfolded in the Seanad;

http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2011-10-12.192.0

 

Article link: http://www.humanrights.ie/index.php/2011/11/21/guest-post-van-turnhout-on-criminalising-the-purchase-of-sex/

Whistleblower Legislation – Motion

29th June 2011

I, too, welcome the opportunity to discuss whistleblowing legislation. I welcome the work done by Senator Mullen in tabling this motion. I also acknowledge the work of Transparency International in this area. It provided an excellent briefing for us which assisted us in our preparations.

In preparing for the debate on this motion, I talked to many NGOs because they are often left to deal with some of the consequences in this regard. I refer in particular to NGOs working in the area of older people, such as Age Action, whose representatives speak about front-line carers being the ones who have the exchanges with older people and who are seen as a trusted source. We need to ensure appropriate legislation is in place. An inspector will not simply inspect a premises and automatically see what is happening there. We need to protect workers whereby, if they come forward with an allegation, first, it is seriously considered and, second, action is taken.

The whistleblowers who came forward in the case of the Rostrevor nursing home did the State an excellent service. They risked everything to stop abuse happening. This took courage and integrity. The position of migrant workers has been highlighted by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. Many migrant workers are particularly vulnerable because their work permits are connected to their employer. Therefore, there is a fundamental problem in encouraging them to be whistleblowers, where necessary. Senator Mullen answered a question I was going to ask about the 16% of workers in the Irish labour force who are migrant workers. I understand this is 16% of health and home care sector workers. I was surprised at that high figure.

We need to protect our whistleblowers because, if we do not, it sends a message to those in power that they can use that power. I understand what Senator Quinn said in this respect. Whistleblowing is not about running to the newspapers; it is about responsible employers and taking action. It is the carrot and stick approach. People need to feel that, if they do not take action, something will happen and that there will be consequences. That is the way life works. For me, that is a strong point as to why we need whistleblowing legislation. The State needs this protection for whistleblowers. It needs to ensure workers are confident, feel protected and feel they can put the welfare of people such as the patients in the Rostrevor nursing home first and foremost rather than having to be concerned about their residency status, worker permits and other related issues. This legislation is extremely important because it will a law that will challenge the culture of secrecy in Ireland. Senator O’Keeffe spoke on that issue. She rightly said that we cannot legislate for people to tell the truth. We can, however, protect people and ensure there is an appropriate culture to ensure people come forward and tell.

On that note, I acknowledge the words of Senator O’Donovan. The promised referendum on childrens rights is long overdue. I acknowledge that this legislation is not about children but it is about culture in Ireland. It is about listening to people and ensuring that, if people come forward with an allegation, we will listen. People believe that has all been accepted, but six years ago I started working with the Children’s Rights Alliance. I did an interview with a very well-renowned national broadcaster and talked about the need to listen to children. One would think that is a simple enough statement particularly when it comes to abuse. I was challenged on public radio with the response that children lie so why would we listen to children. Six years have past. I do not need to convince as many people that we need to listen to children but there is still a culture where people would claim that people lie, it is in their interests to lie so why would we listen.
There is twofold reason I am supportive of this legislation. I believe it will have the effect of changing our culture in Ireland, protecting employees and protecting employers in order that they can be responsible, take action and change that culture within their organisations. Successful businesses tell us that the culture of the organisation drives success. State agencies all too often have become complacent and we need to ensure we have that culture. We have seen the work of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, recently. Increasing demands have been made on it to get involved in more areas, especially in the child care sector, because it is building up a reputation of being able to listen to people.

I support the motion. I note the commitment in the programme for Government to bringing forward legislation in this area and I hope we will see it shortly. For me, this is about reversing the culture of fear.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”