ItemChildLinks Issue 3: Research in Early Childhood Care and Education(Barnardos, 2010) BarnardosTwo important documents to do with the future of early childhood care and education in Ireland were launched in December, which, in the Christmas rush, received little public attention. I am referring firstly to the National Strategic Plan 2011–2013, Early Childhood Care and Education and secondly to the Workforce Development Plan. The National Strategic Plan provides a framework for the delivery of early childhood care and education programmes which support children and families for the next three years. Included in the Strategy are many actions which Barnardos has been calling for for many years such as the full implementation of Children First in the early years sector, the introduction of regulations for school age childcare, greater efforts to ensure the inclusion of children with additional needs, as well actions to support the quality of school age and early years provision. Barnardos welcomes the National Strategy as it gives direction to the work of the OMCYA, the National Voluntary Childcare organisations, and the City and County Childcare Committees in promoting quality early childhood care and provision in the medium term. At the same time, it is disappointing that the Strategy makes no commitment to the extension of the free pre-school year nor does it provide for the introduction of regulations for childminding, which is the childcare option for the majority of children. The Workforce Development Plan is welcome in that it provides a focus for ensuring that the early years workforce will have the appropriate training and skills needed to provide quality experiences for children. The Plan addresses important issues such as practitioner access to flexible, affordable, accredited learning opportunities, the importance of recognition of prior learning and the need to ensure consistent quality of courses, all of which can be problematic for practitioners. One criticism of the Plan would be the absence of specific targets and timeframes for the implementation of the Plan. What would help the early years sector to take up the challenges of the Plan would be the provision of a transition training fund to support the upskilling of practitioners. It should be possible to reallocate some of the millions which are currently spent on childcare training towards such a transition fund. ItemChildLinks Issue 2: Child Protection(Barnardos, 2010) BarnardosWelcome to the autumn edition of Childlinks which focuses on Child Protection. Insight into the current state of the child protection system is provided in the Ombudsman for Children’s Office investigation of Children First. The Ombudsman concluded that while substantial efforts had been made since 1999 to implement Children First, much needs to be done to improve protection and to promote children’s rights and welfare. The Ombudsman questions whether child protection services are best delivered within the context of the HSE. Recent findings by HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority), which has a statutory role in the inspection of child protection services, has highlighted the inconsistent implementation of child protection standards in HSE regions in Dublin North. Barnardos is concerned that such persistent problems with the child protection system not only fail vulnerable children but fail the committed professionals working on the front line of child protection. In a recent presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Barnardos questioned whether the HSE is in fact fit for purpose when it comes to child protection. Issues which have come to light from recent reports would indicate that it is not. In particular there is concern that there are no clear national standards, a lack of a clear assessment model and no national agreement on the threshold that we as a nation want to set with regard to protecting our children. On the other hand, the Government has published the Ryan Implementation Plan in response to the Ryan report1, an ambitious plan which seeks to correct many of the inadequacies in our child protection system. Progress has been made but it has been slow. As a society we must prioritise our children, we must prioritise their childhood and we must demand the changes that will fix our broken child protection system. ItemChildLinks Issue 1: Adoption & Fostering(Barnardos, 2010) BarnardosIt is timely that this issue of ChildLinks deals with the topic of Adoption and Fostering since both have received media attention in recent weeks. The Adoption Bill 2009 is expected to be passed into law in May 2010. Barnardos has welcomed this Bill as important in ensuring the highest standards of care and protection for children being adopted by families in Ireland. One area where the Bill is disappointing is the failure to include a right of adopted children to information about their birth and origins. There are over 5,000 children currently being cared for by foster parents in Ireland. Foster care is the preferred option for most children in State care. In recent weeks it has emerged that approximately 800 children in care have been placed in foster families that have not been fully assessed by the HSE. Many children (815) and many foster parents (864) had not been allocated a social worker. Given the Ryan Report and all of the talk about ‘never again’, the idea that hundreds of vulnerable children are fostered to unapproved families is mind boggling. It is essential that in all aspects of both adoption and fostering, the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.