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Plan to integrate key public services for poorer families

Resource type: News

Irish Examiner |

by Niall Murray EDUCATION, health and welfare services may be more closely linked to provide an integrated service for poorer families under plans being considered by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe. However, he has ruled out any merging of health and education agencies, even though the Government is believed to be considering a reduction in the number of public service bodies funded by state departments. The minister is to meet Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Professor Brendan Drumm soon to discuss a more cohesive delivery of services for people in disadvantaged communities. It is understood he will also be discussing areas for greater co-operation with officials from the 1 department of Social and Family Affairs. The plan could lead to closer links between staff from the health, education and welfare sectors to enable them to notify each other of families in trouble or in need of support. “I spend a lot of money on home school community liaison staff, and in disadvantaged schools which get extra teachers and other supports. Then you have the HSE providing health supports and the community welfare service providing supports as well,” said Mr O’Keeffe. “I’d like to meet Prof Drumm to look at how we can have coherent joined-up thinking and action in relation to services we provide in disadvantaged communities. There are a lot of health support systems in the structure that would impact on the education sector, and the two of them are not mutually exclusive,” he said. The minister said he was struck by the report last year from former Dublin city manager John Fitzgerald on the regeneration of Limerick’s poorest communities, which revealed more than 50 agencies were feeding into the area. “It begs the real question of how focused were those agencies. It meant we were really spending serious money, but were we duplicating, were we triplicating and were we focusing on what could and should be achieved?” asked the minister. But rather than seeing scope for more integration of different agencies nationally, he believes these groups should make sure there is more joined-up action taking place in disadvantaged areas. He suggested as an example that staff of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) who monitor and tackle school absenteeism would be part of the overall operation. “The collation of material in relation to absenteeism is obviously the first sign of any difficulty. 1 would see educational welfare officers as being part of any integration of services we would have, and there would be a far better system of reporting, early warning and things like that,” he said. He acknowledged that the NEWB and other agencies have sought extra funds to extend their services but he said that everybody needs to prioritise in the current economic circumstances. “We need to spend money well, focus accurately and target results on those in society that we’re working with,” said Mr O’Keeffe.

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