10. Departmental Agencies
[ GO STRAIGHT TO
FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS ]
A number of agencies come under the aegis of the Department of Social and Family Affairs and include:
- Comhairle (see section 9)
- Combat Poverty Agency
- Family Support Agency
- Pensions Board
- Office of the Pensions Ombudsman
Additionally, the Social Welfare Appeals Office is an independent office responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.
10.2 Compliance with Disability Act 2005
As part of the preparation of the plan, the Department met with senior managers of the agencies under its remit, to discuss the implications of the compliance requirements of the Disability Act 2005. A template was issued to each of the Department's agencies to audit compliance under the following headings:
- Expenditure: Section 5 requires the appropriate allocation of funds and appropriate reporting and accounting for any expenditure specifically related to the provision of the Disability Act;
- Public Buildings: Under Section 25 of the Disability Act all public buildings used by the Department and its agencies must be compliant not later than 2015;
- Access to Services: Under Section 26 public bodies are required, where practicable and appropriate, to ensure that their services are accessible to people with disabilities by providing integrated access so that people with disabilities can access public services along with other citizens. Sections 38 and 39 deal specifically with complaints whereby a public body fails to comply with the requirements of Sections 25 to 29 of the Act;
- Procurement: Under Section 27 public bodies are required to ensure that goods and services that they purchase are accessible to people with disabilities;
- Communication: Under Section 28, communications by a public body to a person with hearing or visual impairment must, as far as practicable, be provided in an accessible format, following a request. Information provided electronically must, as far as practicable, be compatible with adaptive technology. Published information, relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities, must be made available in easy to read formats;
- Public Service Employment: Sections 46 to 50 refer to public service employment of people with disabilities as well as positive action measures to enhance employment of people with disabilities.
In completing this audit, each agency is fully aware of its obligations under the Disability Act and the programme of actions required in improving or enhancing its service provision for people with disabilities. The Department is fully satisfied that a high level of compliance already exists within the agencies under its aegis and that where any deficits occur procedures are being put in place to progressively address these.
10.3 Combat Poverty Agency
The agency has responsibilities in the area of advice to the Minister, research, action programmes and information relating to poverty in Ireland. Combat Poverty's 2005-7 Strategic Plan centres on three objectives – distribution of income and jobs, access to quality services, and local and regional responses to poverty. A fairer distribution of income and jobs is necessary for a poverty-free Ireland as are the provision of affordable and accessible services, such as health and education, and coordinated action at all levels and with particular groups at risk of poverty.
Through its main functions of policy advice, research, project support, innovation and evaluation, and public education, Combat Poverty seeks to develop and promote evidence-based proposals and measures to combat poverty. Under the recent
NAPS /Inclusion Review process, Combat Poverty was centrally involved in a number of the sectoral consultations with a diverse range of groups including representatives of people with disability.
Through its in-house policies and practices,
CPA seeks to reflect those same values of equality and inclusion which are the basis of their unique role as a state agency. The Agency has joined the Excellence through Accessibility Award Scheme organized by the National Disability Authority with the initial assessment due to take place later in 2006. The Award Scheme assesses accessibility under three critical areas: customer services, buildings and environment and website and technology. Participation in this Award Scheme will be used on an ongoing basis by the agency to inform the current review of its 2004-6 Customer Service Action Plan and help develop targets for a new Action Plan.
It has been standard communications policy for some years of the Combat Poverty that multi-format publication of material is provided on a request basis to facilitate customer needs. Under a three yearly review of the agency's web site, accessibility standards are being reviewed during 2006 in line with current best practice.
Other initiatives include:
- OPEN (One Parent Exchange Network) has been awarded funding by Combat Poverty as part of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative for a three-year mental health project to address related issues of stigmatization and isolation among lone parents. This project will be evaluated in its final year (2007) to identify mainstreaming options.
- The Women Together Network is a national network set up by Schizophrenia Ireland for women with mental health issues. Supported by Combat Poverty under the 2005-7, 'Building Healthy Communities Initiative', the network seeks to support women to research the idea of a recovery pathway and also develop their personal recovery plans.
10.4 Family Support Agency
The agency is responsible for the provision of a family mediation service, the support, promotion and development of marriage and relationship counselling and other family supports, and the Family Community Resource programme. The Agency's responsibilities also include undertaking research, providing and disseminating information about parenting and family issues, and providing information to the Minister on matters relating to families. The Agency's main services, all of which are inclusive of people with disabilities, are as follows:-
- Core Funding of Family and Community Services Resource Centres.
- Grants to voluntary and community organisations providing marriage, relationship, child and bereavement counselling services and other family supports.
- A direct nationwide Family Mediation Service.
- Research into matters related to the Agency's functions or such other matters as the Minster may request.
- Information on matters related to the Agency's functions.
The Family Support Agency's first Strategic Plan, which was developed in consultation with its stakeholders, sets out five key Strategic Priorities for the Agency.
- Support and strengthen families through the delivery of high quality support services for families throughout the country.
- Foster a supportive community environment for families in partnership with the community, voluntary and statutory sectors.
- Contribute to the effectiveness of family policy and services by undertaking or commissioning research into matters related to the Agency's functions or such other matters as the Minister may request.
- Promote the Family Support Agency as a key provider of support services and related information for families in Ireland.
- Create an environment which recognises the value of Family Support Agency staff and supports their continuing development.
The culture and service of the Family Support Agency are shaped by a number of key values, including the following:
- Accessible Services – An open door to individuals and families in the community to accessible, needs-based support services for families.
- Strong Partnerships – Maintaining and building strong working partnerships with relevant Government Departments and Agencies, with the social partners and with voluntary and community organisations and networks supporting the family in Ireland.
- Inclusiveness – Support services for families recognising and respecting diversity.
10.4.1 Actions in relation to people with disabilities
Family Resource Centres are inclusive of everyone in the community in which they are based - this includes people with disabilities. The services provided by Family Resource Centres uphold the community development ethos and the principle of inclusiveness, both central to the Agency's values. The Special Support Agency, DESSA (Disability, Equality Specialist Support Agency), is contracted by the Family Support Agency to work with Family Resource Centres. In developing actions and ways of working to ensure the active involvement and inclusion of people with disabilities, in 2003, DESSA established a formalised working relationship with the Family Resource Centre National Forum. During 2004 and 2005, DESSA, in consultation with the Forum, carried out a research project to examine issues of disability and family support with Family Resource Centres. This research has assisted DESSA in identifying appropriate strategies in meeting the needs of people with disabilities, their families and carers.
Having regard to its services the
FSA will build upon its existing service delivery and research programme and have specific regard to those services affecting families with family members with disabilities.
10.5 The Pensions Board
The Pension Board is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Pensions Act which concerns the security and development of occupational pensions and for the development of occupational pensions. In addition to the Board's regulatory and information functions, the Board has a role in advising the Minister on all matters relating to functions assigned to the Board under the Pensions Acts, and on matters relating to pensions generally.
The on-going work reviewing levels of coverage and adequacy by occupational and personal pension provision is underpinned by guiding principles which include the principle of inclusiveness, to ensure that there are no unintended exclusions.
The National Pensions Review, launched in January 2006, contains proposals designed to "deliver on the commitment to ensure an adequate retirement income for all" and is currently being considered by Government. The report reviewed agreed pension targets, reviewed current coverage and adequacy and considered options to sustain the State pension and to meet supplementary pension targets. It is available on the board's website (
www.pensionsboard.ie). The Board has also commissioned a report on income continuance plans which was forwarded to the Minister and which is available on the board's website. The Board is committed to continuing to ensure that the principle of inclusiveness guides our work over the period of the Plan.
10.6 The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman
The office principal function is to investigate complaints of injustice due to maladministration, disputes of fact or law, in occupational pension schemes. The Pensions Ombudsman is a statutory officer and exercises his functions independently. He reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The on-going work of the office and in the context of the people with disabilities is underpinned by guiding principles which include the principle of inclusiveness, to ensure that there are no unintended exclusions
10.7 The Reach Agency
Reports to the Department, has as its aims to radically improve the quality of service to personal and business customers of Government and to develop and deploy the Public Services Broker (PSB) to help agencies achieve that improvement. In particular, REACH is to develop and implement an integrated set of processes, systems and procedures to provide a standard means of access to public services, known as the Public Services Broker (PSB).
The development of integrated public service has a particular significance for persons with disabilities. In this regard, the future development of integrated public services will ensure that accessibility to such services prioritises the needs of people with disabilities.
10.8 Monitoring and Review
The Department will co-ordinate and review the progress made by the agencies under its aegis in respect of this Sectoral Plan. Additionally, all agencies will detail in their annual reports and published strategies specific actions and initiatives undertaken in developing their services for people with disabilities.
Search for your local office