Monday, 16 January 2012

An Open Letter to Joan Burton on Changes to Community Employment

Dear Joan,

My name is Declan Byrne. I am a Community Employment Supervisor and a Addiction Counsellor with Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP), a position I have held since 2000. This programme started in 1997 when the second heroin epidemic took hold in disadvantaged areas throughout Dublin. KCCP began by working with drug users (then primarily heroin users) but soon expanded its services to include parents, siblings and their children. It now also runs Youth Matters a youth service that caters for over one hundred young people every week.

KCCP is funded by the Health Services Executive and FAS. KCCP operates on a cost efficient basis to best International practice. FAS fund the cornerstone of our services the drugs rehabilitation Community Employment programme, which caters for nineteen adult drug misusers. Proposed changes in the last budget threatened the existence of this programme but after intense public pressure including it being aired on your show the Minister Joan Burton announced that there would be no changes pending a review. On Friday the 13th January I was informed that two of these changes come into force on Monday 16th January - so much for the review. (See Maureen O' Sullivan T.D. Dail questions on the matter below).

Since I joined the programme five of the participants have died but I believe that this figure would have been higher except for the programme. In my time a significant minority have given up taking drugs. The overwhelming majority have reduced their drug use and all have addressed health, legal, housing, family, relationship and other major issues in their lives.

I am honoured to be a member of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) and I am proud that on the 18th October 2011 the NACD published a report and held a one-day seminar- A Family Affair- Supporting children with parental substance misuse. The need to help the children involved was endorsed by two Government Ministers- Roisin Shortall (Minister of State with Responsibility for Primary Care) and Frances Fitzgerald (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs). So we have a Government saying that they want to help people with alcohol and drug problems and they want to introduce supports for their children. 

In my time at KCCP 50% of the participants have been lone parents with the vast majority of the remainder being in receipt of a disability payment (the disability being a result in most cases of their former chronic drug use). The changes coming in on Monday reduces the amount paid to lone parents and halves the payment for all new entrants who join the programme (either on lone parents or with a disability. In my opinion the payments in the past acted as a financial incentive for people to seek treatment. Withdrawing these incentives will in my opinion mean that lone parents on KCCP and similar programmes will be inclined to leave and from Monday those on lone parents or with disabilities will be less inclined to join rehabilitation programmes. There has been no examination of the knock- on effects to the individual, their children and to the communities that they live in. The Kilbarrack experience has been that since the HSE has opened a drug treatment clinic in the area and since KCCP has been providing rehabilitation support that the crime rate in the area has decreased by 50%. The changes are being brought in before the review has even started, without consultation and without regard to the possible damage to peoples ongoing recovery, 

Yours truly,

Declan Byrne

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