I thank the Chairman for giving me the opportunity to meet the committee to present on the 2017 appropriation account for Vote 40 – Children and Youth Affairs. In my opening statement I will give a brief overview of the main features of the Vote. I hope the more detailed briefing material supplied in advance of the meeting was of assistance to the committee in providing a fuller picture of the work of the Department and its expenditure.
The total gross provision for the Vote in 2017 was €1.311 billion, representing an increase of €173 million, or 15%, on the provision for the previous year. Nearly all of the Department’s expenditure is related to current funding for programmes and services. Capital funding makes up just under 2% of the total Vote.
Our central mission as a Department is to work to achieve better outcomes and brighter futures for all children and young people in Ireland. Among our key objectives are to ensure an effective child welfare and protection system; a high quality childcare system that is affordable and accessible; and an evidence-based approach to policy that helps children and young people to participate in decisions that affect their lives. We support both preventive and early intervention services, as well as direct involvement in the lives of children, young people and families, where necessary. We aim to collaborate with Departments, agencies and sectors to place children and young people at the heart of what we do. We place great emphasis on consulting widely and using available evidence to inform the development of policy. This involves the participation and collaboration of children, young people and other stakeholders. We also stress value for money and evaluation from the early stages in planning projects. Increasingly, our work involves dealing with significant legacy issues spanning many decades, while also trying to strengthen services for the children of today and planning the services of the future.
In terms of the overall composition of the Vote, 54% of gross expenditure in 2017 was allocated to the work and services of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, while 35% was accounted for by childcare supports, which we now describe as early learning and care, and school age childcare. The remaining 11% of the Vote encompassed a variety of other programmes, including three other agencies - the Adoption Authority of Ireland, Oberstown Children Detention Campus and the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. The Vote also includes the funding for the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
The Department has had an extensive agenda of work. In 2017 the major actions included commencing mandatory reporting as a legal requirement under the Children First Act 2015; implementing significant improvements to childcare supports in advance of the statutory national childcare scheme, which is due to commence later this year; ending the detention of children in adult prisons; commencing the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017, which gave effect to the constitutional amendment on children's rights; publishing legislative proposals for the reform of the guardian ad litem system, the Bill for which will be published soon; introducing a new bail supervision scheme, which has helped to reduce the number of children being detained; and working closely with Tusla on a range of child protection and welfare measures.
We continued this work into 2018 and up to the present day. Among the major actions are building on our work with Tusla on child welfare and protection measures, including a co-ordinated response to the special HIQA report commissioned by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and supporting the full roll-out of the national childcare information system; working closely with other Departments on child protection issues, particularly on policy and operations involving An Garda Síochána and Tusla; sponsoring the passage of the Childcare Support Act 2018 and continuing a major programme of work for the forthcoming national childcare scheme; continuing implementation of the access and inclusion model to help children with special needs to take part in the ECCE programme; increasing the ECCE scheme to two years, doubling the number of children accessing subsidies and doubling the number of childcare places across all age ranges; publishing a major strategy for early childhood entitled, First 5 - a Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families; publishing the first ever LGBTI+ youth strategy; completing the transition of the ABC programme to Tusla's prevention, partnership and family support services; developing a programme of action to deal sensitively with the burial of human remains at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam; working to deal with the emergence of evidence of illegal registration of births; and continuing a programme for streamlining the system of funding for youth services.