I am very pleased to have this opportunity to outline the proposed financial allocation for 2007 for the Office of the Minister for Children.
Following the Government decision of 7 December 2005, I announced that staff working on child care from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on child welfare and protection from the Department of Health and Children, and from the National Children's Office would combine to form the Office of the Minister for Children.
The Government also decided that staff working in the areas of youth justice in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and education for early years in the Department of Education and Science, would be based together in the Office of the Minister for Children but continue to work for their parent Departments.
The establishment of the office has ensured that all policies and services for children are being developed in a new strategic framework of joined-up Government. I do not know what alternative Deputy Hayes proposed in the course of his contribution this afternoon or what policy Fine Gael has adopted in this matter but this Government has established a framework of joined-up Government for strategic planning of services for children.
In the context of the 2007 Estimates, announcements in respect of the areas of work which come within the remit of staff co-locating in the office are handled by the parent Department's Minister. I am satisfied that €16.2 million, of which €12.6 million is for capital purposes, is being allocated to the Irish youth justice service for this year. This will be supplemented by a further tranche of funding early in the new year which is being transferred from the Department of Education and Science. This funding will enable a programme of rejuvenation of youth detention and training and community facilities to begin in 2007.
In addition, a total of €16.8 million from other areas of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform Vote and the Garda Vote is being allocated to youth justice programmes, mentoring programmes and other initiatives comprehended by the Children Act. This includes €9.8 million for the expansion of Garda youth diversion projects by a further 16, bringing the total in operation nationwide to 100 by the end of 2007. This will facilitate the rapid and final implementation of the Children Act ahead of schedule.
I will outline the 2007 Estimates allocation being made available directly to the Office of the Minister for Children. An additional allocation of €143.083 million of current funding is being made available in 2007 in Vote 41. This, together with additional capital investment of over €76 million in 2007, represents a 46% increase on existing funding and is clear evidence of this Government’s commitment to children.
I wish to highlight the areas which will benefit from this increased investment. In budget 2006, the Government announced a major new Exchequer funded child care investment programme, the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010, NCIP, with a budget of €575 million over five years and a target of creating 50,000 additional child care places. New capital grant schemes under the programme were introduced in the early part of this year and there has been a strong public response by way of applications from the child care sector. To date, over 900 capital grant applications, to a value of more than €170 million, have been received and funding of just under €15 million approved.
It is necessary to manage the annual allocation of funding over the course of the programme in a way that matches the timing of expenditure demand. For this reason, the intention is to increase incrementally the annual allocation to the NCIP, to maximise the programme's value to the sector. In 2007, the NCIP allocation is being increased substantially with a doubling of the capital allocation from €10.3 million to €20 million.
In addition to the new NCIP, the EU co-funded Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006, EOCP, is continuing in place and €113.346 million has been allocated to the programme in 2007, the final year in which funding will be available under this programme. In total, €499 million has been allocated to the EOCP over the course of the programme. This has resulted in support being provided for 56,500 child care places including 32,000 new child care places. The quality measures under the EOCP have also supported the development of national child care infrastructure, including the development of the network of 33 city and county child care committees, in addition to measures to enhance standards and training and to support childminders who play a crucial role in child care provision in Ireland.
The work of the EOCP, made possible by the significant level of Government and EU investment, paved the way for the new programme. In effect, the groundwork that has been laid by the EOCP has enabled the new programme to take a proactive approach to the further development of child care provision and to target identified unmet local needs. In addition, the new programme will target child care places with an educational focus for children aged three to four years and out-of-school child care for school age children. The new programme is accompanied by the National Childcare Training Strategy 2006-2010 which is expected to deliver 17,000 additional child care training places over this period. The training strategy is key to the promotion of quality in early education and child care provision in Ireland.
Another important element of the National Childcare Strategy 2006-2010, is the early childhood supplement, which came into effect last April and comes within the remit of my office. This is a direct, non-taxable payment of €1,000 per annum paid to parents of children aged under six years in quarterly instalments of €250. The final payment in 2006 is due to be paid on 11 December and some 275,000 families are benefiting. Taken together with child benefit, parents with two children aged under six years are now in receipt of a direct payment of €5,600 per annum. These payments are regardless of employment status and are intended to assist parents in whatever choices they make for the care of their children in their early years. The 2007 full year funding for the early childhood supplement is €381 million. This significant level of funding reflects factors such as the increasing birth rate and, therefore, an increase in the number of children aged under six years, and the fact that, to maximise the benefit to parents of young children, the supplement is being paid to parents for each quarter in which their child is under six years and in respect of the quarter in which the child reaches six years, effectively giving parents an additional quarterly payment.
Additional funding is being made available to cover projects relating to the national children's strategy. Under subhead D of Vote 41, the national children's strategy unit had a budget allocation in 2006 of €3.53 million. This is being increased substantially in 2007 to €9.652 million. Much of this additional funding is being allocated to the national longitudinal study of children in Ireland, NLSCI, which was launched in April 2006. This level of investment firmly commits the Government to improving our understanding of children's lives.
The aim of this study is to examine the factors that contribute to or undermine the well-being of children in contemporary Irish families, and thereby contribute to the development of effective and responsive policies and services for children and families. The study will monitor the development of 18,000 children — a cohort of 10,000 infants aged nine months and one of 8,000 nine-year olds. The contract will run for a period of six years and nine months. During this period there will be two data collection sweeps of the birth cohort — at age nine months and three years — and two data collection sweeps of the nine year cohort — at age nine and age 13. An additional €4.01 million is being made available for the study in 2007, giving a total of €6.38 million for this purpose next year.
I am determined that we continue with our efforts to ensure children have a voice in matters which affect them. We will continue to support the development of vibrant local Comhairle structures. We will also continue to invest in educational resources for children themselves so that they know and understand they have a voice in matters that affect their lives under the national children's strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This includes the development of student councils — giving students a voice in a domain of their lives which is so important to them. We will continue to ensure that hard-to-reach children and young people are included in participation structures and projects.
One of the key strengths to date of the Office of the Minister for Children has been its cross-cutting function, which allows it to work with Departments and other agencies in an innovative way. Time and again, we are finding that in the area of children's services, the biggest need is to get our services working in a complementary way so that children and their families experience services which are focused on their needs in an holistic way, which shows continuity and consistency of effort across services. In 2007 I will be using some of the additional funding to devise and support innovative programmes which bring together policy makers and providers with a focus on improved implementation of service delivery.
It is almost a year since the Office of the Minister for Children was established. The additional investment being made in the Estimates not only demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving children's lives but also the confidence of the Government in the work of my office in the first year of its existence. There is no doubt that the establishment of the office and the setting up of a dedicated Vote with significant additional funding this year will improve outcomes for children and young people throughout the country. The additional funding for this year is also a clear signal of the Government's belief that investing in children and young people is the key to Ireland's future.