Other Questions

Youth Services Funding

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide a cumulative figure for cuts to City of Dublin Youth Services Board since 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32604/13]

The Department provides a range of funding schemes, programmes and supports to the youth sector. Funding of approximately €53.498 million is available in 2013 to support the provision of youth services.

In 2013 an allocation of €11.997 million was provided to City of Dublin Youth Services Board to support the provision of youth services to young people in the city of Dublin area. In 2008 the allocation for such services was €14.892 million, resulting in a cumulative reduction of €2.895 million, or 19%, over the five-year period in question. This funding is provided under the special projects for youth, the young people's facilities and services fund, and local drugs task forces.

They are the three schemes that get supported by the CDYSB.

This reduction, in line with the general trend in public expenditure, reflects the crisis in the public finances which emerged in 2008 and which, despite major progress, continues to limit the funding available to publicly funded programmes. As with all Departments and agencies, funding for the programmes of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been reduced in recent years due to the general budgetary situation.

My Department has tried to ensure that in the determination process for the allocations to youth services throughout the country, the front-line youth projects, particularly those for the most vulnerable young people, are protected as far as is possible from the impact of the necessary reductions in funding. Organisations are being asked to consider the scope for reducing administration costs and overheads, if that is at all possible, in order to maintain the front-line youth services for young people. That is in line with the approach adopted within the public service where operational efficiencies and pay cost reductions, most recently through the Haddington Road agreement, have been used to minimise the impact of the fiscal crisis on service availability.

A comprehensive value for money and policy review of youth funding has been commenced in the Department and it is anticipated that the findings of this report will inform the future development of youth programmes and services.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I know that the restrictions in funding are challenging for youth organisations. I have met, and continue to meet, many youth organisations and groups to try to see how we can work together to minimise the impact of the necessary savings to ensure the provision of quality youth services to young people is sustained in these challenging times.

During the course of Ireland's EU Presidency, which came to a close in recent days, I used my position as President of the Council of EU Youth Ministers to secure agreement on a policy agenda which aimed at raising the profile of youth work and seeking greater access for the youth work sector to EU funding opportunities, in particular funding to be provided under the youth employment initiative and as part of the implementation of the youth guarantee.

When we listened on the Anglo tapes to bankers laughing as their grubby and greedy activities propelled an entire country towards bankruptcy, it is worth reminding ourselves of the other side of that coin, the human impact. Nowhere provides a more stark indication of the appalling and unacceptable impact of that than cuts to youth services, which as the Minister acknowledged, have suffered an enormous cut of 19% since the recession hit. What will the Minister do to reverse this unacceptable situation? There is no justification for young people, of all people, in particular vulnerable young people in disadvantaged areas, to pay the price for what those laughing, contemptuous bankers did.

During the EU Presidency the Government spoke about the youth guarantee and a report is being launched on how it will be applied in this country. Will the youth guarantee mean a reversal of the cuts? Could the Minister provide assurances that there will be no further cuts in the coming budget? The head of Dublin city youth services said that entire projects will disappear if there are any more cuts in the forthcoming budget. What assurances can the Minister provide that there will be no more of these utterly unacceptable cuts and that the youth guarantee will ensure a reversal of the extremely damaging cuts?

It is important that the Deputy has raised the youth guarantee and the potential it could have in this country. As he is aware, initially the sum of €6 billion was agreed. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, succeeded in steering that through at EU level. It is a superb initiative and is very important in dealing with the crisis in youth unemployment. The Deputy asked whether the youth guarantee has any relevance for youth work groups in this country. In fact, I believe it does. The fund has increased to €8 billion, to be front-loaded over the next two years. I have been in discussions with the youth work sector and I worked during the Presidency to ensure youth work is seen as part of the continuum that helps young people to access education, training and work.

The youth guarantee should be used to support youth work groups and the projects and programmes they run. I have already had some discussions with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, on the matter. In the coming weeks and months she plans to put a group together to examine how the youth guarantee can have an impact in this country. As Deputy Boyd Barrett correctly pointed out, the youth work services should be part and parcel of an approach to support young people who face the levels of youth unemployment experienced in this country and in Europe.

I welcome the response and the aspiration expressed. There can be no doubt that if we do not provide the resources and supports for teenagers and young people then all the talk about youth employment guarantees will mean little because huge numbers of people will just drop out of the system and get into trouble and difficulty. If the youth guarantee is to mean anything then it must apply in this area and be part of a continuum that goes from the teenage years right through to getting people into employment.

What can we hope for and expect in terms of what that might mean for forthcoming budget cuts or cuts that have been imposed? Those involved in providing youth services say they cannot take any more. Serious damage has been done. Youth worker jobs have been lost and services and projects have been cut. The cuts must be reversed because every cut does damage and means more young people dropping out of the system and getting into trouble. What assurance can the Minister provide that there will be no further attacks and that there will be a reversal of some of the cuts that have been imposed?

Following my meeting with the Minister last week, could she confirm that she has met SIPTU about the cuts to the City of Dublin Youth Services Board and could she advise of any progress made during the course of the meeting?

Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware of the budgetary situation. I will do everything I can to protect the services. It is very important not to create unnecessary fear in the sector. I am in contact with the youth sector all the time and I visit projects frequently and see the work that is being done. It is important to say how much good work is being done despite the very difficult budgetary situation. The majority of the funding has been protected. There had been a huge increase in funding but that is not to say that once the budgetary situation eases, I would not want to invest further in the youth sector. I believe fully in the youth sector and the initiatives and support it offers to young people. I will do my very best to protect the budget.

The youth guarantee offers a way to support the sector as well that should be utilised fully in the coming months. We must also ask the youth sector to respond itself to the potential the youth guarantee offers. I have asked a number of youth services to put together projects that could potentially attract funding under the youth guarantee. I would welcome Deputy Boyd Barrett’s support in that regard because opportunities exist. It is important that the youth work sector avails of, and is helped to avail of, the funding. The work will be done between the Department of Social Protection, my Department and other Departments.

I had a meeting with SIPTU which was very helpful. SIPTU suggested a number of initiatives to me. It highlighted in particular its concern at the need to give better information to the youth sector on the funding proposals for it. We have put a process in place for ongoing discussion with SIPTU on the issues raised.

Ombudsman for Children Reports

Gerry Adams

Question:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the Ombudsman for Children's annual report for 2012. [32596/13]

As the Deputy is aware, the Ombudsman for Children is an independent officer of the State and accounts for her statutory functions to the Oireachtas. She performs a very valuable ongoing role in advancing the rights and welfare of children in Ireland since her appointment to that role in 2003. As well as investigating individual complaints she also makes contributions to Oireachtas committees, provides advices to Government on legislation, policy and practices and raises public awareness of issues impacting on the lives of children and families. I acknowledge her support in terms of developing legislation. Her office was involved in the consultations I have held on Children First and the development of the new agency, among other aspects of legislation.

I welcome the launch of the Ombudsman for Children's annual report and note the contents. She was a big supporter of the children's rights referendum, as were Deputy Ó Caoláin and his party. The Government is committed to putting the rights and welfare of children at the centre of our policy and to ensure the services delivered to children are adequate and well organised.

The number of complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman in 2012 was 1,465 and related to a range of departmental areas, those being, education, health, finance, welfare, justice, housing-planning and others. Therefore, it is a matter for each Minister, including myself, together with our respective Departments, to consider the issues raised by Ms Logan not only in her reports to the Oireachtas, but also on an ongoing basis.

I meet Ms Logan regularly to ask for input into legislation and to discuss issues. We respond to each of the reports and liaise with other Departments to get their responses to the issues raised. A number of the issues raised this year and in previous reports have been dealt with by various Departments and responses have been provided to the Ombudsman.

As the Minister will have noted from the Ombudsman's report, two Departments constitute more than 80% of the cases brought to her attention - 43% at the Department of Education and Skills and 39% at the Department of Health. These are the main Departments.

However, I wish to focus on the Ombudsman's comments on public bodies. Her report shows that certain public bodies have demonstrated a failure to consider children's best interests in making decisions about children and families. She also instanced situations in which there was a significant lack of co-operation between State-funded public bodies. As a consequence, children and families did not receive the necessary supports and services. For example, local authorities did not provide suitable housing despite HSE recommendations, mental health services were not provided to children in care who were relocated because local offices could not agree on whose area of responsibility it was and children needed to remain in hospital despite the fact that medical advice had indicated that they could be cared for at home.

I will call the Deputy for a further supplementary question, but I must call the Minister now.

I will leave it at that. How does the Minister intend to address these significant deficiencies at public body and local authority level? Can her Department insist on the employment of best practice where a child's needs are concerned?

The Deputy rightly highlighted one of the issues that he and I know is serious and that the Ombudsman has also highlighted. We also read about it in the child death report, that being, agencies failing to co-operate and share information. That failure has emerged again in this report.

To encourage agencies in this regard, I will build into the legislation that I will introduce shortly on the child and family agency a duty to share information and co-operate. This statutory provision will apply to all agencies that are involved in sharing information on and delivering services for children. It will encourage and support best practice in terms of co-operation.

I was concerned by the issue of housing as it affects children in care, an issue raised by the Deputy. The Ombudsman described a catch-22 situation in her report, that being, a housing Department not being alert to the issue and needing to take it into consideration when deciding whether a family was eligible for housing. I will raise the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and try to ensure that housing policy takes account of children in care so that, when they return home, the child and family agency's plans to rehabilitate them are included when assessing the family's accommodation needs. Similar issues arise for action in respect of other Departments.

The Deputy mentioned the Department of Education and Skills. It is interesting that many of the complaints received by the office were relevant to education, and many of those related to bullying. The Government action plan on bullying, launched by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and me, goes quite a way towards addressing the issues raised in the report and allowing schools to take them more seriously.

I want to make progress, as other Deputies wish to ask their questions.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Recently, the Minister and I discussed the issue of children. The traditional attitude of Departments has almost been that of silo entities. The needs of children cross a number of Departments. I have always hoped, and still have every confidence, that the Minister will ensure that her Department is an overarching instrument of oversight to ensure that this type of attitude is not replicated in other public bodies and local authorities. Full co-operation is necessary. The traditional silo approach must be set aside. That all of these entities have a critical role to play in determining that the needs of children are met must be recognised. I assure the Minister of my full support in the pursuit of this.

We will probably address this issue again. After time has elapsed, will the Minister provide an update on the progress made in respect of the matters highlighted by the Ombudsman for Children?

Was that a question?

Yes. Will the Minister confirm whether she would be happy to address these matters in an ongoing review?

I referred to a cross-departmental implementation plan for Children First. Further discussion would illuminate some of the areas in which co-operation can occur.

Child Care Services Provision

Niall Collins

Question:

8. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way she proposes to improve the quality and qualifications of the workforce in child care facilities with specific emphasis where services are being provided in the age group zero to six years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32556/13]

Michael McGrath

Question:

10. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the resources that will be required to ensure the successful implementation of the Síolta and Aistear strategies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32563/13]

John Browne

Question:

14. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to improve the regulation and inspection of child care facilities with specific emphasis where services are being provided in the age group zero to six years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32550/13]

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

19. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide an update on the actions her Department is taking in terms of child care provision, inspections, rules and regulations following on from the RTE "Breach of Trust" programme. [32350/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 10, 14 and 19 together.

I thank the Deputies for the range of questions on early years services. I have already outlined to the House the eight action areas through which we are addressing the Deputies' concerns. It is important to introduce qualification requirements for all staff working in preschool services. For this reason, I have indicated my intention to increase the minimum requirement for preschool leaders delivering the preschool year from level 5 to level 6. It is also my intention to require all preschool assistants and all other staff caring for children in preschool services to hold a minimum qualification at level 5. These new requirements will apply from September 2014 for new services and from September 2015 for existing services.

As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, driving the early childhood care and education quality agenda is one of my Department's key objectives. I am working closely with the Department of Education and Skills in this regard. I wish to clarify that Síolta and Aistear are not strategies, but practice frameworks developed to support quality early childhood care and education. They have been in place for a number of years and are based on extensive research. We must ensure that the various services have the supports necessary to implement them. I am in discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, regarding a number of initiatives in the budget that would support the development of Síolta and Aistear in the services throughout the country.

The implementation of these frameworks to date has included the publication and dissemination of manuals and guidelines as well as an online toolkit. In addition, the Department of Education and Skills has developed a Síolta quality assurance programme, which has been field-tested in 135 early childhood care and education settings. An evaluation of this mentoring-based programme is being completed. This will provide the model for the roll-out of the frameworks. It is important that this sector be supported in delivering them and in developing the quality services that providers want to ensure children receive.

I call Deputies Troy, Ó Ríordáin and Harris. They may ask one question each, as we are almost out of time.

I will be brief. I acknowledge that raising the quality of standards will require a concerted effort by the Government and that this will take time.

I know the Minister is committed to the roll-out of Síolta and Aistear, which is welcome. Both documents were produced by the previous government. The Minister said that the quality of adults working with children is a key factor, and I accept that.

With regard to the increase in qualification levels from FETAC level 5 to level 6, how will the Minister ensure that parents will not be charged increased fees for child care as a result? The cost of child care is already quite high.

In answer to my earlier question, the Minister said she was in discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, regarding approval for additional inspectors. Has that been successful and, if so, will those inspectors be in place in September? In the interim, when we are moving to implement Síolta and Aistear, could inspectors work with the county child care committees to ensure that the implementation of regulation 5 is adhered to? In that way, the education, development and welfare of the children will be protected. The way to do this, as the Minister herself suggested in committee, is to amend the Child Care (Amendment) Act to ensure that stricter penalties apply for breaches of regulations. Perhaps the Minister could examine that matter. Earlier this year, we facilitated an amendment of the Child Care Act, which went through both Houses of the Oireachtas in a matter of hours when we worked with the Minister. This could also be done in a matter of hours before September.

I very much welcome the Minister's comments on the qualification standards that are being rolled out. Compared to child care workers, education professionals such as teachers have a level of job security and status, as well as being trusted and respected. They are reasonably well paid in addition to having solid terms and conditions. People who work in the child care sector tell me that they were horrified by what they saw on the RTE programme. It is for their benefit that these qualification standards will be rolled out in Síolta and Aistear. However, they feel that their terms and conditions of employment are not great. They do not have much job security and their pay is very low.

If we are to genuinely invest in this sector, we need people who feel they are respected and wanted and that their contribution is valued. Not only must we concentrate on the qualifications of such workers, but we must also ensure that their terms and conditions of employment are improved, for their own benefit and that of the entire sector.

I very much welcome the Minister's work on qualifications for the child care sector. I wish to raise a slightly different aspect, however. In my constituency, the Bray Institute of Further Education already offers a level 5 course in childhood care and education and a level 6 course in early childhood and education. BIFE is really leading the way in this regard, but the difficulty is capacity. More people are applying for these courses than there are places.

This week, the new education and training boards were established to replace VECs. Surely there is a degree of overlap in the work the Minister needs to do and what the Department of Education and Skills needs to do to ensure there is capacity for people who, as Deputy Ó Ríordáin correctly says, want to improve their skills and obtain these qualifications.

As regards Deputy Troy's question, of course the child care committees have a role. They are working with providers and clearly have a role to play in ensuring that regulation 5 is effectively being met. They do work with inspectors; there is no question about that.

I do not expect that the implementation of Síolta and Aistear will lead to an increase in fees for parents. Irish parents already pay among the highest fees for child care. That is certainly not envisaged.

As Deputy Ó Ríordáin rightly pointed out, the sector needs support. The sector has been neglected, yet we give the care of our under-fives to workers who have terms and conditions such as he described. It is to their credit that despite those terms and conditions - which are as the Deputy outlined - so many of them give such a wonderful, professional service in providing high-quality care for children. What can we do to support them and ensure they remain in the sector? The way to do this is to support them in undertaking further training, which many of them are doing voluntarily at present. The mentoring scheme must also be developed. I have seen it in operation in the Deputy's own area. It is terrific to see Síolta and Aistear being supported in some services, but we need to support mentoring also. I am in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, about how we can roll out a mentoring support service to child care providers around the country. It is essential to give that kind of support to child care workers and to value the work they do. There is no doubt that parents also value that work. We must ensure, however, that the sector gets the kind of support that has been lacking up to now. They are doing such an important job with very young children, so they need training and support. Many of those workers are undertaking training voluntarily, but we need to encourage further training for them. By laying down those basic qualifications we can ensure that the sector is recognised more and more in a variety of ways.

The universal ECCE year is a great financial support to the services. It helps them to continue delivering the other services they also provide. If we were in a position to develop a second free school year it would be a major boost to the sector. Clearly, however, we will have to deal with these training and quality issues first before introducing a second year. It is my objective to introduce a second year once these quality issues have been dealt with. It would be a great support to parents, as well as doing the right thing for children. In addition, it would ensure that the sector would continue to develop to the highest possible standards.

As regards Deputy Harris's question, I have met with the Department of Education and Skills about the number of places that are available. The Department has undertaken to examine the quality and number of courses. If the Deputy can give me details of the particular courses he referred to which have capacity issues, I will undertake to have that matter examined.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 4.37 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 5 July 2013.