Priority Questions

Early Childhood Care and Education

Robert Troy


1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for details of the changes to the early childhood care and education scheme announced as part of budget 2016; a breakdown of the number of children his Department estimates will benefit from a full second free preschool year of an additional 38 weeks; and the level of consultation he has had with preschool providers regarding extending the contract of the scheme. [36663/15]

As someone who has campaigned in recent years for additional funding for the early years sector, I welcome the increase in funding for this area as announced in the 2016 budget. Will the Minister give a breakdown of how many children his Department estimates will benefit from a full second free preschool year, that is, an additional 38 weeks? Will he outline the level of consultation he has had with the preschool service providers about the ECCE contracts?

I thank the Deputy for the question. I was very pleased to announce a package of €85 million extra investment in child care, including important improvements to the early childhood care and education, ECCE, preschool programme.

At present, the ECCE programme covers children who have reached the age of three years and two months by 1 September of the relevant year. From September 2016, I am expanding the ECCE programme to allow children to access free preschool from the time they are three years of age until they start primary school. There will be three intakes of eligible children during the preschool year. Children who reach the age of three between April and August can access the programme from September, children who reach the age of three between September and December can access the programme from January, and children who reach the age of three between January and March can access the programme from April.

The number of weeks of free preschool a child will benefit from will depend on their birth date and the age at which they start primary school. This number ranges from 38 weeks for children born between April and August, who start school at the age of four, to 88 weeks for children born between January and March who start school at the age of five. This equates to an estimated 23 additional weeks on average.

The number of children benefiting from the ECCE programme will increase from 67,000 to more than 127,000 in a given year. This extended free preschool provision was first recommended by the expert advisory group on the early years strategy in 2013. It was also one of a series of recommendations of the recent interdepartmental group on future investment in child care which I established in January last. The group consulted widely with a range of stakeholders, including the early years sector, during the course of its work. The recommendation was included in the report of the interdepartmental group which I published in July to facilitate a further debate on how best to meet the needs of parents and children.

I have recently met senior representatives from the early years sector to discuss this and other improvements that were announced as part of the €85 million investment package in budget 2016. The meeting was positive and constructive, with all parties expressing commitment to work together on the issues of capacity and high-quality preschool provision. My Department will be working closely with the early years sector to build capacity in time for the first intake in September 2016 and for subsequent increased availability in January and April 2017.

While it is welcome that additional resources are being allocated to this sector, there was widespread common ground on the need for issues of quality to be addressed across the sector. I hope that will still be a priority before the introduction of these additional weeks. From the Minister's reply, it is obvious this is not, in fact, a full second free preschool year, given the existing preschool year is 38 weeks and the Minister said that, on average, this second year will be an additional 23 weeks.

Has funding been set aside for the full 67,000 children who currently avail of the existing free preschool year or does the Minister expect fewer children to participate? What is the cost for a full second free preschool year extension?

Thank you, Deputy.

I ask this given that, in reply to a parliamentary question I asked earlier in the year, the Minister said a full second preschool year would cost in the region of €180 million. However, for next year, the Minister has allocated only an additional €47 million, of which €11 million will be taken up with the restoration of the capitation grant. Therefore, as I understand it, there is only an additional €36 million for the introduction of this scheme in 2016.

Thank you, Deputy. I call the Minister.

Does the Minister believe this will suffice? In regard to the capacity issue-----

I ask the Deputy to stick to the time limits. We are over time and this means we do not then have time for the ordinary backbenchers to ask their questions.

I can understand that the Deputy would want to spend some time on this because it is a very important area. I am very pleased we have a solid framework for the future investment in child care, following the interdepartmental group report which consulted widely with the sector, including by having an open day for the sector and online consultations for both the sector and for parents. This was widely consulted on and is all the better for that.

Of course, choices have to be made and there has to be a balance. Therefore, on the one hand, there were concerns in the sector about having sufficient capacity for a full second year and, on the other, some people would want it to start sooner. Starting in September of next year allows for capacity to build up. I remind the House that, even today, in the region of 10,000 places are not availed of within the scheme. I believe there will be greater uptake as the economy continues to recover and more people wish to return to work.

Will the Minister confirm that he has allocated enough money? As I said, in his reply to me earlier in the year, the Minister said the cost of a full second preschool year would be €180 million but he has only allocated €36 million for 2016, which is 20% of the cost. How does the Minister expect to be able to fund the scheme adequately if he has not put by adequate resources?

The Minister claims there are 10,000 unoccupied places in preschools throughout the country. However, there are also huge waiting lists and, in fact, there are 4,396 children on waiting lists for child care places in other locations. Although I agree there is capacity in certain areas, how will the Minister address the capacity issues in other areas? Will he consider introducing a new capital grant scheme to ensure the service providers will be able to provide the necessary capacity in areas where currently there is not the required capacity?

If I run over a little in my reply, I hope the Ceann Comhairle will indulge me because a couple of very important points have been raised.

I am sorry but I cannot allow that. It affects everybody else, which is what people do not realise.

That is fair enough. The issue of quality, which was mentioned by the Deputy, is very important. Additional money has been put into the learner fund and many other initiatives around Síolta have been put in place. Quality is very important to us because we know that a poor quality school or preschool service can have an adverse effect on children, so it has to be of high quality to give better outcomes and better futures.

I am perfectly satisfied that there is adequate funding for next year. That is the way the scheme is designed. There would not be the full drawdown of the €180 million to which Deputy Troy alluded, which in fact is €175 million. The one figure I would dispute with the Deputy is the restored capitation cost of €11 million because as far as I know that is more in the region of €5 million to €6 million. However, given that the funding will not be available until September there is not a full year cost. In both instances there is ample funding for next year and the Estimates for the following year will have to pick it up and as the economy continues to recover that is a commitment the Government has made in terms of having a five-year plan, if re-elected. I hope any subsequent Government would honour the commitment because this is a critically important area.

The final point is on disability. It is intended that those with special needs can avail of the fund this year because that is a concern I have.

The Minister did not address capacity.

Children in Care

Sandra McLellan


2. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs how he plans, to accommodate the 60% of persons who leave care who currently have not been assigned aftercare workers; to reduce the 68% of young persons who experience homelessness within two years of leaving care. [36232/15]

I wish to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs how he plans to accommodate the 60% of people who leave care without being assigned aftercare workers, and how he plans to reduce the 68% of young persons who experience homelessness within two years of leaving care.

I strongly refute the figures quoted by the Deputy. I believe they are the ones contained in a study that was published some 15 years ago and are based on a very small sample size. I am pleased to inform the House that of those leaving care this year, approximately 80% were reported as having an allocated aftercare worker. In addition, Tusla has advised that almost 90% of young adults currently receiving an aftercare service are in some form of stable accommodation, including 45% who remain living with their former foster families. The figures of 80% and 90% are important.

Every year, between 450 and 500 young adults leave the care of the State. The majority of those are eligible for an aftercare plan. The Government has decided to amend the legislative provisions regarding aftercare. The aim is to create a clear statement of Tusla's duty to satisfy itself as to the young person’s need for assistance by preparing a plan that identifies those needs for aftercare supports. I published the new Aftercare Bill yesterday.

I am concerned about the one in ten young people who have left care and are reported by Tusla to be in unstable accommodation. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that an aftercare plan, developed before the young person leaves care, identifies his or her care needs and that appropriate supports are put in place. Some young people may not engage with the supports offered or, in some instances, appropriate services such as accommodation may prove difficult to source.

Funding is made available to support a young person leaving care who is to remain on with his or her foster family as part of his or her aftercare plan. In other cases, funding supports are available to facilitate independent living or supported lodgings. Supports are also provided by other State bodies. For example, an exception is made to the jobseeker's allowance payment in favour of young adults leaving care, in that those aged 18 to 24 receive a higher rate than other jobseekers of the same age.

Tusla has continued to develop its aftercare service since the introduction of its national leaving and aftercare policy of 2011. The implementation of the policy has seen the introduction of new practices, including the establishment of steering groups and the standardisation of the aftercare allowance. I am happy to report that the additional funding I have secured for Tusla will drive forward this essential service for children and families into 2016 and beyond.

As the Minister is aware, HIQA released findings of reports on the recent inspections of the foster care systems in both the Galway-Roscommon and Cavan-Monaghan regions, respectively. The reports pointed out: "There were delays in receiving some specialists services and difficulties planning aftercare for children. Furthermore, not all children had an allocated social worker, and while there were some systems in place to mitigate risks, not all statutory obligations were met." The reports shine a light again on what appears to be a somewhat dysfunctional system. The welfare of those children is once again being questioned and it is the children who are exiting the system who seem to suffer disproportionately.

What provisions are in place to ensure interaction with aftercare workers, and that such workers are being properly monitored and given sufficient resources to do the level of work required? How will the Minister tackle the lack of other requirements for aftercare services to fulfil their statutory obligation?

It is worth reiterating that the reference to 68% of young persons experiencing homelessness within two years directly after leaving care is from a Focus Ireland study, Left Out on Their Own - Young People Leaving Care in Ireland, which was published in 2000, which is 15 years ago. This study followed just 56 young people who had left the care of a health board. A total of 87% or 49 young people, were tracked for six months after leaving care and 79% or 44 young people were tracked for two years. First, that is clearly a long time ago and, second, such small numbers make it very difficult to draw conclusions on how the wider group of care leavers have been affected. I do not believe that to draw conclusions and apply them to all children leaving care is particularly helpful to the debate.

At the end of March 2015, a total of 1,783 young people of all ages were in receipt of aftercare support. Of those, 1,338 who were aged 18 to 20 years, inclusive, were in full-time education and in receipt of aftercare support.

I have received representations from the Irish Network of Foster Carers regarding the Aftercare Bill. A number of questions were posed to me which I will pose to the Minister. I will respectfully take his answers on board. First, why were the people taking care of 93% of children not involved in scrutinising the provisions of the general scheme of the Bill? How can the Child and Family Agency implement its new aftercare policy before the concerns of foster carers have been addressed? The network pointed out that there are not enough staff members to provide an assigned link worker to support foster families, as per the national standards. It stated that the front-line staff who are available are dealing with unrealistic case loads which are impeding the service they provide.

The network is concerned about the morale of staff in the Child and Family Agency who are under pressure. The members of the network said there is a serious lack of professional supports needed by the children in their care. Does the Minister agree with the concerns expressed by foster carers that the Child and Family Agency aftercare policy will lead to children they have cared for being put in positions of danger?

In response to the issues raised by the foster carers organisation, there has been an increase in the Tusla budget-----

-----of approximately €38 million for next year, plus another €20.7 million was made available to clear any legacy debt. Tusla has a realistic plan to deal with all unallocated cases. The plan was put to us and we met its ask in full in terms of the resources required to implement it. Tusla was due to recruit in the region of 218 social workers. The number has risen to 256 for this year. A total of 100 social workers have already been recruited and others are in the process. Additional funding has been provided for next year for the recruitment of an additional 174 social workers, which will mean that in practice more than 200 social workers will be recruited during the course of next year. That will be a challenge but it will allow Tusla to address the issues raised.

As regards foster carers who do such wonderful work, and who are deeply appreciated by the State, we will continue to consult with them on how matters are progressed from here.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Joan Collins


3. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views on the Cuan Álainn women's refuge centre in Tallaght in Dublin 24; that since 2012 it has housed 71 women and 96 children fleeing domestic violence; if he has met with Respond housing association, as stated by him on 7 October 2015; his plans to prevent this crucial refuge for women from closure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36231/15]

I tabled this question because Deputy Seán Crowe raised the matter as a Topical Issue on 7 October and in his reply the Minister replied that Respond! is in good financial health and that he would go to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to see what could be done. The Minister said he hoped a meeting with Respond! could be arranged shortly. Has the meeting been arranged and has the Minister met with Respond!? What was the outcome? If the resources are not made available to fund it, the Cuan Álainn refuge will be closed in only seven weeks.

The Cuan Álainn centre was established independently of the State. It opened in 2012 and is funded by Respond!. The Cuan Álainn centre provides accommodation for a range of clients, some of whom may have been in emergency accommodation provided by domestic violence refuges.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, allocates available funding for domestic violence to emergency refuge accommodation services and community-based domestic violence supports. The Cuan Álainn facility does not operate as a front-line emergency domestic violence service.

It provides step-down or transitional accommodation to support the transition to a permanent, settled home. This can include survivors of domestic violence who are making the transition from emergency services to a new, permanent home.

Officials from my Department and Tusla recently met Respond! at its request to discuss the situation in Cuan Álainn centre. The Department sought additional information from Respond!, including information relating to its overall financial position. The most recent information provided indicates that Respond!, which comprises two companies, is in good overall financial health.

I hope that the matter can be satisfactorily resolved by allowing sufficient time for all avenues to be explored by the relevant parties. This will need to include discussion with other parties, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as it would appear that these families have pressing housing needs.

Cuan Álainn provides important services, and I am anxious to do what I can to resolve the issue that has arisen. With this in mind, I have agreed to meet Respond! and I am hopeful that this meeting can be arranged shortly. My private office is seeking to arrange such a meeting and I will check progress. A few days ago, officials were in the process of dealing with this. Tusla will continue to work closely with service providers to ensure that women and children fleeing domestic violence receive all necessary emergency support.

This was first brought to the attention of Tusla in September 2014 when Respond! had a meeting with the agency about this issue. Its representatives flagged the fact that they would be unable to provide the €350,000 in funding to Cuan Álainn refuge centre after this year. No commitments were given by Tusla officials or anybody else but they requested that Respond! keep the centre open for at least a year while they examined the issue.

The Minister referred to finances. There are two companies, Respond! Housing Association and Respond Support Limited. The association looks after the maintenance of Respond! housing. Their funding has been cut big time over the past number of years. They do not have the resources to provide the €350,000 needed. Respond Support Limited comprises youth services, family resources, child care and travelling programmes, and any money it gets goes directly into these services and must be accounted for. It is not a question of these companies having money to maintain services. There are only seven weeks left. I urge the Minister to make sure the refuge stays open. It is absolutely crucial for the women and children involved.

I believe that this refuge should stay open and I believe it does valuable work in supporting women and children who have had to leave a violent domestic situation. I am happy to facilitate a meeting with Respond! officials and to explore with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government how we can have an orderly transfer of responsibility for this. The first meeting took place in early August. Providing only three months to deal with such a complex issue in terms of how the Government will address the provision of continuing support and having the refuge close the week before Christmas seems a little unfair on the people who occupy it. I do not want them left worrying about this over Christmas. I appeal to Respond!, which is in good financial order, to come to the table with an open mind with regard to timing. I am well aware that its representatives would like to put the money somewhere else and I fully respect their decision to do that, but equally I ask that we be given time to organise an orderly transfer of funding and responsibility.

I welcome the Minister's recognition of Cuan Álainn refuge as a valuable resource, which is badly needed. Representatives of SAFE Ireland will appear before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality later to talk about the need to properly resource domestic violence services. They say that at least €30 million needs to be put into services, and various agencies, including the Garda, need to provide resources to assist women and men in domestic violence situations. It is a serious issue, which has not been taken seriously to date, according to this organisation.

I beg to differ with the Minister. The problems in respect of the funding of services at the Cuan Álainn refuge were flagged with Tusla in September 2014; it was not just in the past few weeks. This should have been dealt with over time. It has been more than a year since it was flagged, and I urge the Minister to make sure the refuge stays open. It is absolutely crucial. If it does not remain open, that will have a serious knock-on effect on how the country addresses domestic violence and refuge provision.

At my request, representatives of my Department and the Child and Family Agency met Respond! representatives on 5 August 2015, and at that meeting, Respond indicated that due to a lack of resources it would be unable to continue to run the Cuan Álainn centre and that its board had made a decision to close the service by the end of the year unless funding was obtained. I will leave it up to people to judge the necessity to have this happen just before Christmas when, clearly, Respond's financial situation does not dictate-----

It was flagged a year ago.

-----that it needs to take such pre-emptive action. I want this service to be maintained. I am more than happy to meet Mr. Brennan, and that is being organised. I want to arrange for officials from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to be present as well. Let us resolve this issue and not have women and children who have been distressed and traumatised by domestic violence worried about what will happen over Christmas. I certainly will not allow that to happen.

Family Resource Centres

Robert Troy


4. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will commit to providing adequate resources to put family resource centres, FRCs, on a sustainable financial footing to protect their essential services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36664/15]

A total of 109 FRCs provide invaluable services in their communities throughout the country, ranging from early intervention and prevention to enhancing families and helping to rebuild communities. Despite this, they have suffered a 5% cut year-on-year to their funding since 2011. What measures will the Minister and the Government introduce in light of the increased funding to Tusla in the 2016 budget to ensure these valuable resources in our communities are put on a sustainable footing for the future?

On its establishment on 1 January 2014, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, took over responsibility for the family resource centre programme, which was previously operated by the then Family Support Agency. Tusla is spending €13.09 million in 2015 supporting 109 FRCs around the country. Funding has been maintained this year at 2014 levels. Tusla very much values the work of the centres and recognises the positive impact of their work in supporting families and local communities around the country. FRCs provide a holistic service of child, family and community support and advocacy to children and families in their communities. I welcome Tusla's intent to improve and build on the strengths of the FRC programme in meeting its mandate for community-based early intervention and family support.

I announced a significant increase in the funding allocation to Tusla for next year. Tusla will have available to it some €676 million in funding, representing an increase of €38 million over 2015 on top of an increase of €20 million in 2014. We have therefore increased Tusla funding by approximately 10%. The precise funding to be provided to FRCs will now be considered by Tusla in developing its business plan for 2016, which will be sent to me for consideration.

The Government, since its establishment, has attached particular priority to supporting vulnerable children and families, and the significant increase in funding being made available to Tusla next year represents further evidence of our delivery on this ambition.

I am glad the Minister values the work of FRCs. He confirmed that funding has been maintained at 2014 level, but I alluded to a 15% cut in funding since 2011. FRCs are primarily located in disadvantaged areas. They have versatile and responsive staff who respond to the needs of their community, and they often intervene before problems manifest. During the summer, I met representatives of FRCs in my constituency - Ballynacarrigy, Granard, Ballymahon and Athlone - and one of the directors said they feel like they were sitting with a hatchet over their heads, never knowing when it will fall.

Funding has been provided for rent and staff - they are not even fully staffed - but funding is still not in place for the services they provide. What is being stated is that while the service is being provided, people will be obliged to pay for it. In light of the additional funding, will money be ring-fenced for the family resource centres in the future? Will the Minister restore what was lost in the cuts suffered over the past four years? Will he put in place a firm commitment in order that these much-needed services are put on a sustainable footing into the future?

I remind the Deputy that from 2011 to 2014, this country started on a recovery from the greatest financial crisis it had ever endured, and for Ireland to regain its financial sovereignty, it was necessary to reduce funding for virtually all services. Consequently, in 2014 it was a reflection of the Government's commitment to this area that it was able to maintain the funding for 2014 into 2015. As I stated, Tusla will draw up its own business plan which it will forward to me. However, I have pointed out that it values this service highly and the programmes delivered by it are myriad. They include child contact centres, family conferencing, patient support groups, child care providers, after-school clubs, homework clubs, study clubs, literacy programmes, preschools, playschools, breakfast clubs, lunch clubs, out-of-school initiatives including summer camps and transition programmes, Rainbows programmes, counselling, family fun days, lone parents groups, parent and toddler groups, youth groups including no-name clubs and youth cafés, intergenerational groups, fathers groups including father and son groups and supervised access initiatives, library and book-lending services, substance abuse support groups and school uniform exchanges, to mention just some programmes. This is an important programme and resource. There are 109 such centres nationwide and Tusla values them highly, as do I.

I am glad the Minister values them and I remind him politics is all about choices. Even though we were in difficult economic times, the Government chose to cut funding to an agency that provides much-needed services and which works in the most disadvantaged parts of the community to support and help those communities and the families concerned. I again ask the Minister whether he will acknowledge that a small investment in this area provides significant returns for the money invested. In light of the significant returns it has given, will the Minister give a commitment that the funding cuts these centres have endured in recent years will be restored? Will there be a commitment to put this resource on a sustainable footing and that Tusla officials will meet representatives from the family resource centres to consider this in the future? Can the Minister confirm it is not the Government's plan to rationalise services like this, as it is doing at present in respect of the domestic abuse services?

First, I am not quite sure what the Deputy means by stating the Government is rationalising domestic abuse services.

The Government is cutting them and telling the services they are being rationalised.

There will be ongoing consultation between Tusla and the services it funds. As the Deputy is aware, there is a huge amount of volunteerism within this sector and I take every opportunity I can to congratulate and thank sincerely those who give so freely of their time in this regard. Approximately 40,000 volunteers work in the youth sector alone and then the family resource centres are in addition to that. I have visited many of them and the work they do is invaluable. Funding is always an issue and in respect of value for money, one will not beat it anywhere, but more than that, the value they add in what they do within their communities is priceless.

Family Resource Centres

Sandra McLellan


5. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the retention of the family resource centre national programme is an issue he believes to be of paramount importance to his Department; and if extra funding will be provided to ensure this is maintained. [35509/15]

Is the retention of the family resource centre national programme an issue the Minister believes to be of paramount importance to his Department and will additional funding be provided to ensure it is maintained?

As stated previously, on its establishment on 1 January 2014, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, took over responsibility for the family resource centre programme which was operated by the then Family Support Agency. Tusla is spending €13.09 million in 2015 in supporting 109 family resource centres nationwide, and as I stated earlier, funding has been maintained this year at 2014 levels. Tusla very much values the work of the resource centres and recognises the positive impact of their work in supporting families and local communities. Family resource centres provide an holistic service of child, family and community support as well as advocacy to children and families in their communities. I welcome Tusla's intent to improve and build on the strengths of the family resource centre programme in meeting its mandate for community-based early intervention and family support.

As the Deputy will be aware, I announced a significant increase in the funding allocation for Tusla for next year. Tusla will have available to it approximately €676 million in funding, representing an increase of €38 million over 2015. The precise level of funding to be provided for family resource centres now will be considered by Tusla in developing its business plan for 2016, which will be sent to me for consideration. Since its establishment, the Government has attached particular priority to supporting vulnerable children and families and the significant increase in funding being made available to Tusla next year represents further evidence of its delivery of this intention.

I thank the Minister for his reply. While I welcome the increase in Tusla's budget, one must recognise it had been underfunded, and when one dishes out that money across all the various Departments, it does not account for an awful lot. Family resource centres are an integral hub of communities and are engaging with increasing numbers of people each month. Family resource centres provide an excellent service for vulnerable children. The average cost of dealing with a child in its services is extremely low, at approximately €2,200, and when one compares that with the prison system, it provides very good value for money. However, its core funding since 2011 has been cut by approximately 17%. How will the Minister ensure the operational funding for the family resource centre national programme is excluded from the commissioning process? How will he prioritise the reduction in child poverty in Ireland with regard to the family resource centres?

In respect of the funding for Tusla, I believe its request pertaining to unallocated cases and its business plan to deal with that was met fully. As for its overall request for funding, the agency had concerns about some incoming legislation and its possible cost, but if one reads the statement on Tusla's website, and I will paraphrase the last line because I cannot remember it precisely, it more or less acknowledges the additional resources will put Tusla on a solid footing in delivering its core services. There always is a need for more money. Tusla could always spend more money but one thing about recent years has been the decisions of the Government about various areas to ensure the recovery. It is all very well to pick a single area and one could consider health, child care, policing or education as all these areas suffered as a consequence of the recession that Members are aware was caused by the previous Government, albeit not in its entirety as there were international effects as well. This is what is at the core of the debate in the Chamber today because ultimately, if the economy is delivering the income to the Exchequer, the Government can then invest in these services in education, health and, most important from my perspective, child care and family resource centres. However, to pretend one has a bottomless pit of money or the pot was full when the Government took office when in fact it is known Ireland was bereft of any money and its international reputation was in tatters is to be a little fantastical. I do not direct those comments at Deputy McLellan.

Choices were made over the past five years.

As I pointed out, the family resource centres have had their core funding cut by 17%.

I have been informed morale is at an all-time low because 60% of the agency's funding comes through fund-raising. That time spent on fund-raising would be far better spent on providing an excellent service to vulnerable children. Does the Minister agree prevention and early intervention are far better than fire-fighting in the long run? Will he agree that no business can exist without the ability to plan ahead for at least the following year and that core funding for the services needs to be ring-fenced within Tusla to enable it to do that?

Tusla engages regularly with the Family Resource Centre National Forum. Earlier this year, the forum highlighted its wish to discuss various issues, including recent changes by Tusla to structures and funding, among other matters. Tusla had a productive meeting with the forum on 7 July last in which the following items were discussed: closer local liaisons between the family resource centres and area managers; more recognition of family resource centres in Tusla's corporate plan; the classification of the family resource centre programme as a national structure supporting child and family services; family resource centre representation on local child and young person services committees; the addition of two new family resource centres to the programme; staffing and budgetary issues within the family resource centres; and the possible impact of Tusla's commissioning strategy on the family resource centres. Several other issues were discussed as well.

Tusla is in close contact with the Family Resource Centre National Forum and appreciates the work it does. I await Tusla's business plan to see how it will apportion spending this year to the centres. I agree with the Deputy that early intervention is critically important, whether it be in the area of health or child care. That is why I am keen that we invest money in the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme and why I also welcome the planned introduction of paternity leave. The first year of a child's life is critically important in terms of bonding. Anything that interferes with that should be addressed.