Priority Questions

Preschool Services

Robert Troy

Question:

1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under the terms of the early childhood care and education scheme, if he will ensure that preschool services will be able to extend the provision they offer, given their concerns at their unsustainability under the 38-week capitation system; the negotiations or discussions he has had with the preschool sector regarding the capacity within preschools to handle the extension to the preschool year commencing in September 2016; and the gaps in capacity by county. [3396/16]

Will the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs give an update on the negotiations or discussions he has had with the preschool sector regarding capacity within preschools to handle the extension to the preschool year commencing in September 2016? Has he identified any gaps in capacity? If so, where are those gaps and how does he intend to alleviate them?

I acknowledge the considerable support of the child care sector, along with the flexibility of child care providers and staff, in ensuring the range of child care support programmes administered by my Department are implemented.

From September 2016, I am expanding the free preschool programme to allow children enrol in free preschool from the time they are three years of age and to remain there until they start primary school.

Following the budget announcement, I met with senior representatives from the early years sector to discuss the measures announced as part of the budget package. The meeting was positive and constructive, with all parties expressing commitment to work together on the issues of capacity and high quality preschool provision.

As a result of the budget extension, the number of children benefiting from the programme is expected to rise from 67,000 to 127,000 in a given programme year. For the 2016-2017 programme year, it is estimated 89,500 children will be eligible to enrol in the programme from September 2016, an additional 22,000 from January 2017 and a further 15,500 from April 2017.

I decided to introduce this new measure from September 2016 to provide the early years sector with the time to build capacity to meet the increased demand. As the increased demand for the programme is not expected to peak until April 2017, this timeframe should allow preschool providers to make any necessary infrastructural or service changes, as well as to put in place extra staff resources to accommodate the additional demand.

I am satisfied there is already additional capacity in the early years sector to cope with some of the increased demand. The annual survey of early years services, conducted in December 2014, estimated there are more than 24,000 vacancies in early years services across the country, with almost 13,000 of these vacancies in sessional services.

It would have been more prudent had the Minister consulted with the sector prior to making the announcement. From my engagement with the sector, I am getting the impression there are significant concerns that there will not be sufficient capacity. In a reply to a parliamentary question I put down last year, the Minister stated he identified approximately 10,000 vacant places across the board. From his figures today, he will need an additional 22,500 by September 2016 for the free preschool year. That does not take into account the additional space required for the extension of the community child care subvention scheme.

Has a clear audit taken place of the exact number of vacant places? What measures is the Department going to take between now and September to ensure the required number of spaces will be available in September 2016?

Every year a significant number of new preschool providers apply to participate in this programme. This increased demand for and additional investment in free preschool provision should encourage greater numbers of applicants. It is clear more capacity will be required. Officials in my Department are working closely with the city and county child care committees and voluntary child care organisations to identify measures to help increase capacity. My Department will also be making data available to the committees in the coming weeks, broken down by district electoral division area, to assist their work with providers to meet service demands.

There was extensive consultation prior to the development of this programme by the interdepartmental group with stakeholders and parents through meetings and online surveys. There are challenges with which the Department will be helping the sector to deal.

To be fair, I do not think the Minister gets it. He seems to be relying on the hope that more people will apply to provide the service in September. We are only seven months away from September. Will he tell us exactly how many spaces are available now? He has not answered that yet. What scheme has the Minister put in place to ensure there will be capacity if existing services need to expand? My understanding from dealing with the sector is that it is at breaking point and will not be able to provide extension to the scheme. Current services are having difficulties even recruiting new staff. I cannot see where all these additional spaces will come in September. The Minister is hopeful they will arise. I do not believe that is proper planning.

There is capacity. Some of it has been taken up. Since the introduction and the announcement of the scheme, people who have been holding back sending their children to preschool, hoping to save the one year available up until now to start in September 2016, have availed of it. Over 5,000 extra children are now in the early childhood care and education programme as a consequence of the Government's decision already. Several initiatives have been taken to support the sector and build up extra capacity.

There is the restoration of capitation rates to pre-2012 levels from September 2016.

The additional capitation for preschool providers was recently announced as part of the suite of Government-funded supports for children with a disability accessing the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme, and I know that is something the Deputy would be supportive of. There is funding of €1.5 million for the Learner Fund, which will allow up to a thousand early years practitioners to undertake and complete the level six qualification, which is a requirement for preschool leaders. There is funding of €4 million for early years capital 2016 programme. Efforts are being made to streamline applications for planning permission for preschool providers who wish to extend capacity to meet the increased demands of the ECCE programme. Officials of my Department have already met with officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on this. They have committed to publishing further information which will assist preschool providers and local authorities with planning permission applications and queries.

The Minister should watch this space in September.

Child and Family Agency Investigations

Sandra McLellan

Question:

2. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number, outcome and type of complaints made to the early years inspectorate of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in each of the years 2013 to 2015 in tabular form. [3279/16]

I wish to ask the Minister how many complaints were made to the early years inspectorate of Tusla in 2013, 2014, and 2015. What was the outcome of those complaints? Could the Minister provide a breakdown of the complaints by category and nature?

The total number of complaints received by the early years inspectorate of Tusla has fallen from 361 in 2013 to 274 in 2014 and to 258 last year.

Information about the category of complaint is first available from 2015, and I am circulating details of these in a table following this reply. In brief, the table indicates that of all complaints received in 2015, 169 related to governance, 130 to safety, 79 to facilities and 150 to the health, welfare and development of the child. There is some overlap between these categories, with complaints sometimes being made under more than one heading. Eighty-three complaints were upheld, 45 were partially upheld, and 111 were not upheld.

The Child and Family Agency's early years inspectorate monitors and investigates complaints received by it in relation to early years services. The agency, with the support of my Department, is establishing a centralised national early years complaints office which will filter, categorise, risk-rate and prioritise complaints received for investigation. The data gathered by this office will inform registration decisions and the effective scheduling of inspections.

The revised child care regulations, which I hope to be in a position to publish shortly, will include a requirement for each early years service to maintain a complaints policy specifying the procedure to be followed by parents or guardians of children attending the service for the purpose of making complaints. The service provider will be required to retain a written record of each complaint received, including the outcome of the complaint, and this record will be open to inspection by an early years inspector. It is anticipated that this requirement will result in a speedier resolution of complaints locally, and reduce the burden on the agency's complaints office.

Number and breakdown of complaints received by Tusla in 2015

Issue of Complaint

Outcome of Complaint

Progress

Area

Number

Governance

Safety

Facilities

HWDC

Upheld

Partially Upheld

Not Upheld

Other

Complaints Open

Complaints Closed

DML

82

59

50

52

39

48

7

23

0

4

78

DNE

95

44

60

20

76

19

17

52

0

7

88

SOUTH

24

21

6

0

6

5

10

9

0

0

24

WEST

57

45

14

7

29

11

11

27

6

2

55

TOTAL

258

169

130

79

150

83

45

111

6

13

245

Note 1: The complaints data is divided into the Tusla regions, i.e. Dublin/Mid-Leinster, Dublin/North-East, South, and West.

Note 2: HWDC is an acronym for "health, welfare and development of the child."

Note 3: Complaints can be made under more than one heading, so the individual totals of the issues of complaint add up to more than 258.

If we look at similar models across the world, we can see evidence of good practice that could be potentially followed up here. In New Zealand, for example, complaints are published, with the aim of being transparent across the board. This is beneficial to the general public and to those linked with different services. While we have some databases, my understanding is that they are regional. I believe the Minister stated in his reply that it is the intention to create a national database, which is extremely important. It would allow complaints to be identified and addressed in a way that would be of benefit to all those involved. I wish to ask the Minister why annual reports are not currently published by Tusla as a matter of good practice. Does the Minister intend to compile a disclosure of complaints on an annual basis and open a confidential database that is accessible to the public? I understand that Tusla is still in the early stages of development as a semi-State body, but these measures seem obvious and necessary.

The complaints are being compiled, and it is intended that this will be done by a centralised complaints office, so that they can be filtered, categorised, risk-rated and prioritised for investigation. I have no issue with publishing the final lists and having transparency. It would require some internal discussions, I have no doubt, and some discussions with the sector. I believe knowledge is power, and parents need to be empowered to be sure that they are happy with whatever service their children might be getting. That is an issue I will address with my Department. I will be meeting with Tusla shortly and I will talk to them about that issue.

There are many complaints on an annual basis, and I am sure these complaints are fully assessed and dealt with in a proper manner. There do, however, seem to be some discrepancies when it comes to follow-up on outcomes that may be deemed unsatisfactory by the complainant. There appears to be no suitable or accessible procedure of appeals to follow for those with unsatisfactory outcomes. There have been examples in which outcomes of complaints were only partially upheld, or no outcome was stated whatsoever. There should be sufficient processes put in place so that cases such as these do not occur. I wish to ask the Minister what process is available to those who were not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation of the complaint. Does the Minister believe that process is satisfactory? Are there any plans to develop a clearly defined process to allow those with unsatisfactory outcomes the opportunity of a fair appeal?

Part 7(a) of the Child Care Act was amended by section 92 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. Under that Act, all service providers notified to the HSE prior to the commencement of the Act were deemed registered for a period of three years. Under the Act, the agency may attach conditions to a registration, or remove a provider from the register. The agency may choose to do this where it is satisfied that the provider is non-compliant with the regulations. When the agency proposes to do this, it must notify the provider in writing of its proposals to do so and the reasons for it. The provider may then make representations to the agency or appeal to the District Court. The agency may also prosecute a provider for contravening the regulations and, on conviction, the provider will be subject to a class A fine. The Act refers to regulations made under this part, and the delay in the preparation of revised regulations means that a substantive registration system has not yet been commenced by the agency. However, the Department's legal advice is that the existing child care regulations of 2006 continue to apply.

The Deputy's question vis-à-vis an appeals process is something that has not come to my notice up to this moment in terms of a structure being requested. However, it is something that I will look at, because there needs to be a right of appeal on both sides. I will finish by emphasising that the role of governance is to help providers and services provide a safe service, and in most instances, following interventions, practices change and services improve. The goal is to continue to have a safe service for children. However, in cases in which people are recalcitrant and refuse to come on board with a more modern, proper and safe approach, we have the sanctions in place to deal with them.

I take this opportunity to thank all of my constituents for giving me the opportunity to represent them here in our national Parliament over the last five years. It has been an honour and a privilege for me to represent them. I also wish to thank everybody here in Leinster House for all their support along the way. I wish the Members here continued happiness into the future.

Thank you, Deputy. Whatever future you intend pursuing after your life here, I wish you every success. It was always a pleasure working with you.

I would also like to wish Deputy McLellan all the best for the future. I hope everything works out well in the end for her. The best of luck to her.

Child Poverty

Finian McGrath

Question:

3. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures in place to assist children living in poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3278/16]

I wish to ask the Minister which measures he intends to put in place to assist children who are living in poverty. As the Minister knows very well, poverty rates have rocketed. We now have a very serious situation in which 37% of people suffer from deprivation in our society.

We must target those children - there are between 138,000 and 193,000 of them - living in consistent poverty and focus on getting that rate down because we now have the resources and the improving economy to do it.

At the outset, I would like to be associated with the Ceann Comhairle's comments and wish Deputy McLellan all the very best in future. I am sure that whatever she chooses to do, it will be done with her usual attention to detail and commitment.

At my recent appearance at the review of Ireland by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, I confirmed that the Irish Government acknowledges that dealing with child poverty in Ireland has been a major challenge. We have, however, achieved the following key actions in our response to dealing with child poverty. There is an additional €100 million in social protection measures for families with children, and we maintained the social security safety net by honouring an established commitment to maintain the value of child-related welfare payments at 33% to 35% of the minimum adult welfare rate. Our Pathways to Work strategy is helping to ensure that a high proportion of jobs are being taken up by people who were unemployed, including young people. As the Deputy knows, Ireland’s unemployment rate has fallen from 15.1% to 8.8%. In recognition of the higher risks and lifelong consequences of child poverty, the Government set a child-specific poverty target in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures to reduce consistent child poverty by at least two thirds on the 2011 level. This figure currently represents 100,000 children.

Having an ambitious target and actively monitoring this will provide a roadmap from which we can develop and implement a strong multidimensional policy response. The Department of Social Protection has the lead role in co-ordinating Government strategies on child poverty and is the sponsor of outcome four of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, which is economic security and opportunity. It also has lead responsibility for the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion and has identified child poverty as a key cross-sectoral priority to be addressed in 2015 and 2016. There are also a number of areas of focus that support our response to child poverty within my Department. These include €345 million invested annually on early childhood care and education and after-school support programmes that provide care to 100,000 children; the area-based childhood programme of 2013 to 2017, which is co-funded by my Department and Atlantic Philanthropies, amounting to €29.7 million; and €51 million allocated to support the provision of youth services by the voluntary youth sector for 2016. In addition, Tusla delivers a range of services focusing on the welfare, protection and support for children, young people and their families that are key to supporting outcomes that will assist in reducing the impact of child poverty.

Finally, my Department, in collaboration with the Department of Social Protection, will also hold an EU peer review in the next month to explore innovative responses in prevention and early intervention policy and provision to improve outcomes for children, particularly those experiencing child poverty and disadvantage. This event will involve ten member states and the European Commission and a number of key Irish stakeholders. It will contribute to shared learning in ensuring effective responses to address the damaging impact of child poverty.

I acknowledge that the Minister accepted the reality when he appeared at the United Nations meeting on child poverty. We need to focus on poorer children as a sector of society that is consistently living with severe disadvantage. Digging deeper, we can see the figures are not huge and we should be able to have a good crack at ending the problem. There are 138,000 children living in poverty, and the rate of consistent poverty has increased from 6.8% to 11.7%. Those are not my figures but those of the Ombudsman for Children. Even if the outcomes of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures are realised, there will still be approximately 37,000 children living in poverty in 2020. There are 1,054 children who are part of homeless families, which means they live in very bad conditions. We have seen how they live with bed bugs, mice and cockroaches, which is unacceptable in Ireland in 2016.

I will underscore the actions that have been taken. Poverty is seven times more likely in households where people are jobless, and that is why the Government's focus has been on jobs and getting people back to work. There have been 135,000 new jobs created already, and another 50,000 are planned for this year. The Pathways to Work strategy is working and helping to ensure that a high proportion of jobs are taken up - we can show this - by unemployed people, including young people. Since the Government launched its plan in early 2012, we have added 135,000 jobs to the economy. There was a 33% increase in the child care budget, enabling every child in Ireland to avail of free preschool, including children with disabilities. Both I and the Deputies across the floor should be very pleased about that. There is additional funding to extend free GP care to all children aged 11 years and under; those under six already have cover. There is additional funding for speech and language therapy services for children with disabilities, and we have increased the number of resource teachers and special needs assistants in the Irish school system by 29% and 13%, respectively, since 2011, despite the terrible recession we had to endure. There is also improved funding for mental health services for children and young people, as well as a range of additional capital and revenue funding in respect of housing and an effort to specifically address homelessness among families.

The Minister is not listening. I would not get carried away with the connection between poverty and jobs. We know there are many low-paid workers in the State who must use social welfare payments such as family income supplement for support. There are many poor people who have jobs but still need support. The Minister has missed the point with respect to poverty.

Does the Minister find it acceptable that there are children in 2016 living in accommodation with leaking water, mould and faulty electric fittings? One child from every three is deprived of basic necessities, according to a recent Growing Up in Ireland report. As a former Minister for Health, the Minister knows that mortality rates in disadvantaged areas are three times those in more affluent areas. Males in those areas die 18 years sooner, on average, than their counterparts in more affluent areas. How about that for real poverty and hardship? When I woke up this morning and read about the €9 billion that we could have got back from bondholders, I wondered where it all went wrong.

We all know where it went wrong and there is no doubt about that with regard to the last Government. Family homelessness and child poverty are two issues that the Government takes very seriously. There is a regular meeting of Cabinet dealing with social policy and the issue of homelessness is discussed at every one. I go to all of them. The Deputy mentioned the link between jobs and poverty, and I reiterate my previous comments. A household is seven times more likely to experience poverty if the householders are jobless. The Deputy has rightly pointed out that there are additional supports for people on low pay. This Government restored the minimum wage, and the last budget, as adjudicated by independent authorities, was demonstrated to be particularly supportive of families with children.

I am not by any means clapping ourselves on the back at all and there is much work to do to address inequity in our society. We have much to do to address child poverty. I can say the rate has fallen from 11.7% to 11.2%, which may not be statistically significant, but it is travelling in the right direction. It is not travelling fast enough. We are committed to continuing to address this. In 2016, we want a republic that cherishes all its children equally.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Robert Troy

Question:

4. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs how he and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, are protecting the welfare of children sleeping in emergency homeless accommodation; and the care and in-reach plans being put in place for children who are in emergency accommodation. [3397/16]

This question follows on from the previous one and asks the Minister how he and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, are protecting the welfare of children who are sleeping in emergency homeless accommodation. What plans have they put in place to support these children and families, and will the Minister update the House on the matter?

I am keenly aware that homelessness is very disruptive to normal family life, and it is a major issue that the Government is tackling. Homelessness can have such a negative impact on children's education and welfare as they move from one accommodation to another while still trying to attend the same school and maintain relationships with their friends. It impacts not just on their welfare and education, but also on their sense of security. For the children and their families who find themselves in emergency accommodation, the primary need is for a family home, and responsibility for this lies with local authorities and my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly.

Children in emergency homeless accommodation are in the care of their parent or parents, and a key role of the primary carer is that of protection. If there is a specific child protection concern, it should be reported immediately to Tusla for appropriate response. Tusla provides family support and works with relevant services to maximise the supports available to children and families who are homeless. Where underlying problems are identified, for example mental health issues, it can refer the family to the appropriate services.

Homelessness as part of a family group is not of itself a basis for seeking to receive a child into care. However, where there is a specific child protection concern, Tusla can investigate and take the child into care if necessary and only if it is in the best interests of the child. The primary purpose of the Child and Family Agency is to support families, and the best place for a child is in a home with a family.

Tusla is very much aware of general welfare issues for families and has engaged in multi-agency working on this issue. A homelessness liaison officer has recently been appointed to lead Tusla's engagement with the homeless services, particularly regarding the overall welfare and protection of children.

The Minister is right in one thing: the best place for a child is in his or her home, but it is a damning indictment on his Government that 1,600 children are not residing in their homes; they are residing in emergency accommodation, and that is because of policies that this Government has pursued. I was truly shocked by the Minister's reply to a parliamentary question I submitted where he clearly abdicated his responsibility for what his Department was doing to support people and children who are living in emergency accommodation. It is not right to say that Tusla is just about taking children into care. Tusla is a new agency that was set up to support families, and we need to support these families who are living in emergency accommodation. I am not the only one to say this: we know that the Government's response to the homelessness crisis has been questioned by two international UN committees, most recently the one on the rights of the child, which the Minister himself attended. We talked about the rights of the child and on voting to enshrine the rights of our children in our Constitution three years ago. Surely the most basic, fundamental right is that of children to have a home.

I do not know whether the Deputy heard what I said only two minutes ago. I never intimated for a moment that the function of the Child and Family Agency was anything other than to support families and children and keep children with their families, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Most like-minded people would support the view that the best place for a child is with his or her family, as long as there are not serious child protection issues.

Regarding the homelessness issue, I do not want to have a political row with Deputy Troy on what may be our last oral parliamentary question session-----

The Minister would never do that.

-----but the reality is that for him to pretend that this problem has only recently arisen and that it has nothing to do with the disastrous housing policy of the last Government clearly flies in the face of all logic and reason.

Here we go again.

We accept that this is a major problem and that it has got worse. Child poverty is a priority for the Government to address and, like many things, it takes time to address. We all know, ultimately, that the relief and resolution of this problem lies in increasing supply and not building houses where nobody wants to live.

I remind the Minister that in 2013 a total of 20 families were becoming homeless in Dublin every month. In the last few months that has tripled to more than 60 families becoming homeless every month. Maybe I was living in a different universe, but I believe this Government was in power in 2013, and it certainly was in power in the last few months. I remind the Minister that in the four years of the last Government's term of office, over 13,000 social houses were built by the local authorities. In the four years this Government has been in power, 1,250 social houses have been built, so that is this Government's legacy regarding the social housing building programme, and as a consequence of that legacy we now have the highest ever number of people on our social housing lists: 130,000. Because of this, the bank veto and the fact that people are losing their homes because the banks are taking them now, we have 1,600 children living in emergency accommodation.

I do not believe the Government is giving this issue the priority it deserves. We saw the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, last night out canvassing in his home town of Tipperary-----

With John Delaney, getting tickets for the match.

-----when there was an important debate in this House on supporting families who are homeless, and in particular the 1,600 children who are homeless today.

It is interesting that the Deputy should mention 2013 because he will remember that we were still in a bailout then and were at the mercy of others, thanks to his party's actions-----

-----and lack of action-----

The banking inquiry report did not say that.

The Minister must not have read the banking inquiry report.

He will have to go back and read it again.

Read the banking inquiry report, Minister.

If the Minister wants a row, he will get a row.

The Deputy will obviously pretend that houses can be produced without any resources because it suits his argument. He will pretend that houses can be produced overnight.

He will ignore the fact that the reason the country is blighted with ghost estates is because of his party's policies, which encouraged developers to build in places nobody wanted to live-----

This Government would have made it worse.

-----and to build on floodplains where nobody will be able to live-----

There was no building on floodplains-----

I say to look to the positive-----

It is the Minister's party that has been in power on the local authorities for the last ten years.

Yes, in Kildare.

His party failed miserably in its housing policy for 15 years.

No, we did not.

He should be ashamed of himself. His party's policies were illiterate.

Can we get back to Question Time?

Not alone that-----

The facts speak for themselves, Deputy.

After 15 years of legislating Deputy Troy boasts about the amount of housing his party had built. His party had a quarter of the required housing built.

The Deputy had his chance to contribute.

Could I please have a chance to respond, a Cheann Comhairle?

No, we are over time.

Deputy Durkan started the row.

But I did not get an opportunity because they were shouting-----

I am not here for political statements. I am here to hear Question Time.

I am here to answer the question-----

We are way over time. We are now almost-----

It would be the first time the Minister ever answered the question.

I must speak to the fact that the Government has put aside €3.8 billion in capital for direct social housing building.

That is 35,000 units, and there are 75,000 other homes to be supported through local authority initiatives and over 300 projects underway, as we speak, in local authorities around this country to address this issue.

No, there is not.

Child Care Services Provision

Finian McGrath

Question:

5. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to support facilities for child care in the Darndale and Belcamp area of Dublin 17; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3213/16]

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to outline for me supports for child care in the Darndale and Belcamp areas of Dublin Bay North. I ask that he support child care services that are a great example of good practice in this area. We have quality staff there and amazing local community support, and I ask and urge the Minister to ensure that the child care facilities in Darndale and Belcamp are given maximum support in 2016.

A number of child care support programmes are implemented by my Department to assist parents with the cost of child care. These include the early childhood care and education programme, ECCE, the community child care subvention programme, CCS, and the training and employment child care programmes, TEC. This funding is provided through the child care services in which children eligible under the programmes are enrolled.

There are four child care community providers in the geographical area of Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview which received funding in the school year 2014-15 under the support programmes. The child care services and the funding provided are as follows: Darndale Belcamp integrated child care, €578,214; New Life child care centre, €45,853; St. Francis community playgroup, €61,420; and Moatview early education centre, €44,384. These child care services continue to participate in the child care support programmes in the current school year and provisional funding totalling in excess of €640,000 has been approved by my Department. A final funding figure for the school year 2015-16 will be established at a later date, when the enrolment process for qualifying children has been completed. Private child care providers in this area are currently eligible to participate in all of the support programmes, with the exception of the community child care subvention scheme and will continue to be funded where eligible children are enrolled.

I am further advised by Tusla that, in 2015, it provided €328,226 in direct funding to early years services in the Darndale-Belcamp area.

I accept there are four excellent service providers, the Darndale-Belcamp integrated group, the New Life group, the St. Francis group and the Moatview education group. However, the constant issue is that they are under pressure with regard to financial services and retaining staff every single year. I have met some staff who loved working in the centre, many of whom would love to go back although they have been laid off. While the services have been funded to some degree, we need to fund them properly because of the fantastic work they are doing in regard to early intervention, which we discussed earlier.

Is the Minister supportive of the current campaign, Hands Up for Children, which is a broader movement that is linked to the debate on child care in Darndale? It deals with the whole issue of smart investment in children, prevention and early intervention. The bottom line is that it works. The research shows that if we get in early in particular areas, we can prevent a lot of damage and disadvantage in the future.

The Deputy will be aware that I am on the Dáil record as being very supportive, in both this and my previous Ministry, of early intervention and prevention, and of identifying children who are at risk and acting early. There are many good examples of programmes operating throughout the country through the ABC programme. I recently visited Sheriff Street, near the financial services centre, where an initiative is being funded partly by the Department and partly by private donations. The initiative has trained local people to go into homes where, because they are locals, they are accepted by the local home owners. They interact with parents in regard to teaching their children about how to interact and play in an educational way, even from the age of 18 months. It has been a major success.

We are very supportive of prevention and early intervention. We know that the people who benefit most from the preschool year and its extension are those who come from a disadvantaged background because it helps level the playing pitch for them and means they enter school with much improved reading and social skills.

I accept the Minister is a strong supporter of early intervention. However, my key question is whether there is a broader view within the Cabinet on that issue. Will the Minister and the Government deliver on the national policy framework for children and young people? We have debated the whole issue of child poverty, early years education and parental supports. We need the upskilling of professionals and we also need to rebalance the current resources within the system. While I accept the Minister's point, we need to up our game and, in particular, the Cabinet needs to up its game.

On the question of research, the Minister knows some of the people I am talking about, such as Noel Kelly on the north side of Dublin. They have proved from their research across certain parts of my constituency that it works. It is not NIMBY, liberal stuff; it has been proven to be factually correct, and it is important. We have seen the reality in recent weeks. Children are among the worst affected by the banking crisis and the recession. We need to focus on this but it needs Cabinet support.

The Cabinet will be very supportive of all of this. We are acutely aware that, in the course of the formulation of the interdepartmental group report and the studies that went with that, much research was done, both nationally and internationally, and I will come to that shortly.

With regard to the Darndale-Belcamp integrated child care service specifically, it was established in January 2001 and is now catering for some 260 children daily, 90% of whom are from the immediate area of Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview. The centre got into a bit of trouble in March 2014, given it incurred expenditure of €2.22 million in 2013 and received funding amounting to €1.96 million. However, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla engaged with the service to develop a sustainable plan and it is my understanding that this plan has been implemented. The service is now on a much more solid footing, has a good business plan to go forward with and is sustainable, which is very important.

Thank you, Minister.

I will just finish the point, if I may.

We are 12 minutes over time for these priority questions. Other Deputies are waiting to put their questions.

I accept that but I believe this will be of interest to everybody in the House. The fact that early intervention leads to better educational outcomes, more employability and better social skills benefits children directly. However, it also benefits society, a point on which I want to support the Deputy. It leads to less anti-social behaviour, less criminality later in life and it also affords us, as an economic entity that is growing, a much more educated and skilled workforce, which makes us much more attractive for foreign direct investment.