Other Questions

Child Protection

Bernard Durkan


45. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps her Department has taken or proposes to take to identify and provide the necessary back-up for children at risk, whether from physical or mental abuse, neglect or other failure; if she is satisfied that the existing structures are efficient to meet the challenges of the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7032/17]

This question relates to the extent to which the Minister can investigate, identify and support children deemed to be at risk or likely to become at risk through various means, whether they be mental, physical or otherwise.

I assure the Deputy that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, deals immediately with emergency cases, including for instance if a child has been abandoned or is in immediate physical danger or at immediate risk of sexual abuse. Social work duty teams keep high-priority cases under review by regularly checking to ascertain risk to the child and where necessary will reprioritise the case.

Tusla holds the statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection and is the appropriate body to receive reports of concerns relating to children at risk. Each referral received by the agency is assessed and dealt with on an individual basis by the relevant social work team. Every report of concern for the safety and well-being of a child is assessed and required action is identified.

I am committed to commencing the Children First Act 2015, which is due to be commenced by the end of the year. As the Deputy will be aware, the Children First Act 2015 will see mandatory reporting by key professionals, mandated assisting, comprehensive risk assessment and preparation of child safeguarding statements by services for children, and the establishment of the Children First interdepartmental implementation group on a statutory basis. Tusla is developing online training for mandatory reporters. Children First guidelines will continue in parallel with the Act. This sets out the roles and responsibilities for all citizens to report child welfare and protection issues to Tusla and, where criminal matters are involved, the Garda.

I believe we have made significant progress in our structures and practices for child protection. The Children First Act 2015 is of particular significance but I see it as part of a suite of child protection legislation that includes the Acts relating to the National Vetting Bureau and the withholding of information on offences against children and vulnerable persons.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

There is no room for complacency about our safeguarding measures and we will constantly review them to ensure they are effective.

Tusla works closely with other care providers, including the HSE, in respect of access to primary care services, child and adolescent mental health services, disability and other services. Tusla and the HSE monitor their interagency relationship to ensure they are working effectively in the best interests of children and families.

To what extent does the system operate in respect of children admitted to emergency departments with suspected self-harm or who are otherwise hospitalised? Is there a system whereby an investigative team can identify particular households and ascertain the causes for a child being referred in these ways? In a reply to a previous question, I was told that, in the space of one and a half or two years, 300 children aged between ten and 14 were referred to emergency departments having self-harmed. What is the underlying cause? How can the system deal with it? I applaud child care workers for doing what is a very responsible job. It is a difficult job and the public can often be very critical. I am concerned about adequate resources being available and that they can be deployed as necessary.

Tusla is responsible for children who need protection and need to be entered into care. The implementation of the Children First guidelines will be the basis on which concerns about children self-harming can be addressed. There will be training and manuals for persons working with children, across departments and in different settings, and these will assist people in dealing with such matters.

Is there a particular system whereby emergency staff can be deployed to deal with cases of children presenting at emergency departments showing evidence of self-harm? There have been repeat situations with tragic consequences so how can we achieve a speedy response and pursue each case personally, leaving no stone unturned and nothing in doubt?

Interagency co-operation is key, involving HSE, hospitals and Tusla and the Department. The interdepartmental working group is looking at this and ensuring that protocols of interagency co-operation are developed.

In this way, any child who is in harm's way, whether because of self-harm or any child care or protection issues, will be dealt with appropriately and not left to chance, or dealt with inappropriately because of a lack of interagency co-operation.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

Eamon Ryan


46. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way in which her Department is working with the Departments of Justice and Equality, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Education and Skills and Health to ensure that concerted adequate provision is made for refugee minors in all aspects of State responsibility on entry into Ireland, in view of the complexity of the integration process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7044/17]

I do not know if the Minister read the Sunday Times magazine, because she had a busy day yesterday. However, Christina Lamb had an article in that paper about unaccompanied migrant children. Some 25,800 unaccompanied minors arrived in Italy last year, half of whom have now gone missing. Some 91% of the children on those boats coming across the Mediterranean do not have their parents with them. We now have a slave trade or trafficking problem as well as a migration one. In that context, it is welcome that we have the Dáil motion on taking in such children, but there is no legislative basis for it. In addition, it is not clear what rights such children will be granted. How will the Minister be working with other Departments to define those rights and ensure that we play our part in what is an incredible tragedy across Europe at the moment?

I am working closely with my Government colleagues in regard to unaccompanied minors being received through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. The new International Protection Act 2015 has been commenced and it contains an enhanced provision from the previous legislation. It allows the Tánaiste to recognise the children from Calais as programme refugees. This means that the children can be accepted into the country, with refugee status, once they have completed identity, age and security checks. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, receives these children into care. It also looks after unaccompanied minors who arrive at our ports and are referred by the immigration services.

My colleagues, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I are working closely to progress the Dáil resolution on unaccompanied minors who were previously in unofficial camps near Calais. Tusla staff have undertaken two missions to France so far to meet and assess a number young people who have a desire to come to Ireland.

At the end of last year, I visited Greece and saw the valuable work being done under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. I met with resilient families and young people who need our help. My Department is part of the programme, which co-ordinates the interdepartmental and interagency work, and includes the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health. I supported the setting up of an IRPP office to facilitate improved co-ordination by arranging the secondment of a senior Tusla manager to it. Separately, Tusla has seconded a social work team leader to the Reception and Integration Agency, in the Department of Justice and Equality, to assist with its work with families living in direct provision.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I have some specific follow-on questions but if she cannot answer them directly perhaps her Department could write to me. I am keen to know whether children will be entitled to family reunification rights after they have been relocated to Ireland. If so, will this extend to their parents, siblings and grandparents? In many cases, these children only have distant relatives, so what are the provisions in that regard? I understand many of these children may be 16 or 17 years old, so what kind of supports will be provided to them once they turn 18?

As regards those minors coming from Calais, I understand that the UK Government has taken 750, which is roughly half the unaccompanied minors. Does the Minister have any details of the numbers she expects to take from Calais? Have they been identified and selected for relocation to Ireland? What collaboration has gone on with the French authorities in that selection process?

I will try to answer.

I am sorry. There were a few questions.

There were two or three questions. In regard to family reunification rights for any unaccompanied minor who comes into the country by whatever route he or she arrives, one of the first things Tusla engages in is finding family members and assisting the child in being reunited with them. Young people who were formerly in the Calais camps will come in under a different legal mechanism. They will already have refugee status which provides them with more security and a sense of stability in traumatic and stressful circumstances. Having arrived in six to eight weeks' time, if we find when engaging with them and assessing their particular needs that they wish to be reunited with their family, that is one of the first things we try to support them with. I know there was another question but I will be happy to address that the next time.

On a slightly wider front, I understand that those unaccompanied minors from Calais are, in a sense, going to be treated in the same way as the 160,000 refugees from Italy or Greece the European Union has agreed we would take as programme refugees. In that regard, however, I understand that only 8,000 of those refugees have been relocated, and there are only 171 unaccompanied minors in total. Where are we in our commitment to accept approximately 4,000 refugees from Greece, in particular, but also within that European programme? Those 160,000 were meant to be catered for by September 2017. Where will we be by September in terms of our commitment? How many unaccompanied minors will there be within the overall total we may take under that scheme, which I understand is the one the Minister is using?

I can certainly get the information on how many we have taken in under the terms of the overall programme. The numbers are increasing subsequent to the visit the Tánaiste and I made to Greece to solidify the kinds of practices undertaken between both countries. It is approximately 2,000 now but I will have to check.

I am clear about the unaccompanied minors. There was a commitment in the initial programme for 20, and we have approximately four or five now. One of the issues concerning unaccompanied minors coming from an Italian route was that we were not provided with an opportunity to address security and bring gardaí over with us to identify those young people. That has inhibited the numbers coming in. At the same time we have already identified 16 coming through the Calais route on the two missions that my Department, Tusla and the Department of Justice and Equality have been engaged in. We anticipate that we will be able to identify up to 40 before the summer using that route. They will be fully provided with supports, including efforts to integrate, which was the original context of the Deputy's question.

Deputy Hildegarde Naughton has requested that Question No. 47 be answered by way of a written reply.

Question No. 47 replied to with Written Answers.

Homelessness Strategy

Ruth Coppinger


48. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on children of homeless parents being put into care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7030/17]

It is good to see the Minister for Social Protection sitting beside the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, today. I wonder why that is. I am sure the Minister will join with me in expressing solidarity with the women and men who are on strike at Tesco. They work to prevent their kids from falling into poverty.

My question relates to the greatest fear that parents have of their children being taken into care. I am not referring to children at real risk, which I fully support. I am talking about people who are victims of the homelessness crisis. I have good reason to believe that this is happening and they are being forced to put their own children into care.

Being homeless is distressing and stressful for children and adults alike. In the context of the Child Care Act 1991, my Department has policy responsibility for children under 18 years of age who present as "out of home" without their parent or guardian.

Children under the age of 16 who present as homeless without their parent or guardian are taken into care. Children aged 16 and 17 may be taken into care or provided with a service under section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 which deals with accommodation for homeless children. Children who are homeless and in emergency accommodation are in the care of their parent or guardian. Notwithstanding the clearly challenging circumstances that families in emergency accommodation find themselves, I do not think that residing in emergency accommodation, in and of itself, should be the basis for taking children into care.

Where there are no welfare or protection concerns, Tusla's role is to provide family support where this is required. Tusla has agreed a joint protocol with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive which covers child welfare protection matters for children in emergency accommodation. It is fully operational in the Dublin area and it is intended to roll it out across the State. It will be extended to Galway, Limerick and Cork this year.

My Department is working closely with Tusla to provide additional supports for families in emergency accommodation to mitigate the challenges faced by parents and children in this situation. Tusla is funding child support workers for this purpose and has also appointed a homelessness liaison officer. My Department is providing free child care for homeless children in the Dublin area for up to 25 hours a week. Ultimately, my concern is that we minimise and then eliminate the problem of homelessness. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help to the greatest degree possible those who are affected.

The inability to maintain stability and security is used as a euphemism for homelessness when taking the children of homeless parents into care. I am getting information that this is happening in three ways. Orders are being sought by social workers because children are often presenting as frequently ill due to the poor quality of emergency accommodation, lack of routine, bad food, etc. It is also the case that parents feel pressure to voluntarily place their children in care due to the nature of emergency accommodation with drug users and people with addiction issues nearby. Others have had their children forcibly removed as a result of problems stemming from their homeless situation. When I asked the parliamentary question on 31 January, it emerged, amazingly, that Tusla did not keep information on the number of children going into care as a result of homelessness. Tusla seems to keep a lot of information, but not on something like this. The head of Barnardos has said that parents are making the heartbreaking decision to leave their children in care because they are unable to secure appropriate accommodation. It is the biggest child welfare problem we have arising from the homelessness crisis, yet Tusla does not keep any information on the number of parents landing in this situation.

I thank Deputy Coppinger for setting out the ways in which she has information on her concern that somehow children of homeless parents are entering into a route of care. This not my understanding of how children come into care or from a statutory perspective how they should come into care. I have listened to what Deputy Coppinger has said and I will certainly take it into account and bring it back to my Department and Tusla. Why do children come into care? It is for a wide range of reasons. Deputy Coppinger is identifying some additional ones which we need to investigate. I note what she is identifying there. Children come into care for a range of reasons, including the death of a parent, the serious long-term illness of a parent or the significant ongoing mental illness of a parent. However, homelessness is not a reason to take children into care. The State only intervenes in family life in exceptional cases. Homelessness as part of a family group is not, in and of itself, a basis for seeking to receive a child into care.

Will the Minister give a commitment that Tusla will start to collect this information? How can we know it is not a problem if we do not have the data? It is unbelievable that there are no records on homeless children in care yet Tusla has records on people who give important information to the State. I raise the issue of the Minister's credibility on this. She gave a commitment to the people of Dublin South-West that she would not enter Government without a referendum. She went into Government. She wore a repeal jumper, but would not vote for a repeal Bill. Now, she tells us that she did not think it was significant that Tusla had terrible information about a whistleblower or that the Cabinet should know it. Who can believe a solitary single thing she says at this stage? I question that.

If there is a child protection concern, Tusla will investigate. The immediate safety of the child is the social work department's first consideration. A social work assessment is child-centred and considers individual and family needs and takes into account the child's development needs, parenting capacity, family and environmental factors. I will certainly raise the issue of the collection of data which the Deputy requests I raise with Tusla. I will come back to her directly on that when I have had discussions with the agency.

In terms of the commitment to children in the context of emergency accommodation and homelessness, the plan Rebuilding Ireland commits to the identification of young people leaving State care who are at risk of homelessness and to catering for them through appropriate housing and other needs supports. The provision of accommodation for young people leaving State care is now eligible for funding under the capital assistance scheme operated by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. That Department and mine are working in conjunction with voluntary bodies to begin to plan for the ways in which we can develop additional housing for those young people who are leaving State care.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

Maureen O'Sullivan


49. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 2 of 14 December 2016, her views on the length of time children will spend in State care before they can be fostered by families and while all necessary protocols need to be addressed. [6760/17]

My question is a follow-up to a previous one. What length of time will a child spend in State care before he or she can be fostered by families and while all the necessary protocols are being put in place?

The Deputy's question last December referred to unaccompanied minors who are received into State care and remain in care until they are 18, whatever their placement type. Tusla is determined to provide a high level of service for unaccompanied children. In order to best meet their needs, all children on arrival in the State are placed in small residential assessment units so that social workers can get to know them and understand their needs. I visited one of these units with European Commissioner Jourová and was very impressed with the facilities and services available and in meeting the young men there. The assessment period is usually in the range of six to eight weeks, but it can be shorter where preliminary work is carried out before the child arrives or where the child's needs are not very complex. Assessments are wide-ranging and take into account age, language, health and well-being, cultural or religious requirements and evaluations of the child's emotional state and mental health. Tusla also tries to identify any family or relations with whom the child might be reunited.

As I noted previously, the equity of care principle that each child receives the same as any other child ensures that services focus on the needs of the child. The child will have a care plan developed to match identified needs. Unaccompanied minors, therefore, receive the same level of protection and care as any other child in State care. There is no differentiation of care provision, practices, care priorities, standards or protocols. Tusla's foster and statutory residential services are subject to inspection, including services for unaccompanied minors. If an unaccompanied minor is to remain in Tusla's care, a foster family will be considered if it is in the best interests of the child. Tusla arranges for training and support for foster families to address the child's cultural and religious identity. For some, however, it is likely that a residential setting may be better suited to meet the identified needs.

We can all sympathise with the plight of some unaccompanied minors, especially those fleeing war zones, starvation or other particularly difficult situations. Moving those young people into as normal a family life as possible must be the priority. I listened to what the Minister said about the timeframe and it appears to be improving between needs assessment and actual placement. What number of foster parents and families is willing to foster or adopt? In the last Dáil, we had a lot of correspondence from Irish couples and individuals who wanted to foster or adopt from other countries but were unable to do so because certain protocols and agreements were not in place. Does the Department have a waiting list of parents or is there a shortage of parents who are prepared to foster and adopt?

I was asked about the waiting lists for unaccompanied minors and whether there were foster families for them.

In the case of unaccompanied minors who come through the former Calais route or those coming through other routes, the older they are the better it is for them to have an additional assessment in terms of residential settings. Such a setting may be supported lodgings because they are older, more independent and look for that kind of support which is provided by Tusla. If people are interested in fostering unaccompanied minors, having heard they are coming to Ireland, particular training is available for that. We would welcome people identifying their interest in that.

I want to acknowledge the progress that has been made. There were some significant cases of reunification outlined in the previous reply. I also want to acknowledge improvements. At the age of 18, at a time when they could have been in the middle of doing their leaving certificate course in a school in Dublin, young people were moved outside of Dublin.

The Minister opened the YPAR conference and met many young unaccompanied minors and other young people. Their status is a major issue because it will determine whether they can go on to third level, can work, etc. Some are in a state of limbo. They said they feel like ghosts because they do not have the correct status. They have been able to get through primary and secondary level education, but because of their starters third level is not an option. Even those who have funding for PLC courses develop skills but cannot work. I am not referring to those in direct provision alone; rather, I am also referring to other unaccompanied minors the Minister met. We have to address the issue of status.

In terms of ensuring we provide the kind of security and base out of which they can continue to live in this country and look for education, training and employment opportunities, I agree with the Deputy. I would be happy to meet her and others in the community to examine these issues.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the issue of status is not something for which I am directly responsible. On reaching the age of 18, many decide to stay with their foster families and Tusla supports that in all sorts of different ways. If they decide to move on, we are then in the arena of aftercare plans which we discussed earlier in terms of whether individual plans are in place. Tusla makes every effort to ensure there is engagement and support for young people as they move beyond 18 years of age. As I said, the issue of status lays the foundations for security and opportunities and entitlements. I appreciate they are issues and would be happy to continue to discuss them.

Housing Issues

Maureen O'Sullivan


50. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the effects that the housing crisis is having on children in view of the fact that parents in emergency and transitional accommodation are by their very nature in a precarious position regarding settling their children's education and after-school activities and the need for additional resources for those children. [6758/17]

This question refers to children who are living with their parents in emergency or transitional accommodation, which we can all recognise is a very precarious position in terms of children's education and other school activities, and the need for additional resources for those children.

I am very conscious of the effects of the housing crisis on children when they and their families are in emergency accommodation. As part of a whole-of-Government approach to homelessness, I am committed to helping families by supporting implementation of Rebuilding Ireland action plan. It acknowledges that any medium to long-term period living in a hotel seriously affects normal family life and is particularly detrimental to children. While the concerted efforts and actions outlined in the action plan will result in families moving on from hotels more quickly, my Department, together with Tusla, is working to support parents and children in order to minimise, as much as possible, the impacts of living in emergency and transitional accommodation. We have commenced the roll-out of a special provision under the current community child care subvention programme, which will provide access to free child care, including a daily meal, for homeless children aged 0 to 5 years, inclusive. A flat rate of €110 per week, for part-time child care over five days per week is being paid for each eligible child. Over 50 child care services have applied to be part of this programme in the Dublin region and we are examining mechanisms to make the subvention available outside of Dublin. In recognition of the difficulties associated with homelessness and school attendance, the educational welfare office offers a range of supports. In DEIS schools where there is a home school community liaison co-ordinator on the school staff, that co-ordinator proactively engages with parents who are experiencing homelessness. The co-ordinator also supports families to access any other supports that can be of assistance to the family while they are homeless. Children experiencing homelessness who are at risk of early school leaving are also targeted by the school completion programme. A number of supports are being worked on.

It is good to hear some positive initiatives. I had a fear, given that many issues were taking up the attention of the Minister and the House, that housing and homelessness, in particular how they affect vulnerable young people living in such situations, would get lost along the way. We are shoring up problems for the future because young people do not have access to proper cooked meals - a lot of fast food and takeaways are being eaten. There are issues regarding laundry, privacy, homework and after-school activities. Schools in my constituency are working to try to compensate for the fact that children are living in emergency accommodation.

It is a difficult task, but there should be a timeframe regarding how long people stay in emergency accommodation, following which they are of absolute priority to get out of the accommodation. Is the Minister having discussions with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, on this?

On the last question Deputy O'Sullivan raised, I fully agree with her on the amount of time that children ought to be with their families in that context. I have held discussions with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and some of his advisers, along with my advisers. I have also raised questions and conducted investigations in the context of my constituency, Dublin South West, and the local authority's provisions for homeless families and their children. A transitional housing model is being developed that provides wonderful accommodation in a setting that is like any other rental setting for families and which provides them with some security to enable them to move on. I am aware of the detrimental impact of emergency accommodation and the need for a focus on timeframes. We need to be more ambitious than we have been to date.

I know about the roll-out of Leap cards, but some people have difficulty accessing them, which may need to be examined. Children also face problems depending on where their homeless accommodation is located. It could be a significant distance from the schools which they have been attending this, which causes more disruption.

Children are living in appalling private rented accommodation. Some of the homeless and emergency accommodation is better than some of the private rented accommodation I have seen. Families are at the mercy of landlords. I acknowledge there are good progressive landlords but, unfortunately, I am seeing the other kind. As we speak, some are trying to increase rents, which will increase the number of evictions and create more stress for homeless services.

On the issue of transport in the context of emergency accommodation, as the Deputy is aware I have been committed to trying to mitigate the impact of that since taking up office. It is important that children are able to travel between their new place of residence, including emergency accommodation, to the schools they attend. The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and Dublin City Council are working with the National Transport Authority to develop and implement the scheme.

A total of 524 Leap cards were distributed to families in hotels in 2016 as an interim measure pending the development of what is called a "ticketing solution". The percentage breakdown of the education level of the children using those cards was approximately 58% at primary school level, 19% at secondary level and 4% at third level. Therefore, they are, first, assessing in terms of the need and, second, developing what they are calling a "ticketing solution", which they assure me will be in place by the end of this month.

Youth Services

Maureen O'Sullivan


51. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on linking in community and youth services with schools in the local area in terms of awareness programmes dealing with the dangers of misuse and abuse relating to drugs, alcohol and gambling and the possible positive effects this will have on children, particularly those from backgrounds of high risk. [6759/17]

This question relates to prevention and education programmes on addiction. Is there a way to link more definitely the community and youth services that are rolling out these programmes in other settings with the schools in their area, especially in those areas where children are at high risk?

I agree with the Deputy that we need an integrated approach to the programmes that aim to support children and young people, especially for those at high risk. My concern is to ensure that we target our programmes and funding so that the most vulnerable people are reached effectively and in a way that makes sense in their lives.

My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services by the voluntary youth sector to young people throughout the country. The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 380,000 young people. The voluntary youth sector involves approximately 1,400 paid staff, including youth workers, and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country.

I was pleased to provide an additional €5.5 million in current funding for voluntary youth services in 2017. This is a 10% increase over 2016 and will support, in the main, the targeted programmes for young people who are at risk of drugs or alcohol misuse, homelessness, unemployment or early school leaving.

From within this budget, my Department provides funding to projects that are located in disadvantaged areas where a significant addiction problem exists or has the potential to develop. The objective is to attract at-risk young people into facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse. These schemes target young people who are at risk because they live in a disadvantaged community context and are vulnerable to drugs, addiction and alcohol misuse or are out of school or at risk of homelessness. These schemes account for 70% of the funding available to my Department for the provision of youth services.

As the Deputy knows, these services are generally delivered on a non-formal or out-of-school basis to supplement the work of the education sector and to reach young people through non-formal means. I agree with the Deputy that the co-operation between the schools and this work of the youth services in terms of the schemes that they are involved in would ensure a more effective and efficient way of tackling these issues.

I thank the Minister. I work with a prevention and education sub-committee in the north inner city that has been involved in quite a number of interventions with young people. Recently we had a round table discussion with youth workers involved in various projects, including sports, the SPHE programme, SASSY and Community Against Drugs to look at what is the best way forward. Excellent programmes are happening within youth services. In some areas, they are very much welcomed into the schools but there is a need for a more formal arrangement or agreement. I have tried to pursue this with the Minister for Education and Skills but he was not buying because he tells me that the new well-being programme to come into schools will practically solve all the problems. As a former teacher, I know that is not going to happen because it is very hit and miss in the schools. We have these programmes, many of which the Minister is funding, and they are working. I was taken aback at the extent of the work they are doing with young people.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan. She referred to the day I came to her constituency and the conference that was being held by all of the groups that are engaged in working with young people. Many young people were there themselves as well as representatives of the schools. It was impressive. The Deputy works with people who put into practice that which she is arguing for. We ought to encourage and enable more integration between those working within the schools and those working within the youth sector to provide the supports that are possible, particularly for young people who are at risk. These things need to be taken into account, particularly from my Department's perspective, as we are involved in the design of a new funding scheme that streamlines some of the past funding schemes. We need to build into that a way of ensuring the kind of integration Deputy O'Sullivan is speaking about does happen. There could be some sort of criteria involved and I am happy to continue to discuss the matter with the Deputy.

There has to be a much more holistic approach that takes into account physical education as well as food, nutrition and diet. I will make two points. When a blanket amount of funding becomes available, it must be directed at those areas that are most at risk, which is exactly what the young people's facilities and services did. My second point is on the amount of paperwork required of youth services and community services that have voluntary boards. I agree with governance and accountability but the amount of form filling required is taking away from the direct and face-to-face engagement of youth and community workers with young people. It is good to hear the Minister is looking at streamlining it because sometimes the form filling is out of proportion to the amount of funding that has been applied for.

I agree with what the Deputy presented. She will be aware that I have a number of years of experience working in similar and comparable communities as well. I am aware of the absolute importance of working in an integrated fashion. The Deputy was also concerned with the amount of paperwork etc. that may at times get in the way of doing the job and bringing about effectiveness. She is aware of the value for money review that was done in terms of youth work. One of its focuses was the importance of governance and accountability and I am sure the Deputy agrees with me in that regard. At the same time, there are ways of ensuring that we can do that without overburdening the sector with administrative duties that do not necessarily enable the effectiveness in a way that the review is calling for and, in fact, may be a barrier to it. We need to examine these matters in the designing of the new scheme and to examine ways of ensuring that the funding supports the integration of which the Deputy speaks.

Child Poverty

Thomas P. Broughan


52. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will establish a cross-departmental task force to address the recent finding of a survey on income and living conditions that children in one-parent families are much more likely to live in consistent poverty in comparison to those in two-parent families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6739/17]

Of the 800,000 or so of our fellow citizens who live in poverty, approximately 250,000 of them are children. This question refers to the EU-SILC report that we received recently. The at risk of poverty rate for one-parent families was up four points to 36% and the consistent poverty rate for lone-parent families was up from 22% to 26%. The deprivation was also highest for that group of families, at 58%. What is the Minister and the Minister for Social Protection, who is sitting beside her and who has a huge responsibility in this area, planning to do, if the Government is still in place later into 2017? Will it come up with a response to these disappointing and worrying figures?

The reduction of children's poverty is a key political priority for the Government. The Taoiseach has described tackling child poverty as a moral imperative and I too believe that it is a vital issue that we must address robustly. 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 by 2020. This figure currently represents 102,000 children who need to be lifted up from this threshold.

The Department of Social Protection has the lead role in co-ordinating Government strategies on child poverty and is adopting a cross-departmental approach. 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. Officials in my Department are working closely with the Department of Social Protection in informing the development of this cross-sectoral priority. Officials in the Department of Social Protection have convened a subgroup with members of the advisory council for Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures to progress solutions to child poverty.

In recognition of the fact that child poverty is a multifaceted problem, the group includes officials from other Departments, including the Departments of Health and Education and Skills. Led by the Department of Social Protection, it has produced a paper which outlines a whole-of-Government approach to tackling child poverty. This is based around the three pillars outlined in the European Union's recommendation on investing in children, namely, access to adequate resources, access to affordable quality services and children's right to participate. The paper will come before the consortium of interdepartmental officials working on the issue in the near future.

One of the areas on which the Minister and her colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, may have an influence is the changes the previous Government made to the one-parent allowance in 2012. At the time, many Opposition Deputies predicted that these changes, specifically the change in respect of payments to children when they reach seven years of age, would exacerbate rates of child poverty. This has been exemplified in the SILC report. In that regard, I welcome the Minister's comments on the establishment of an interdepartmental group. Are these matters being considered, including by the Minister for Social Protection? Will the fundamental issue of income be reconsidered? Some of the issues that frequently arise are savage rents that place one-parent families in danger of homelessness and the fundamental change that occurs when the child of a single parent in part-time work reaches seven years of age. The Minister is continuing with a policy change introduced by the austerity Governments that should be reversed.

We are fully committed to a whole-of-Government approach to reducing child poverty. We understand that addressing child poverty requires access to adequate resources and that this issue is related to income, specifically, as the Deputy noted, changes in household incomes. This is not the only way we are addressing child poverty. Other areas being addressed include access to affordable quality services and children's right to participate. My Department's role in providing access to affordable quality services for children includes heavy investment in the affordable child care scheme. A number of measures in the programme for Government are directed at lone parents.

On the issues the Deputy raised, the Minister for Social Protection is working on a new initiative on working family payments. It focuses specifically on reducing child poverty and ensuring greater access to employment, particularly for lone parents. This is where we hope to address some of the issues the Deputy has identified.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte has kindly agreed to forfeit the two minutes remaining to facilitate a proposed change to the business of the House.

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