Other Questions

Aftercare Services

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to set down by county the number of aftercare placements in each of the years 2014 to 2016 and to date in 2017; her plans for aftercare in view of the recent reports of a 78% increase in homelessness in the 18 to 24 year old age group since 2014; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22173/17]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

12. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to set down the numbers of children leaving State residential care who have entered homeless services in each of the years 2014 to 2016 and to date in 2017; the steps she is taking to address homelessness for this vulnerable cohort; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22174/17]

I gather the Minister will take the question with another question of mine further down the list.

The Minister responded to a question from Deputy Rabbitte earlier with some statistics. In 2015, there were 720 people between 18 and 22 years of age receiving aftercare services. A total of 78% of these were in the 18 to 20 years age bracket.

The requirement for an aftercare plan to be in place prior to leaving residential care is important. Is the Minister concerned about the deficiencies in this regard? What follow-up is there for people who seem to disengage and slip through the net?

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of homeless people in the 18 to 24 years age group rose from 436 to 783. A total of 549 of these young adults were based in Dublin. Obviously, these are vulnerable children and young people. What additional resources will the Minister put forward?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 12 together.

Every year, between 450 and 500 young people leave the care of the State. Aftercare is the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person leaving statutory care at 18 years of age to assist that person to make the transition to independent living.

There has been widespread uptake of aftercare services by those leaving care. In 2016, a total of 1,806 persons aged 18 to 22 years were in receipt of aftercare supports from Tusla at the end of the fourth quarter. In 2015, the figure was 1,763, and in 2014, a total of 1,685 young adults, including those aged 23 and over, were in receipt of aftercare supports.

Of the 605 young adults discharged from care on reaching 18 years of age during 2016, 581 or 96% were eligible for aftercare supports. Of these, 521 or 90% availed of the supports. Engagement with Tusla on aftercare is purely voluntary. Tusla has no power to oblige a young person to avail of the support.

Tusla does not operate a policy of discharging young adults into homeless services. Of those in receipt of aftercare supports at the end of 2016, 9% were identified as being in other accommodation, including accommodation such as psychiatric services, disability services, mother and baby centres or even prison. The number of young adults in these services declined significantly in the 2014 to 2015 period, with a small increase in 2016. Tusla is in the process of updating an aftercare national audit. This will provide a more detailed picture of the outcomes for those leaving care in Ireland, including those identified as having complex needs that leave them at a heightened risk of homelessness.

I welcome the information the Minister has given about Tusla carrying out a national audit. Does she believe it is time that aftercare was placed on a firmer basis, perhaps a statutory basis? The Tusla report shows that since 2010 almost 150 vulnerable young adults known to the service have died. It makes for sobering reading to realise the disconnect between the HSE and Tusla and the fate of these individuals. A total of 11% of the 149 were in care and a further 11% under 21 years of age had been in care until 18 years of age or were receiving aftercare services. The statistic is shocking.

Let us consider some of the facilities available. I looked at the case management guidebook relating to youth services aftercare, youth services emergency accommodation and youth services transitional houses. The number of places available in many units is small. Lefroy House, for example, has only seven places. Chéad Chéim, an excellent housing project for 18 to 21 year olds, has only 14 places. Crosscare aftercare service for males between 16 and 21 years of age has only seven places. In particular, the service is vital for young adults with babies and young children who are still in care. Are there any aftercare housing placements for them? Are they deemed to have priority with local authorities?

I will try to offer some answers to many of the key issues Deputy Broughan has identified. The Deputy may be aware that, in addition to the aftercare planning and supports provided by Tusla, under the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness plan, Tusla commits to ensuring young people leaving State care who are at risk of homelessness are identified and catered for through appropriate housing and other supports. Funding is now in place under the capital assistance scheme to enable approved housing bodies to acquire residential units to accommodate young people exiting State care. This arrangement was recommended to me by Peter McVerry when we were preparing for this plan. Eventually, we got it into the plan and now we are working with the chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle, and others to develop with Tusla principles and criteria relating to funding proposals for that kind of housing. Where accommodation is provided under the capital assistance scheme, Tusla will provide additional independent living supports, in particular for the most vulnerable care leavers, whom Deputy Broughan has referenced, in accordance with the pre-agreed aftercare plan of the individual.

I wish to ask the Minister about a reply she gave me on 2 May to a parliamentary question. I am referring to Question No. 1438 relating to children in foster care. The figures did not seem to add up. A total of 132 children were missing based on how we added up the figures. Will the Minister get her officials to check that?

My final question relates to separated children seeking asylum in State care who have completed the leaving certificate but who are unable to apply for a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant due to not having full legal status. To qualify for a SUSI grant, it is necessary to have legal status and to satisfy the requirements for habitual residency. Surely, as part of an aftercare plan, social workers and the Department of Justice and Equality should prioritise the securing of legal status for these young adults. The figures I have received show that nine young adults turned 18 years of age, sat the leaving certificate and were receiving aftercare support. Surely, this is something that we can address urgently.

I have met some of those young people so of course I appreciate and understand what Deputy Broughan is asking for. My personal commitment is that it is so important to be able to deliver. I appreciate the point. I recognise Deputy Broughan has made his comments on aftercare within the context of that particular cohort of young people. In light of his comments, I will reflect on the matter and engage with other Ministers, including those with responsibility for education and justice and equality. I am keen for that group of young people to be able to avail of educational opportunities in the same way the Deputy or anyone else can.

Youth Services Funding

John Curran

Question:

7. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether it is acceptable that the current level of funding for the young people's facilities and services fund only finances existing projects and programmes and does not provide for the addition of new projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22178/17]

As the Minister is aware, the young people's facilities and services fund was established to assist in the development of preventative strategies and programmes through the development of youth facilities and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to exist. The funding in recent years has diminished. I am not in any way blaming the Minister for that. However, it has resulted in new entrants not being able to gain access to a range of these programmes. What plans does the Minister have to expand the programme over the coming years?

I am pleased to say that we are now funding a number of new projects as well as existing ones. This past year, since I became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is the first in over a decade in which new projects are being funded. Funding for youth services had decreased, as the Deputy indicated, by €10.4 million between 2011 and 2015. In recent weeks, I approved €500,000 in funding for the establishment of new youth projects and €300,000 for the augmentation of a small number of existing youth services to meet new challenges arising from population increases. This additional investment will be provided in regions where there is a pressing need for services to meet the needs of young people. I hope to announce details of the new and augmented projects in the coming months.

During 2016 and again in 2017, my Department provided funding for the commencement of five new youth projects in south east Cavan, west Wicklow, Drogheda, County Louth, Cahir and in the Fethard-Killenaule area of County Tipperary.

In 2017, I secured funding of €57.4 million for various youth schemes, representing an increase of €5.5 million on the funding available in 2016. The additional funding is being used for programmes that target disadvantaged young people and to assist national youth organisations in their work to support local voluntary youth services.

As the Deputy is probably aware, a review in 2014 made a number of recommendations for the future operation of the youth schemes and their development in the years ahead. Work on the development of a new funding scheme has been prioritised by my Department. Consultations with youth services are ongoing in order that we can introduce the new youth funding programme over the next two to three years in line with the review. As part of this process, the 16 education and training boards assisted with the mapping of youth service provision across the State. This mapping exercise is helping us to build up a detailed social demographic profile in terms of both population numbers and deprivation levels, with existing youth services mapped onto the data. It is really important that services match need.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I welcome the fact that the number of projects and programmes is being extended. While I welcome it, I also wish to voice a note of caution. My particular area of concern in this question - I am not diminishing the importance of other areas of youth affairs - relates, in particular, to preventative programmes. The Minister and I both represent areas of significant disadvantage. We know that young people in those areas are at greater risk of drug addiction and associated problems. The point I am making is that we need to channel significant resources into those areas in order to afford opportunities to those people. Perhaps there are not many votes in it - it is not a very popular matter and there is not a loud lobby in respect of it - but the Minister and I know that it is the right thing to do. My hope is that a disproportionate amount of the funding that becomes available will be used in a targeted way.

I acknowledge the reports that were compiled in the context of value for money and assessing the value of the projects. I do not want to see projects just being funded; I want projects that are delivering results on the ground and benefiting communities and that can be stood over to be funded. However, I believe that we have a significant catch-up from the previous number of years, during which, unfortunately, there was no additional funding and no additional projects.

I agree with everything the Deputy has identified. To emphasise a couple of matters, the mapping exercise is critical in terms of ensuring that we are able to meet the needs of young people throughout the country in an equitable way because there are gaps. The exercise has highlighted areas throughout Ireland - particularly rural areas - with little or no youth service provision. It is my intention that any additional funding received will be used, in part, to address those service shortfalls. I do not envisage funding being diverted from projects addressing children's needs that are currently in receipt of targeted funding for this purpose.

On the second issue the Deputy raised, that is absolutely the case. When I speak about services needing to match need, that mapping exercise is taking account not only of the population in the areas in question but also of the socio-demographic issues that exist there.

The matter I am asking the Minister about is somewhat specific and I accept that it is only one element of her Department. The programme for Government contains a commitment to giving vulnerable young people a better chance in life. The Minister spoke about the preventative programmes and so forth. The other morning I asked the Taoiseach about drug task force funding, which has not been increased in four years. He made reference to the fact that not all programmes might be as good as each other. Again, I wish to make quite clear that I do not want to see programmes being funded for the sake of it but rather for the outcomes to which they give rise. There is a responsibility in terms of monitoring. That does not fall within the Minister's remit but she does sit at Cabinet. Whether it is the young people's facilities and services fund, other youth funding or drug task force funding that is used for preventative projects, they all aim to have the same outcomes. As the next round of the budgetary process is entered into, I urge the Minister to ensure that an overview of the various streams of funding which provide preventative funding, particularly, although not exclusively, for at-risk young people in disadvantaged areas will receive a level of priority.

I accept those points and I will reflect on them. As requested, I will bring them into my own deliberations and debate at Cabinet and across Departments. I am absolutely committed to funding only those services that have indicated and identified their effectiveness in the provision they offer and where there is an outcome focus. We look at various ways to determine and define outcomes. These concern not only the outcomes for the individual children and young people but also the way in which the services build the community and enable parents and families to engage. I accept and understand that, whether it is in the context of drugs task forces, preventative strategies in terms of early years or youth funding for disadvantaged youth, it all needs to be considered as a whole in order to ensure, with an outcome focus, that we get better results for our children and young people.

Social Workers Recruitment

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

8. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the levels of recruitment and retention of social workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22308/17]

Catherine Connolly

Question:

32. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of social workers that have been recruited since 1 January 2017 in view of the severe shortage in social workers for children; if she expects to achieve her aim of 200 new social workers by the end of 2017; if not, the reasons for the shortfall; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22175/17]

To an extent, this question relates to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's priority question and Deputy Anne Rabbitte's question. It is an issue that has been raised on a regular basis. It relates to the coverage of social workers. It is also particularly worth commenting on not only the levels of recruitment but also the issue of retention which I think is something of a difficulty for Tusla.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 32 together.

The most recent recruitment and staff data from Tusla is for February and March 2017. At the end of February, Tusla had recruited 56 new social workers and this equates to a net increase of 28 whole-time equivalent social workers in March when attrition and flexible working arrangements are taken into account.

To date, Tusla is on track to achieve its recruitment target of 62 additional social workers, which will require a gross recruitment of 180 social workers in 2017 to take account of normal attrition rates.

In the context of retention, in the 12 months to February 2017, Tusla had a social work turnover rate of 8.4%. This compares favourably with other jurisdictions such as England where the 2016 turnover rate was approximately 15%. Tusla’s 2017 business plan identifies activities to improve retention and build on initiatives commenced in 2016 such as the introduction of Tusla’s national transfer policy, to which I have already referred, and the implementation of Tusla’s continuing professional development strategy.

In addition, the introduction of senior social worker practitioner posts designated to social work teams around the country will further assist with retention by providing enhanced professional support to social work staff.

Tusla Recruit will undertake a recruitment drive during 2017 to assist with the implementation of this initiative.

Recruitment of social workers is challenging, with only 200 to 250 graduating per year in a very competitive labour market. I am therefore mindful of the need to link recruitment with decisions on Tusla's operational side to effect improvements. As part of my regular engagement with the board, I have requested that the agency provide an assessment of recruitment for the remainder of 2017 linked to specific targets to reduce the number of children awaiting allocation of a dedicated social worker.

The Minister referred to comparable jurisdictions such as the UK. The UK is starting from a much higher threshold in any event but it is also a place where the Tory Government is absolutely demolishing local authorities. Consequently, social services and social workers are among the first on the front line. To be performing favourably in comparison to Britain is, therefore, not a great claim.

The inadequate number of social workers has been a matter for discussion for quite some time, and I do not believe that the retention figures are particularly favourable. My figures show that, on average, 150 social workers per year are being lost, which is quite a high rate of attrition, that the net increase for 2016 was a mere 56 and that the projected net gain for social workers for this year is 62. These are very high numbers. The national review panel has been in the news in recent days. A case where a young person died by suicide was one of the high-priority unallocated cases, and a number of other cases reported upon highlighted related gaps and weaknesses. We are clearly very far behind where we should be. There are three times as many social workers to support children in the North than in the South. If the current attrition rates continue, it will be very difficult to achieve the targets Tusla is aiming for.

I am deeply concerned about this issue, as is the Deputy, and I am aware of the figures he is citing. In addition to what I have already said, I have provided Tusla with the necessary funding to recruit additional staff in 2017 - an increase of €37 million in 2017 alone - building on significant funding increases in previous years. In addition to what I have already said about my efforts to work with Tusla to ensure recruitment and retention, I formally meet the chair and the board of Tusla each quarter. After my most recent meeting with the chair in April, I took the opportunity to write to her to reiterate my concerns about the issues of unallocated cases and recruitment and the correlation between them. I am very mindful of the need for Tusla to closely link its recruitment programme with operational decisions and I have requested Tusla to provide me with a current assessment of planned recruitment to year end. In addition, I have requested that Tusla develop a robust workforce plan that addresses succession planning, retention, career pathways, training and development, future workforce needs, priority gaps and a strategy for tackling the priority gaps and reducing unallocated cases. In that context, I will meet with Tusla again on 18 May to discuss unallocated cases and recruitment plans.

I welcome that the Minister has written to Tusla about this and that funding is available. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is not simply a question of funding, although funding is crucial. The difficulty in retention seems, in large part, to be due to the fact not only that the work is traumatic, difficult and challenging, but also that social workers are dealing with extraordinary caseloads and that the related stress is making it very difficult to retain social workers. Therefore, imaginative solutions will be required. However, perhaps there is an element of Tusla's own management and support for the social workers needing to be improved.

My understanding is that the plans to introduce mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect have been delayed until later this year, which is, I believe, a year later than initially planned. Is this simply due to the difficulty in retaining social workers and having adequate resources, or is there a change in policy? Is the Government still committed to implementing the policy?

I wish to ask a related question. The independent review panel also pointed to a gulf between health services and social work teams as being an issue. Obviously, many of these young people will have mental health issues and other issues, which is an important element as well. Will the Minister engage with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and others in the Department of Health in this regard?

We are working on a protocol regarding mental health with the Department of Health and Tusla. We successfully negotiated a protocol of working together with the HSE and Tusla on disability services and this is what the group that gathered to do that is doing and focusing on now.

To respond to Deputy Ó Laoghaire, it is clearly not just a matter of money - I acknowledge that. I am just pointing out, though, that I did get the money and the money is there. We do need imaginative solutions, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire said. For example, I referred already to the fact approximately 215 social workers graduate each year. That is the context in which we are working. I appreciate that it is challenging, and Tusla of course is competing with the rest of the pool, but I intend personally to consult with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to explore options for increasing the supply of graduates. My officials are discussing with the Higher Education Authority and Health and Social Care Professionals Council, CORU, how to increase the supply of social workers in a sustainable manner once Tusla's workforce plan and priority gaps are identified. Some of these solutions are not immediate but we are trying to put in place, looking forward to the medium term and even the long term, that educational element in particular so that we can begin to increase the number of social workers to the levels required and sustain that number.

Child Care Services

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress to date in advancing the new affordable child care scheme; the timescale for its introduction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22318/17]

Question No. 9 is in the name of Deputy Brendan Smith. The Ceann Comhairle's office has informed me that Deputy Eugene Murphy will ask it.

I ask the Minister, on behalf of Deputy Brendan Smith, the progress to date in advancing the new affordable child care scheme, the timescale for its introduction and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I recently announced a range of measures that will be introduced this September to make child care more affordable for thousands of families throughout Ireland. This honours a key commitment in the programme for Government.

I am putting in place measures to ensure that parents of up to 70,000 children due to benefit under the affordable child care scheme will be given the opportunity to avail of increased subsidies from September. This will be achieved by significantly increasing the subsidy rates for the community child care subvention and the training and employment child care schemes, in some instances by as much as 50%. There will also be a new universal, non-means-tested child care subsidy that will benefit parents with children between the ages of six months and 36 months.

These measures mean that the families of up to 70,000 children can look forward to benefiting from increased child care subsidies starting from this September. There will be a public information campaign late in May for parents and providers and a new website outlining the measures being introduced in September will launch shortly.

I remain strongly committed to introducing the promised affordable child care scheme. My Department has made good progress in this regard. The Government has approved the heads of Bill for the scheme, and officials are working intensively to plan for the successful implementation of the scheme. However, I am conscious that this is a complex project which we must get right from the beginning. We need to have the legislation, business processes and a new robust IT system in place. We will need to test the scheme rigorously to ensure it works properly so that families can quickly see their entitlements.

I have already referred to the fact that I am hopeful that the Bill on the affordable child care scheme will be published before the summer recess. I cannot guarantee this but the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and my Department are working very hard to make it a reality before mid-July.

My officials are working as quickly as possible but I believe it is prudent to take time to ensure we get the new systems right so that they operate smoothly for everyone.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive and detailed reply. I am concerned that the information technology system will cause a delay in payments under the scheme. While I have no doubt the Minister is making every effort to achieve her objective of commencing these necessary measures by September, it appears that a further malfunction in the IT system will mean the new scheme will not start operating in September. This scheme is important for community child care programmes. While I accept the Minister's point regarding the Bill and having certain measures in place by September, it is time to consider plan B. I welcome the decision to have an independent review but it appears that it will not commence until late in 2017. Why can the review not commence now?

Figures show that the cost of child care is very high. Families in Ireland spend 34% of their income on child care, which is double the European average. It is very important that the scheme is up and running as quickly as possible.

Let me be perfectly clear on this issue. From 2017, the majority of eligible families will benefit from significantly increased subsidisation of child care costs. From September, the promise of a subsidy for children under the age of 36 months will be kept. Families with one or more children under the age of three years who wish to use regulated child care services will be able to avail of a universal subsidy of up to €1,000 per annum. We are also introducing targeted measures of support which significantly increase the subsidy available towards the costs of child care. This subsidy will almost reach the level of the threshold of income that we identified originally in respect of the affordable child care scheme. However, the scheme will be accessed by parents and families a little differently from the way in which we had anticipated. The money is available, however, and parents will be able to avail of significantly increased State support for child care. The Department will roll out an information campaign on how to access the scheme.

I thank the Minister for clarifying some aspects of the question I asked. As she is aware, community employment workers play a major role in running child care facilities in urban and rural areas. While I understand from where the Minister is coming, there should be a role in the system for community employment workers. Will the Department introduce a training scheme to enable these staff to continue to work in community child care facilities? This issue will create a major problem and must be addressed. Community employment workers fit into child care services very well and work well in them. Will the Minister consider ways of using these community employment workers?

My officials and I have deep concerns about community child care services, especially those which employ community employment workers. The Department has put in place a number of actions and supports for particular services that are finding their sustainability challenged. I hope these supports, which will be available in 2017 and 2018, will effectively assist all the services as they engage with departmental officials and the county and city child care committees. I fully support community employment workers. They could continue to work in their current roles in child care services in the context of the supports we are providing. I am engaged in ongoing discussions with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, on community employment in child care.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Child Care Services Staff

Robert Troy

Question:

11. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to alleviate the issues facing community child care facilities. [22193/17]

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

20. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she will take to ensure the community crèches remain viable in view of the decision to exclude community employment workers from child-worker ratios; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22332/17]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

21. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to address the difficulties for community child care in view of the fact that community employment workers are no longer considered eligible in the ratio of staff to children and there are implications regarding closures of some services and reduction in hours in areas of disadvantage in which these services are vital. [17856/17]

We are all aware of the pivotal role community child care facilities play in providing affordable child care. The recent decision to preclude community employment workers from being considered part of the child-staff ratio has placed a major financial burden on community child care services. I tabled the question to give the Minister an opportunity to explain how the Department will alleviate the financial crisis being experienced by many community facilities.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 20 and 21 together.

Community child care facilities are important partners in the delivery of affordable, accessible and high-quality child care. The majority of community child care services are operating well and have been able to manage issues they face within the structures available, including by availing of support from county and city child care committees, Pobal and my Department. Nevertheless, I have implemented a number of substantial measures in the past year to assist these services.

Most recently, I announced a substantial increase and expansion of the community child care subvention programme from September 2017, which will provide significant additional funding to families and services. In addition, strand 2 of the 2017 early years capital programme, which closed for application on Friday, 5 May, made €500,000 available in grants of up to €20,000 to community services which are seeking to make building improvements or undertake maintenance or refurbishment. These applications are being assessed and I anticipate recommendations on funding in the coming weeks.

I have also taken steps to provide payment to community services for non-contact time for the first time. This will be available during the summer. A total of €14.5 million is available across community and private services.

The Deputies will be aware of the challenges faced by a small number of community services which have been facilitating the training of community employment participants. Deputy Eugene Murphy raised this issue in an earlier question. I made €1 million in funding available to services that identified as having difficulties in this regard. The funding will ensure regulatory changes do not hinder service delivery or the availability of child care places. I will also consider how this funding can best be deployed in 2018 to address the most urgent challenges facing child care services.

In the longer term, the independent review of the cost of quality child care will also assist in addressing these issues. My priority is to ensure we provide access to high quality and affordable child care.

All Deputies accept the need for quality child care and minimum qualifications - that is a given. The Minister must accept that most community employment workers who commence work in child care services are taking part in training programmes under which they attain a level 5 qualification after the first year and a level 6 qualification after the second year. Earlier today, I spoke to a lady who runs the community child care service in Ballymahon, County Longford. Two community employment workers will finish work in the service tomorrow because it does not have enough money to retain them. These staff, one of whom has a level 5 qualification and the other a level 6 qualification, have been an integral and crucial part of the service's ratio.

The €1 million in additional funding provided by the Minister is simply not good enough. In 2016, child care facilities employed 1,816 community employment workers.

Assuming that most of those were working on at least a half-time basis, they would need to be paid for 20 hours per week 52 weeks per year. That is €16 million, but the Minister is only making €1 million available to replace community employment workers. I welcome the capital investment, but that will not solve the staffing ratio problem.

I appreciate the Deputy's figures and would be happy to show them to my Department so that they can be fed into our analysis. The Department, Pobal and county and city child care committees are working intensely with these community services and engaging directly with any that are impacted negatively by the change in ratios. Moneys are being made available in 2017 to ensure the sustainability of services. We will consider how to continue doing so for 2018. In addition, it is anticipated that significant income streams for those services and others will increase thanks to the increase in money for the targeted child care scheme, which will begin this year.

We have asked every service that believes it has to close because of the change in ratios as regards community employment workers to engage with us directly. We are hiring financial analysts to work with these services, examine their costs and business models and find individual ways to prevent them from having to close.

We will now take the associated questions, as I wish to give everyone time. We will revert to Deputy Troy for a supplementary question, but we will take initial questions from Deputies Rabbitte and Maureen O'Sullivan and then the Minister's reply. There will also be a supplementary question from Deputy Ó Laoghaire.

The Minister stated her view that the majority of community crèches were working well financially, but my opinion differs. Many community crèches are held together on a shoestring and by sellotape and are living on the lifeline presented by the introduction of the affordable child care scheme. With the removal of community employment workers, who played an integral part in child care, many community crèches are facing closure. Giving them financial advice could be too late for some. They must address the question of whether they will be able to open their doors in September. The community child care sector is on its knees. What intervention can we make to resuscitate it?

There is a disconnect between the figures cited by the Minister and the reality on the ground for community child care, certainly in my constituency. In the audio-visual, AV, room yesterday afternoon, I chaired a meeting with some providers from Cork, Dublin Central and Ronanstown as well as a group that provided community care in a number of other areas in Dublin. They all said the same thing, namely, they were dealing with children with acute special needs who came from dysfunctional families, children from new communities who did not have English as their first language and children from families with addiction issues.

No one disagrees with the need for high-quality training, but the issue with the community employment changes is that providers do not have the staff to continue some of their services. What is being cut the most are their baby hours. We know the importance of early intervention. Could there be a grandfather clause in respect of community employment workers until they have received training and can be kept on and is there a need to consider a DEIS-type status for community child care providers that work with the most vulnerable marginalised communities?

I want to be perfectly clear. I understand what the Deputies are saying and I understand the concerns and realities facing community child care. I have been identifying a number of actions, which the Department and county and city child care committees have taken. They are engaging. These actions are not enough, though, and we are considering additional actions. I have identified some. I understand what the issues are and have engaged on them.

Deputy Rabbitte stated that many services are about to close, but my understanding from my Department, which has been engaging with various services, is that many of them are doing okay. This is based on my evidence. If the Deputies know of services that they want the Department to start engaging with, they should please let me know.

I have direct engagement with many groups in Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's constituency. Last week, they suggested the notion of a DEIS model for early years education and care. It is an innovative idea and we are discussing it, but it is more of a medium-term solution. I understand from where it is coming. From my Department's perspective, our money for child care is for child care. In disadvantaged communities, additional and special needs are being met by these community facilities without being given resources by the Department that gives money for child care. They are to be commended on that. This provides us with the data on which new models can be developed.

If the Deputies are aware of crèches or community services that are not being engaged with regarding their sustainability issues, let me know.

We will now take supplementary questions from Deputies Troy, Rabbitte, Maureen O'Sullivan and Ó Laoghaire. If we are good, we will get through all of them.

I acknowledge that the Department is engaging with services, but its budget is restricted in terms of what it can give them. Does the Minister accept that there must be a minimum ratio of adults to children in all services? Given the current number of children involved, community employment workers form part of that ratio. The Minister says that a service that takes in additional children in September because of the extension in free preschool years will get more resources, but those additional children will warrant the recruitment of extra staff, which means that the resources will not pay for current staff.

The €2,000 that is being given to certain services is not adequate. The €1 million pot is not adequate. At one stage, nine community employment workers formed part of Ballymahon's ratio. That number has dwindled month by month and the service is struggling. The Minister needs to revisit this matter with a view towards putting additional resources in the pot.

To follow on from that, we can be innovative. One of the great services that community crèches provide is the baby room, but it is the largest cost in the community sector. The baby room ratio is 3:1. For every three babies, there is one worker. If six babies are in the room, perhaps a community employment worker could be brought in to facilitate the service. Could community employment workers in kitchens or receptions help out during tea breaks or lunch breaks? Working with Tusla and the Department, is there any capacity to be innovative in how we support these services? Even if there is no budget, there must be ways to handle the ratio. The 3:1 would have to stay, but we should use people during tea breaks and lunch breaks or when staff are out sick or on annual leave. There should be a tolerance level in the ratio of staff in respect of community employment workers.

We must accept that we are not discussing a level playing field and that there are areas of greater need. Two of those who spoke at yesterday's meeting - one is from my constituency - discussed the anti-social behaviour and criminality that these young children see every day.

In fact, there was a murder outside a particular crèche some months ago - that is the reality.

The staff are working very hard. They made the point yesterday that there is so much research already, both domestic and international, that everybody knows what has to be done. However, with the funding issue, some stated they are being asked to come up with a sustainability plan but the only plan they can come up with is to cut services in order to be able to keep some part of their service going. It is important that four members of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs were present yesterday. It would be important that these people come before the committee and that something is prepared for the Minister as soon as possible.

I first raised this matter 12 months ago. While the €1 million was welcome, in many ways not much has changed. Many of the points have already been made, for example, on the issue of the crossover regarding those aged one to three years. I want to ask a very specific question. The services have drawn down a first tranche from the €1 million but that was only for advertisement and recruitment. To my knowledge, the vast majority of services have still not received money in order to be able to recruit people. The money in question is just for this year - just to keep the wolf from the door - but there is nothing in respect of the longer term issue. The services are borrowing and trying to find whatever way they can to keep their service going, and they are barely managing. They absolutely need to have that second tranche drawn down immediately. Otherwise, we will see, if not the closure of full services, then, at least in Cork, the closure of baby rooms and rooms for those aged from one to three years. The longer term issue is still outstanding but we need a commitment as to when that second tranche of funding from the €1 million will be paid.

First, it is good to hear all of these passionate arguments in respect of the issues under discussion. That helps me in my job in regard to this issue, so I thank Deputies for that. Second, if I heard Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan correctly, she suggested that the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs may take this up as an issue and bring some suggestions or recommendations to me. I think that is a great suggestion and it would again provide some assistance.

I have outlined the actions that are currently being taken. I hear from the Deputies' perspective that this is not sufficient, which I acknowledge. I would also like to see more done and I accept that it is difficult to wait for the money. My understanding is that they are working as quickly as possible in terms of getting that drawn down. I will give the Deputies a commitment to find out exactly when that is, just to be precise about that. That is all I will say for now. Some actions have been taken, although they are not sufficient from the Deputies' perspective. Perhaps some more analysis needs to be done and, clearly, more resources are needed, which I accept.

That concludes Question Time. Before he left the Chamber, Deputy Broughan said he would accept a written reply.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.