Other Questions

Question No. 28 is the name of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and is being taken with other questions. Ta Teachta Jan O'Sullivan as láthair ag an am seo. Therefore we will move on to Question No. 29 in the name of Deputy Anne Rabbitte.

Question No. 28 replied to with Written Answers.

Departmental Reviews

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

29. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of her Department's review of the sustainability of the child care sector; and when this review will be published. [31219/17]

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

52. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department has commissioned an independent early childhood service cost and sustainability review encompassing the identification and assessment of stress factors impacting on the early childhood services; if so, the expected date for this to be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31224/17]

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

553. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of her Department's review of the sustainability of the child care sector; and when this review will be published. [31232/17]

I would like to know the status of the Department's review of the sustainability of the child care sector and when the Minister hopes to have it published. That is Question No. 29.

We have moved on to Question No. 29 because Question No. 28 is in Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's name and she is not present in the Chamber.

We are now on Question No. 29. Is that the position?

Yes, in the name of Deputy Anne Rabbitte.

Is that the correct number?

It relates to the review of the sustainability of the child care sector.

Okay. I had a reply to a number of questions relating to homelessness next.

Yes, there is a grouping of questions.

That is not the next group of questions.

No. Question No. 29 and the other questions it is being taken with is the next grouping of questions.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 52 and 553 together.

The issue of sustainability in child care services is challenging and multifaceted. The rate of subvention funding provided by my Department’s child care schemes is at the core of this, but there are also other significant issues. These include the receipt of parental contributions; funding from Tusla and other sources for services related to child care; and the scope of care offered by providers, in particular in the community sector. The scope of care often goes beyond the core child care and early years care and education or school age child care funded by my Department. I am confident that the reduced parental co-payment that will be required as part of the September 2017 more affordable child care measures and the new affordable child care scheme will improve community providers’ sustainability.

My Department is in the process of commissioning an independent review of the cost of quality child care. This will be put to tender by mid-August and will be completed within a number of months. My officials have been scoping the work that will be involved and preparing terms of reference for the study. Issues to be examined in the independent review will include average unit costs for child care providers, both centre-based providers and home-based childminders; factors that result in different costs for different providers, including age of children, geography, such as rural versus urban, whether a service is a community service or private, and aspects of the quality of provision; comparison of unit costs in high quality services with average services; possible impact of future cost pressures, including potential wage increases; and analysis of the child care market, including the functioning of the child care market in disadvantaged areas.

I anticipate that the independent review will be a key input in informing future decisions on the funding of child care schemes, including both the ECCE free pre-school programme and the affordable child care scheme.

Deputy Funchion's Question No. 52 is in this group, so she may come in after Deputy Rabbitte's supplementary question.

I thank the Minister for her response. The crux of my question related to the programme for Government and the independent review the Department for Children and Youth Affairs was going to carry out. It was a follow-on from where Early Childhood Ireland was last year, a more in-depth review where it was doing the sums. Early Childhood Ireland did the sums last year and the Minister's Department was going to conduct an independent review which would cover the average unit cost, age, geography, community versus private, and bring it down to wages and the sustainability of the entire sector and the funding it would take to move on with the sector rather than it being funded by the parents. We need to make sure that we have a sustainable, affordable, integrated child care sector in the future. There is no point in ICT and legislation unless we know we can afford to do it and there is a sector there for the future.

We hear much about quality in relation to the early years and child care sector, but consistency equals quality. In order to have consistency we must ensure we encourage staff to enter the sector and then remain in it. The Minister will be aware that I have been undertaking a report in recent months. People working in the sector have told me time and again that they would love to remain working in it but unfortunately they cannot because they are not paid enough and they have to sign on during summer months. Eventually they leave. Many of them go on to train as special needs assistants or in primary education, although that is not what they wanted to do originally. That is not what we want for that sector either. If personnel are constantly changing when caring for children, we will not have quality child care. That cannot be the case. Any review or analysis that has been done shows there have to be realistic wages in the sector. We should start with a living wage.

There are a number of things which I am doing now because of the urgency of the situation and in order to support the movement towards the sustainability we have all spoken about. A piece of independent research is being commissioned - I hope it will be put out by mid-August - and it is critical. While we wait for that, given the urgency of the challenges faced by the services, I have asked the officials in my Department to address two of the most acute issues relating to sustainability that the sector has identified to me. That relates to the impact of the removal of unqualified community employment scheme participants from the core child staff ratios and funding for the administrative work done by services or non-contact time. Officials are in the process of administering payments totalling €1 million to a number of services which had relied on CE participants as core staff. A large proportion of funding has already been paid out. In addition, my Department is currently administering non-contact time payments to providers totalling €14.5 million. The average payment per service is €2,600. I was also pleased to allocate an additional €3.5 million in non-contact payment recently for services which sign up for the September 2017 more affordable child care measures. That is €18 million in 2017 for non-contact time. I look forward to responding to some of the issues the Deputies raised, especially Deputy Funchion, in more detail tomorrow.

I also welcome the funding allocated for non-contact time but it is critical that the independent review is conducted as urgently as possible. I fear that the sector might begin to contract if we do not have the right information because when people do their sums, they will look to see where they can make a living from this business. Whether they are a private operator or even a community operator, they will see where they can find their margins. The margins are in the ECCE and in the after school care. There is very little money to be made in minding babies with the ratio of 1: 3. That ratio has to be adhered to at all times but that is not what the issue is here. Rather they need the support to know there is a sustainable sector. They need to know in which direction it is going. My fear is that it is contracting. Deputy McConalogue told me recently that one of his constituents in Donegal has no full-day child care in his area for the simple reason that only ECCE or afterschool care is being provided. I welcome the review is going out to tender in August.

I welcome the Minister's remarks about funding for non-contact and acknowledge the work she is doing in this sector. Progress is being made. I want to reiterate that staff views must be considered in relation to this. There has been a lack of consultation with the sector. Clever things could be done in this sector, including streamlining inspections which has an impact on quality and sustainability for the sector. The Minister should bear this in mind. As she said, we will discuss this in more detail tomorrow.

On Deputy Funchion's last point, officials in my Department have been very committed to finding ways to consult with, and hear from, the sector. That is not to say we have heard from everyone but most recently they have been on a roadshow giving information to providers about the more affordable child care which will start in September 2017. My understanding is there has been strong and robust conversations at those gatherings, which have been sold out in various parts of the country, where the officials and providers have met face-to-face. Much of that discussion is not merely about explaining what we are putting in place in September but also the issues which the Deputies raised on pay and working conditions. It is a huge challenge because the Department is not the employer of the people who provide the services. I hope I will be successful in securing more money to raise the ECCE capitation rates, but how do we know for sure they will be passed on to the employees? These are huge issues.

I refer to non-contact time. We hope for that and I am asking providers to look at this. It makes it more complicated that we are not the employers but that is not to say we will not try to lead in ways to ensure these things are made better.

Question No. 30 replied to with Written Answers.

Child Care Services Staff

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

31. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has considered concerns raised by persons working and managing child care centres and with members at questions with regard to the changes to community employment suitability in the sector and the effects this is having on community child care, in particular in marginalised communities; and the way in which she will address these concerns. [31162/17]

This question relates to the community child care centres, which we have discussed before. Changes to CE suitability are having an effect on community child care, in particular in disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

Community child care providers are receiving €1 million to ensure continuation of services during this period of change. Those payments have started and providers are receiving them to ensure there is no disruption for providers, parents and, perhaps most important of all, children. The money is being targeted at those services that experienced some difficulties in meeting regulatory requirements as a result of recent changes, most notably services that rely on people on community employment schemes to form part of their core staff. The money was given as recognition of the challenges faced during a period of transition, and it is also important to remember why these changes are taking place. If we are to change child care radically in this country, we must not only tackle the affordability issue but also ensure quality. Additionally, we must ensure our children are being cared for in a safe environment with qualified staff. As I stated before, when it comes to our children, there will be no compromise on safety.

Under recent legislation, each employee working directly with children attending a preschool service must now hold at least a major award in early childhood care and education at level 5 or an equivalent qualification. It should be noted the vast majority of services were able to implement the new requirements through their existing structures and supports. The €1 million fund was, however, made available to those which could not. My officials are vigilant to challenges facing the community child care sector and to offer support when required. Further funding will be decided within the context of budget 2018. In the longer term, the independent review of the cost of quality child care, which will be commissioned I hope by mid August, will also include consideration of factors that affect the financial viability of the child care sector.

There is absolutely no question about the need for quality training for people who are working in child care. Some community child care facilities were reliant on members from community employment, CE, schemes. It had a double-edged benefit as some of the people on the CE schemes were parents getting training in child care for themselves as well as in the setting where they worked. It provided a service in the community as well, which was important. We know the figures in the more disadvantaged areas and the kind of backgrounds that children come from.

I note the Minister's comments about extra funding but it is about seeing that it gets to the areas of most need. Some of the staff from community child care services have been in touch with me and others here. As they do not have the staff at the level of training that we would all like to see and they relied on CE participants, they face being told they need a plan for sustainability. The only sustainable plan is to cut hours and nobody, including the Minister, wants to see that. We discussed the possibility of a DEIS status for some of these child care centres and the Minister stated it was being examined in her Department. Has there been any further move on that?

I have raised this before as well and there are wider issues in the longer run with respect to sustainability. The Minister has again emphasised the €1 million in sustainability funding but it is 185 days since it was announced, and as far as I am aware, no service in Cork has received the second tranche of funding. The first tranche for advertisement and recruitment was received but no service in Cork has received the second tranche. It is 185 days on. The services were asked to submit considerable amounts of documentation, which they did, but the Department came back with a new form that it had not previously asked for called template B or something like it. It is a poor way for the Department to treat community services, which feel like they are being strung along. We are still risking services going under or being curtailed significantly due to a failure to provide money in the here and now.

I thank the Deputies. Deputy O'Sullivan commented on a DEIS-style approach, particularly for disadvantaged communities. On a personal level I think it is a wonderful vision and I have been raising that within the Department. I agree with the Deputy and it would be a substantial policy change if we moved towards that. There is merit in considering it. With an acknowledgement of the issues the Deputy identifies with regard to CE workers and particularly people living in the community who are receiving a wage, there are ways in which the Department has tried to give support both in moving forward with the regulations and providing more money up to a certain point, working with services in order to take a look at the model and ensure they will be in a better place in 2018. For the medium term, I am aware that in disadvantaged communities, there are often other types of support going into the care and early years in education setting that go beyond what is strictly funded by my Department. We are trying to see whether the Health Service Executive or other statutory agencies could also provide support for additional care in those communities.

I will raise a particular community child care project with the Minister, although I do not expect her to be able to answer my questions on it. It is a community after-school project that has existed since 1995. It is an accredited training centre and caters for five local schools. There are over 100 attendees for 48 weeks in the year. They offer a variety of practices, including restorative practices etc. The Department of Social Protection wants to remove a supervisor's position from November this year, meaning there will be reduced management available. The effect will be on the service, with the reduction coming to three days in one project and two days in another project. It is an area of real disadvantage and there does not appear to be any leeway. I know this is not in the Minister's Department but it is connected to her Department. I will send the details to the Minister and she might be able to engage with the Department of Social Protection on it.

Of course I will and I would be happy to pursue that. That would be a good way to proceed. Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised questions relating to the sustainability fund. With regard to the first tranche of money from the sustainability fund, 47 providers have signed and returned contracts in respect of the phase, with each being paid approximately €2,000. The city and county child care committees are working with a further 67 services across the country to make submissions for once-off payment under the second phase, as the Deputy noted in respect to Cork services, with an average payment that will probably be approximately €15,000. It is really important to identify that. To date, four services have submitted complete applications for phase two, with a further 17 expected to reach the stage shortly.

The Deputy indicates some of the services in Cork are finding the requirements for additional documentation a bit onerous. I will take that back to the Department. My understanding is that with payment from the fund we are trying to enable services to move to a place where they can be sustainable after the money is spent. Perhaps that is related to some of the requirements for documentation. I will certainly look into it.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

32. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps her Department is taking to address the high rates of attrition and exhaustion among social care workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31220/17]

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

554. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps her Department is taking to address the high rates of attrition and exhaustion among social care workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31233/17]

What steps is the Department taking to address the high rates of attrition and exhaustion among social care workers? Would the Minister mind making a statement on the matter?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 554 together.

The well-being of all staff, including social care workers, is of great concern to me and to their employing organisations. I also would like to note that Tusla had a national social work turnover rate of 8.4% in the first few months of the year, with some areas exceeding this. The national figure, however, compares favourably with other jurisdictions, such as England, where the 2016 turnover rate was approximately 15%. Tusla has a health and well-being and employee assistance programme department as part of its human resources since January 2017. Tusla also has a critical incident stress management programme in place. Training and supports are provided on an ongoing basis to all staff. It appears that Tusla’s efforts are paying dividends. The latest absenteeism rate for April 2017 was 6.38% for social care workers.

That shows a positive trend when compared to April 2016 when the absenteeism rate was 7.71%. Similarly, absenteeism at Oberstown Children Detention Campus has followed a downward trend in response to management’s support of staff. It includes the availability of the employee assistance programme, an organisational psychologist and the introduction of a volunteer peer support workers programme accredited by the Carlow Institute of Technology.

As the Deputy is aware, Tusla has been allocated Exchequer funding of €713 million in 2017. That represents an increase of €37 million on its funding in 2016 and will allow Tusla to proceed with an ambitious ongoing programme of service reform and transformation. The programme is under way, with a particular focus on governance, risk management, health and safety, quality assurance and service monitoring to support the delivery of the best front-line services.

Tusla continues to evaluate management and the staff skills mix with a view to enhancing services. It includes reviewing the roles of family support workers, social care workers in the community and administrative structures to support the delivery of a more efficient and cost-effective set of services. These are the measures I believe address the concerns raised in the Deputy's question.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive answer and welcome everything she said. One of the reasons I tabled my question was to get the answer the Minister has given, namely, that supports are available for social care workers and all those involved with Tusla. The other reason relates to the children who lose a social care worker or when a social care worker, having accessed the supports, no longer wants to continue working because the demand is so great. I asked one of two representatives who appeared before the committee recently the number of social care cases they would expect to have. They could not answer us; they could not say whether they should have 35, 55 or 65 cases for the simple reason that every case is significant and must be examined on a case by case basis. The Minister has said a 15% turnaround rate in this respect is comparable with that in other countries, but when we take workers out of the system, we let down children. We are taking away key supports, about which I have a serious concern in terms of meeting future needs, and it is coming across in HIQA reports. Good staff are walking away from the job because we do not offer key supports to retain them such as a good ICT communications system. Retention is crucial in an industry in which only 230 qualify annually.

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. What I have been doing is identifying the measures Tusla is putting in place to address concerns. Social workers, social care workers and even administrative staff working with Tusla are working at the coalface. These are hugely difficult and challenging jobs. As the Deputy identified, in terms of staff, it is important to pay attention to concerns about attrition rates, exhaustion, etc. I am identifying some of the measures Tusla is putting in place in order to do this, including evaluations that look at enhanced job roles and increasing multidisciplinary team working in an effort to alleviate pressure as part of an ongoing reform programme.

I particularly welcome Tusla's focus in 2017 on leadership development and supporting the forthcoming workforce development plan through learning and development and succession planning, for which I have asked. I talk about the issue of workforce development planning when I meet its representatives every quarter. I will have another such meeting with the executive relatively soon. That is a critical aspect of Tusla's planning for some of the issues raised by the Deputy.

Tusla needs to think outside the box in this regard. While we acknowledge that it is under pressure in recruiting staff into the organisation, we should consider the opportunities available in terms of co-operating with advocacy groups. I am talking about EPIC and the role of YAP Ireland. We should engage more with these advocacy groups because they have a skill set to support Tusla. We should also consider the likes of Sugru, a not for profit organisation that has been set up. There are various groups to which Tusla can reach out to work with that can help with lower priority cases, which would leave the expert skilled staff free to deal with priority cases. That will allow us to get to the core issues as quickly as possible and, importantly, retain the good people we have attracted into Tusla. Retention is critical if we are to develop Tusla and it is to continue to be the child protection agency we want into the future.

The Deputy has made very good suggestions and I am aware that Tusla is doing some of it. As she identified, it could be doing more, particularly in the various regional settings, in which, of course, I believe. I will certainly raise the matter with those involved in Tusla when I meet them. Proceeding in that way takes planning, time, etc. However, some of the Deputy's suggestions might result in finding ways to save time and ensure people involved in organisations within the civil society sector are able to complement the work done by a statutory agency. That would be welcome.

Foster Care Provision

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

33. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if there are sufficient numbers of adults presenting to provide fostering for children in need of foster parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31165/17]

My question relates to the numbers of adults presenting to provide foster care for children in need of foster parents, whether there is a shortfall, and how the matter could be addressed.

For foster care to work, we must at all times have panels of carers. This reason alone means that recruitment is constant and ongoing. I appeal to anyone with an interest in caring for children to visit the Tusla website, www.tusla.ie. The foster care section is well laid out. It provides answers for many questions, including the nature of foster care, the diverse group of people who can become carers, how to apply, as well as videos of children, parents and a social worker. I am sure Deputies on all sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to those who do come forward. The reason recruitment is constant is we need as diverse a group of carers as possible because children themselves are a diverse group. We also need both long-term and short-term carers.

The criteria for assessing suitability to become a carer are based on a person's willingness and ability to care appropriately for a vulnerable child. An assessment is carried out, irrespective of nationality, race, religion, sexual identity, marital status, disability status or whether someone is already a parent. Latest figures show there are 4,816 foster carers providing care for 5,834 children.

Most Tusla teams have sufficient numbers, but achieving the diversity I outlined can be challenging. It is for that reason that recruitment is constant.

I am also happy that the outcomes for children in foster care here are much praised by professional colleagues abroad, especially in terms of school completion, stability, family centred care and progress in third level education.

We have had some appalling abuse scandals within the foster care system, but I, too, acknowledge the hundreds of kind and caring people who present as foster parents for children who present with many challenges and difficulties in their lives. On the figures given by the Minister, it is good to know that generally the numbers are sufficient. However, I raise the question because of concerns I have heard about finding foster parents in some situations. The social workers involved were confident they would be able to find foster parents, but they were having difficulties in some instances.

I ask about the provision of adequate support and even training for people who are coming forward as foster parents. There could be a concern that we have a system of guardians in court for children, but what happens after that? That is where foster parents have additional difficulties and challenges with some of the children they are fostering. To follow on from the previous question about social workers, is there enough support and training available for them?

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. I am aware that concerns have been raised, even in some of HIQA's reports which identified that things were not as good as they could be. Regarding foster care committees in particular, HIQA identified some concerns and ways in which improvements could be made. My Department is working with Tusla to ensure it is developing an alternative care strategy to guide improvements.

My Department is fully involved with Tusla on oversight with regard to required improvements and the Irish Association of Social Workers has produced a report outlining necessary improvements in foster care services. My officials have engaged with the Irish Association of Social Workers to hear its views and we are also in regular contact with the Irish Foster Care Association in order to ensure we can move forward in terms of those improvements.

I can address the other question raised by the Deputy better when dealing with the next parliamentary question.

The concern is that we have over-worked social workers and under-supported foster parents, and we must ensure we do not have an overbalance of one or the other. If somebody presents to be a foster parent, it is necessary that there is training for them, particularly for those who are not parents and have not had that experience, although there are parents who could also do with extra training. In addition to training, however, they also need support. We know that, in some cases, they are being presented with very challenging young children, particularly teenagers, and looking for foster parents for teenagers can be particularly difficult. Foster parents need extra support and this is connected to the point on whether social workers also have the support they need to carry out that work. There are so many cases coming to social workers, whose work is already very difficult. It is a question of ensuring the supports are there.

I can assure the Deputy that Tusla has put in place a number of supports in terms of training, as well as providing link workers to work with many of the families. In answering some of the other questions, I have tried to identify ways in which members of Tusla are supported themselves in the work they do. While I am not saying there is no room for more of that, and I have identified the ways in which my Department is working with Tusla to find room for improvement, there are supports in place for foster carers.

Foster Care Supports

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

34. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether foster carers are being given the required supports to care for children in their care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31180/17]

There are a total of 6,300 children in care in Ireland, as per the figures for the first quarter of this year. Of these, 5,819 are in a supportive family network. Obviously, they have come to this situation through some trauma in their own lives. I want to pay tribute to the many thousands of foster families who have dedicated their lives to rearing other people's children. Does the Minister believe foster carers are being given the required supports to care for the children in their care?

To follow on from the last exchange, foster carers are acknowledged as the backbone of our child care services. Foster care is, by far, the main form of alternative care for children in need of care and protection. It is the preferred option in Ireland for children who cannot live with their parents or guardians. At the end of March this year, 92% of children in care were in a foster care placement. More than a quarter of these children are placed with relative foster carers and the rest are with general foster carers. Foster carers receive a number of targeted supports to ensure they continue to function as a recognised and valued part of the alternative care system.

It is vital that all children in care and their carers receive adequate support to ensure a successful placement. Key elements of the support provided to foster carers include a link social worker, access to training and support group meetings and the allocation of a child and family social worker for each child in care. It is important that foster carers have access to specialist services to meet the child's identified needs. In some situations, respite care for children may be arranged, if and when it is part of their care plan.

Pre-assessment and ongoing training is compulsory for all foster carers in order to equip them with the skills and knowledge to provide high-quality care. Tusla addresses the training needs of relatives who are foster carers separately in recognition of the specific dynamics and the personal nature of relative care. In addition to these supports, foster carers are entitled to specific support in the event of an allegation of abuse or neglect, or a serious concern being made relating to the quality of care provided or experienced. For foster carers, this may include being supported by the support and mediation service provided by the Irish Foster Care Association. Tusla has initiated a new national policy to guide social workers in how they should deal with allegations about foster carers.

I could not agree more with the Minister when she says children in foster care and their supportive foster care families deserve and should receive all necessary supports. I have already mentioned that no matter what leads to a child being in foster care, there has been some type of chaos within their family situation. There is no doubt many of these children need psychological services and extra medical services to help them reach their full potential. This is not always the case, however, and I have to share with the Minister the heart-breaking case that only recently occurred in my constituency of Kildare South.

A nine-year old boy from Dublin, who we will call John, was placed with a family as their very first foster child. This was possibly the first mistake because John had many needs and perhaps it should have been a more experienced family at that point in time. John had lived a very chaotic life. Both his parents were drug addicts and his father was in prison. He arrived into a loving home and a huge bond was formed, despite the many issues he had, such as the fact he was never taught to use a toilet and that he pulled a knife on his foster parents. In spite of all of this, he did not miss a day in school and the family were in constant contact with a very supportive school. He joined a local football club and he loved it. However, the foster family begged for additional psychological supports and they did not receive them. When I put this down as a parliamentary question, John was still in his home and his foster parents were begging for these supports. Since then, he has been removed and put in a residential home. He has to start in a new school. He has no football club. This is a disgrace.

I must call the Minister. The Deputy can come back in.

I would be happy to receive additional information and to follow up on that case outside the context of the Chamber. It is important to note that most foster carers have a link social worker who provides a support to them. It is the case that Tusla has identified that the priority in terms of link social workers is for new placements, children nearing 18 or children with challenges such as disability, mental health and situations where there are difficulties regarding access. That additional support is important in those types of cases. In addition, Tusla is providing funding to the Irish Foster Care Association, which offers a range of supports to carers, including advocacy, mediation, training and a phone advice service.

I thank the Minister and do not for a moment doubt her bona fides in this area. I will be in contact with her office in regard to this specific situation. I have listened to the tears of the heart-broken foster mother, who really felt she was the last chance for this young boy. I would share the foster mother's concerns about this little boy surviving and having a life that a young boy of his age should have.

I know Tusla and the social workers operate in an environment of uncertainty and I accept that, in many cases, the social workers are not getting the supports they need. As the Minister acknowledges, it is hugely important that the interventions take place. The supports that are needed have to be readily accessible. I believe John's foster situation was doomed to fail before it began because of the lack of assessment of his needs and the failure to put supports in place.

These foster families absolutely need to have all they can to sort out the chaos of these children's lives. As my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, said, it is so important to link in with EPIC, Sugru and Care Leavers' Network with regard to their life experiences.

I am happy to take the details. I am concerned about the issues raised. With regard to the answers I have been providing, generally in the process of identifying foster carers, providing supports, preassessment, ongoing training and the provision of the link worker the supports are there. If at times, and perhaps this is the case in this instance, this does not provide sufficient support it is regrettable. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Question No. 35 replied to with Written Answers.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

36. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the immediate actions being taken by her Department to protect the many children affected by the serious capacity issues nationally at domestic violence centres and refuges that provide supports to victims of domestic violence, including women with their children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31225/17]

What immediate actions are being taken by the Department to protect the many children affected by the serious capacity issues nationally at domestic violence centres and refuges that provide support to victims of domestic violence, including women with their children? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic violence. This year, Tusla will allocate €22.1 million for the provision of services tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. This represents an increase of €1.5 million over 2016. It will assist in increasing capacity and improving access to emergency accommodation and other support services for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Tusla facilitates a range of services to victims of domestic violence and their families, including 155 family units, comprising 147 emergency refuge family units and eight emergency non-refuge family units. The remit of these services is to provide safe emergency accommodation on a short-term basis.

I highly value the work of service providers who work with victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It is important to break the cycle of violence, as children who grow up in an atmosphere of violence can be affected for many years to come. Refuges provide a place of safety for families in this situation, but a refuge is not a home. We know that the well-being of children is best supported by enabling children to live safely in their own homes.

My Government colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, has responsibility for Rebuilding Ireland, which contains a commitment to provide additional emergency refuge accommodation spaces for victims of domestic violence. This is in addition to those emergency refuge spaces already supported by Tusla. I worked very closely with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, when he held this brief, and I look forward to working with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on it now.

While there is no verified data, anecdotal evidence from service providers indicates the current homelessness crisis is impacting on the length of stay of families in refuges. Tusla is very concerned about this situation. My officials are in regular contact with Tusla, and we share the same motivation, which is to do everything we can to alleviate the concerns of families in refuges, and those families who are seeking refuge spaces.

The Minister has attended a number of Women's Aid events so I know she has an interest in the area. What prompted me to ask the question is in my constituency we have a women's refuge that covers counties Carlow and Kilkenny, but because it is being used as emergency accommodation, last year it had to refuse 321 referrals. The housing crisis means women fleeing domestic violence are not able to access accommodation. They might be able to access secondary services but accommodation is crucial. Unfortunately, many of the women will end up going back into the situation, which will have a detrimental effect on them and their children. Will the Minister ask Tusla to do an audit to ensure where there are domestic violence refuges they are being used for that, and that alone, and that they are allowed to get on with that very important work and are not being used as an overflow for the housing crisis? It is a crisis, but it is a different situation and should not impact on domestic violence services for women and children.

I am aware of the issue the Deputy is raising. She knows that the challenges involved in providing longer-term housing for those who find themselves homeless can impact, as I have said, on the length of time a family stays in emergency refuge accommodation. Of course this can have a knock-on effect on spaces for those with acute safety needs seeking access to a refuge. I am concerned that the level of demand for services in the Deputy's region is greater than the current available capacity, and I appreciate her raising the matter. Tusla will allocate funding of €493,000 to the refuge this year, and it is committed to ensuring there is more equitable access to the services, but it will also work in partnership with local organisations, such as Amber Kilkenny Women's Refuge, to obtain the best possible supports for families experiencing domestic violence in Ireland. As part of its approach it is assessing the level of need throughout the country and is working closely with key stakeholders to develop an appropriate service response.

I welcome that. It is important that we have an audit of the services to ensure they are being used for their purpose. I invite the Minister to visit Amber in Kilkenny. It would definitely appreciate it. As it covers both counties there are huge difficulties for women leaving a domestic violence situation in County Carlow because, realistically, if they want to leave the situation they must uproot with their children and move 30 minutes away. Many women will not do this. It is not realistic to move children going to school to a different county. I invite the Minister to come down and see the service and see the work it is doing on domestic violence. It is important a nationwide audit is carried out. One refuge for two counties is not adequate and I am sure it is happening in other parts of the country. It is important that we carry out an audit so domestic violence services can deal solely with domestic violence and not have to take up the burden of emergency accommodation for housing.

I will accept the Deputy's invitation. As I have already indicated, Tusla is conducting a needs analysis. I appreciate what the Deputy has said about her particular region. I want to put on record we will have further specific plans in place by the end of the year. I confirm that five additional family accommodation units will be available in the Dublin area in early 2018. This is with regard to providing more refuge places for women and children fleeing violence in their homes. We also plan to have an additional five units in Galway, which should be ready by September next year, and additional accommodation comprising five units will come onstream in Clare by the end of next year. Deputy Ó Laoghaire will be happy to hear the midlands and Cork are the priority areas we are examining.

Direct Provision System

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

37. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied with the services offered by her Department to non-national children, in particular those in direct provision; and her plans to allocate additional resources to non-national children residing here. [31164/17]

My question relates to services for non-national children, particularly those living in direct provision. Will additional resources be put in place for non-national children in direct provision or other settings?

Every child residing in Ireland, whether he or she was born in Ireland or has relocated here, is entitled to equal access to services.

The Deputy specifically mentioned children living in the direct provision system, for which the Minister for Justice and Equality has responsibility. Children living in direct provision remain in the care of their parents. If any concern is raised regarding the safety, well-being and welfare of a child living in direct provision it is reported to Tusla and the case is treated as any other referral would be. Tusla has located an experienced team leader child protection social worker to the Reception and Integration Agency to better support access to Tusla services for vulnerable families in direct provision and to provide advice and guidance to staff working in direct provision.

Under the Dáil resolution of 10 November 2016, we have committed to bringing separated children seeking asylum to Ireland. This vulnerable cohort requires specialist support and care and Tusla has supports and facilities in place to identify, access and receive separated children seeking asylum.

Up to the end of June, we received 22 young people under this programme, all boys between the ages of 13 and 17 years. They come from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria and South Sudan.

Separated children seeking asylum may also come to Ireland through the Irish refugee protection programme. My Department has joint responsibility with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to identify and provide supports for separated children seeking asylum who are part of this relocation programme. So far, six children and young people from Iraq and Syria have been received into care. A child may also present at an Irish port of entry seeking asylum. In this instance, he or she will be referred to Tusla for assessment and appropriate care.

To best meet their needs, all children on arrival in the State are placed in a small residential assessment unit to ensure social workers can get to know them and understand their needs.

I was not particularly looking at services of social workers and non-national children living in direct provision centres but also those children living in appalling private rented accommodation. I know we have responsible landlords but, unfortunately, I have seen some appalling private rented accommodation in which there is serious overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. I was thinking of children living in these settings who do not have access to the activities and services of which other children can avail. I am thinking of sports, arts, music and drama. Just this morning, I was in a family resource centre in Dublin 1. It is working with families who come from direct provision centres. There is play therapy and a summer project available for the children. It also connects the dots with various other services that the children need. My question was about access to the other activities and services our children have which are difficult to access for those in direct provision centres.

That is a good example. My understanding is there are efforts aimed at outreach and engagement in other settings. That is what we want and hope to do. As well as the education and welfare supports children in direct provision centres require, Tusla has a commitment to the principle that every child residing in Ireland should have equal access to services, regardless of nationality or status. Places such as family resource centres provide resources to do this. The Deputy’s story will help me to go back and ensure it is happening in other places also.

The resource centre in question organised an event last Friday entitled "We Belong". It looked at people who were living in the area with foreign nationals and providing the same range of services and activities for all of them. There are parts of the Dublin Central constituency where the non-national population is more than 51%. As the Minister addressed a conference in the Gresham recently, she knows the ongoing work being done on the issue of integration. For organisations such as the family resource centres, a little extra funding, particularly at holiday time, would help in including children from direct provision centres or other non-national children and allow them to have access to those outings and activities in which Irish children take part. That was the point my question sought to address.

We all believe children have an integral right to belong. I agree it would be good if we could increase resources for family resource centres for the many other reasons raised by the Deputy but also because of the work they do with Irish children.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.