Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Tá na Teachtaí Ó Cuív, Sherlock agus Heydon as láthair mar sin glaoim ar an Teachta Rabbitte chun ceist Uimh. 10 a chur.

Children and Family Services Provision

Anne Rabbitte


10. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has given consideration to the recommendation by a group (details supplied) that her Department devise a strategy to support unmarried parents in sharing parenting responsibilities; and her views on same. [52425/18]

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has given consideration to the recommendation in the report by Treoir launched two weeks ago on unmarried fathers in Ireland and examination of the barriers to shared parenting. Is she supportive of a strategy for unmarried parents in respect of shared parenting responsibilities?

I thank the Deputy. I welcome the research report prepared by Treoir, which highlights the unique circumstances that unmarried fathers face in sharing parental responsibility.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which are under review by my officials. Under the national planning framework, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, we identified the importance of supporting parents as one of six transformational goals that are central to delivering the best future for children and their families.

As a constituent part of Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, my Department published a high-level policy statement on supporting parents and families in 2015. This statement set out the policy agenda for parenting and family supports. It recognised the diverse range of family configurations in Ireland and the need for supports to be inclusive of all family forms so as to be effective. In addition, I am pleased to confirm that, as promised in First 5, my Department recently established a dedicated parenting support policy unit, which will lead in co-ordinating the direction of parenting support policy and activity across Departments and State agencies. The unit will continue to progress the Department’s engagement with stakeholders, building on the parenting support stakeholder group and subsequent open policy debate held in May.

Given the extent of existing policy under the high level statement and First 5, I have no plans to publish a separate further strategy on parenting. I believe the area is well addressed under our current strategies. I very much support the focus of Treoir’s report. I acknowledge that much of the research to date on parenting arrangements has focused on divorce and separation after marriage. By exploring how unmarried parents who are no longer in a relationship can be supported to maintain shared parenting where it is in the best interests of the child, this report provides a valuable new insight. It reaffirms my belief that the diversity of parenting arrangements needs to be recognised in policy and service development, and my Department will continue to place the real life experiences of children and their families at the core of our work.

I thank the Minister for her response. I acknowledge the financial involvement of the Community Foundation for Ireland, which provided the funding for the report. I also acknowledge the work of Elizabeth Kiely and Robert Bolton in completing the work. On the day of the launch it was harrowing to hear parents discussing their experience. One gentleman in particular spoke about the fact that as an unmarried father he has no rights to his child's report card. If his child got sick while her mother was away he had no right to sign her medical records. A total of 34% of all children in the country are born to single parents but the father's rights are totally and utterly diminished. Fathers do not realise that under guardianship they do not have the right to this information. This is why I am asking about a specific strategy to create awareness to signpost their rights, which would be A start.

I thank the Deputy. I also acknowledge the extraordinary work of the Community Foundation for Ireland. I share this with the Deputy. The point raised by her with regard to the gentleman in her example and other unmarried fathers is important. It is great we have the report that has laid this out clearly. The strategy and work already being developed will take account of this and incorporate it. I ask the Department to look at how it can incorporate attention to this in the context of what it is already doing.

Another example in terms of the work of the Department is our support for a way to ensure separated parents, and particularly fathers, are able to have access to their children. The Deputy is aware of Time 4 Us in her constituency. In the 2019 Estimates we have committed additional funding of €100,000 to ensure its service continues to provide a play centre where children can meet their parents in situations where one parent does not live in the family home.

I acknowledge the support the Department has given to Time 4 Us, which plays a huge role in the county. While the Department is developing all the strategies we also need a cross-departmental approach, involving the Departments of Justice and Equality, Education and Skills, Health and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We have to work to change the language because the language used by all the Departments is a barrier for unmarried parents, and I am speaking specifically about unmarried fathers. They do not realise what rights they do not have until it is too late. This is the information we are struggling to get out to unmarried fathers. They do not realise it until it is far too late that they have no rights. This is why I am asking the Department, with or without a strategy, to work with Departments to enable some of the recent report of the Law Reform Commission to be introduced.

The Deputy has made excellent points and I will bring them back to the Department. As the Deputy knows, the First 5 strategy is whole-of-Government and cross-departmental. It is within this context I have been answering that new strategies and support for parents will operate. The Deputy is right that we need to take a look at working across Departments. I share with the Deputy the concerns of those fathers and the need for the support of the State in new ways, if we can find what those ways are. The resource report offers us some evidence to help us to do this. It will enable us to deal with the inequalities between women and men, particularly in the context of parenting where we need that equality and the sharing of caring responsibility to enable us to work, men as well as women, in the public as well as the private sphere.

Child Detention Centres

Clare Daly


11. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps taken by the board of a campus (details supplied) to facilitate a return visit by the authors of the operational review of the centre in order to offer feedback to staff and stakeholders. [52313/18]

Anne Rabbitte


14. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has given consideration to publishing the report by persons (details supplied) into Oberstown Children Detention Campus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52426/18]

A huge injustice has been done to Goldson and Hardwick, who concluded the operational review into Oberstown, to the staff in that organisation and to the children being managed there by the non-publication of the report despite the promises given, and by the lack of facilitation of those individuals with regard to giving feedback to the staff. What is being done to correct the situation?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 14 together.

In September 2016, the Oberstown board of management commissioned an external independent review of operations and best practice at the campus. The review was undertaken by two international experts in this field, Professor Barry Goldson and Professor Nicholas Hardwick. The board carefully reviewed each recommendation made in the report and published its recommendations, together with the board’s response, in July 2017. The publication of the report's recommendations ensured that the supportive and developmental aims of the review were met.

I established a review implementation group in March 2017 to oversee the implementation of all the various recommendations arising from a number of reviews carried out around the same time, including the recommendations of the operational review. The group produced a coherent plan to implement all the recommendations, and its action plan, completed in May 2018, was published on my Department's website.

Since this group was established I am pleased to say that there is real evidence of positive change in the day to day operations of Oberstown, and this change is most recently reflected in HIQA's report of its inspections of the campus. The board of management of Oberstown had a number of concerns about the publication of the report of the operational review and decided, after a careful and lengthy process of deliberation, including the commissioning of independent legal advice, that it was not safe to publish the full report of the review. I sought legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter, who gave me similar advice that there would be significant legal risk in publishing the report in full. Accordingly, after careful consideration, I concluded that it was not appropriate to publish the full report.

I emphasise that my Department’s focus, and that of Oberstown Children Detention Campus, is on the implementation of the recommendations so as to ensure there is a safe and stable environment in Oberstown for children detained there by the Children’s Courts and for the staff who work there. The terms of reference for the operational review included a provision for a feedback visit from the reviewers to present concluding observations and recommendations to staff, management and young people.

Oberstown envisaged that the visit would take place before the reviewers had finalised their report so that any comments could be taken into account in the final version of the report. However, the reviewers maintained that it would not be possible to provide feedback until the final report had been completed. As a result, the visit did not take place.

I have no difficulty, in principle, if the reviewers wish to visit Oberstown again at this stage. Any such visit would be a matter for the board of Oberstown and the reviewers. However, I will ask the board to consider any request from the reviewers to return to visit the campus.

The Minister's response has actually made the situation worse in light of the sequence of events which we know of thanks to the work of RTÉ in unearthing some of the emails. We know that the legal advice of the Attorney General did not state that the report could not be published in full. It is very clear from the email of 13 November that the Attorney General said publication of the report would be possible if certain steps were followed. It is equally obvious from the correspondence that the mechanisms suggested by the Department to achieve this goal were actually ignored by the management of Oberstown. The only person who commented, or was asked to comment, on the report was the director, who had had extensive meetings with the two reviewers about it already. If there were concerns about fair procedures, to whom were they supposed to apply? It looks like the board and the chair of the board threatened resignations if the Minister proceeded with the course of action she recommended.

As an Opposition spokesperson for children and youth affairs, it is my role to hold the Minister and her Department to account. In this instance, a report commissioned in 2016 has not been published. I hear what the Minister is saying about legal advice and that she has spoken to the Attorney General but it is hard for me to be critical or to do my job without knowing the base line. The base line is what is within the report, not what is in the recommendations. It is the findings that matter. We have to start somewhere but we are starting in the dark. The Minister knows it and I am glad she does but we all need to know it. We need to know where we are starting in respect of Oberstown. I cannot park the issue based on a recommendation - I need to know what is in the report.

I do not accept the suggestion that my response makes this worse. I appreciate what Deputy Rabbitte is saying but I have been describing a process. There have been a number of reports and reviews, including by HIQA which had sight of the full operational review, accepted the recommendations and accepted that an action plan had been put in place to implement those recommendations.

I was asked questions about the board's concerns and the reasons for deciding that it was legally risky to publish. The board's concerns were that the reviewers went outside the terms of reference and that, while some issues were addressed, one issue was not addressed at all, namely, the requirement to identify obstacles or barriers to achieving greater implementation of international standards and best practice. They also dealt with issues of national law and policy and other matters over which Oberstown has no control. Fair procedures were not adhered to and Oberstown has advised that, for example, persons mentioned were not given an opportunity to respond to the reviewers' findings. Factual accuracy checks did not take place and although some changes were made to the report at the time, the findings did not change. These are some of the reasons underlying the fact that there are legal risks in the context of publication.

The reason I stated that the Minister's response made the situation worse is that it was not accurate. We have a new departure now in that, for the first time on the record of this House, the reviewers' work is being questioned. It is being hinted that they went outside the terms of reference, as if it was their fault. That is a new thing, which was not mentioned previously. We have seen the sequence of events, which were the subject of rigorous scrutiny by the two internationally renowned professionals who tried to get the report corrected and tested for accuracy. It is patently untrue that they did not check the factual accuracy and they gave the board and director multiple opportunities to comment on the situation. They asked repeatedly to return to staff and, at a day-long meeting on 20 December 2016, they met with the chair and the director in Liverpool where they agreed a plan for the next steps and for revisions, as well as giving further opportunities for the chair and the director to come back. They did not come back, however, and despite the fact that further contact was initiated by the reviewers in January, February and March, there was no indication in any of those contacts that steps were taken by Oberstown to facilitate their requests to debrief staff as had been agreed.

We have a huge problem here. I have said it before and I will say it again: if these two gentlemen were based in Ireland they would not be treated like this, not to mention the children who got lengthy jail sentences as a result of an offence that occurred in that institution and which, if we had the full facts, might have had a different outcome.

The Minister mentioned HIQA and stated that there had been improvements. However, a HIQA report from earlier this year outlined concerns about the inappropriate use of handcuffs at Oberstown, as well as concerns about the facility's approach to child protection complaints. The Minister may say I am taking this out of context but I repeat that I do not have the base line to see where the improvements have come and where the recommendations are being implemented. This is because I am working in the dark and do not have the reports. I take it that there is a combination of things and I acknowledge that the chair and the manager came before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs but we have asked for this report numerous times. We want to be fair to the board and to the staff. We want to acknowledge that the recommendations are being implemented but we do not have the base line to see that.

This is a question to which I also want an answer. I cannot understand how withholding this report is in the best interests of the children currently in Oberstown. These children deserve to have their human rights upheld and part of that means independent, external oversight. This is another example of the closed loop that exists here, where reports are requested but go from the Government to the Department to agencies, yet we never get to see them. The media, rights groups and politicians in this House are looking for this report. It needs to be available for public scrutiny. If the Minister has real concerns, can she not redact the relevant parts and then publish?

I share deeply the Deputies' concerns for the safety of the children, and support for them in Oberstown. I have been there many times and I am going there this afternoon. I have met staff on their own, management on their own and the children on their own. I want the children and young people to move beyond Oberstown and be free. I have a passion about this, as do my colleagues.

Deputy Rabbitte stated that she is working in the dark but we have a number of reports and recommendations. There is a HIQA report which has been published and, on the basis of that, the implementation of changes is happening and there are improvements on the campus. I see these every time I go there.

I appreciate the points raised by the Deputy and I am aware of much of the discussion to which she refers. We need to separate the issues. The production of a report to engage with young people and staff and so on as hoped would have been welcome, but one must consider that fair procedures were not followed in the completion of the report, leading to a legal risk relating to its publication. That is the advice I have received.

Early Years Sector

Maureen O'Sullivan


12. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress to date in addressing the perceived poor pay and conditions in the early childcare sector; her views on whether in view of uncertainties and conditions of employment there is a lack of incentive for many to pursue careers in the sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52430/18]

The question regards the perceived poor pay and conditions in the childcare sector and the uncertainties and conditions of employment which are creating a lack of incentive for many to pursue careers in that sector or encouraging current staff to move from it.

The Pobal 2018 early years sector profile report indicates that more than 29,500 people now work in the childcare sector, an increase of 8% on the previous year. The proportion of staff with third-level qualifications is now 22%, up from 20% in 2017 and 18% in 2016. Some 94% of staff now have, at a minimum, a relevant qualification at level 5, an increase of 6% since 2015. The average wage in the sector has risen 2% in the past year to €12.17 per hour and the staff turnover rate has fallen from 28% to 25%. Although the Pobal data demonstrates a growing sector and some small progress on pay and turnover rates, much remains to be done to address the situation.

As the Deputy will be aware, I care passionately about this issue. My Department is not the employer and it does not pay the workers' salaries. I cannot, therefore, set pay levels or determine working conditions. However, I have taken several measures to help the sector address how its workforce is valued. The Government has provided a 117% increase in investment in the sector over the past four budgets. I have used some of this funding to raise the early childhood care and education, ECCE, capitation rate by 7% this September, to make programme support payments in recognition of administrative work and to provide a higher rate of capitation payment for graduate-led preschool rooms. I hope that these measures, particularly the ECCE capitation increase, will have impacted on salaries when Pobal next reports in 2019.

Importantly in the medium and long term, First 5, a whole-of-Government ten-year strategy for babies, young children and their families which I recently published, sets out a number of critical commitments to address workforce conditions. These include a workforce development plan and a commitment to develop a new funding model that will leverage increased investment for improved quality. As I indicated in response to a previous question, I have called on the sector to use available State infrastructure to agree an appropriate salary scale through a sectoral employment order.

I thank the Minister. We have previously discussed these issues and the Minister outlined the steps regarding services being encouraged to use the additional funding to support the pay and conditions of workers. The reality is that there are difficulties in sourcing staff. A turnover rate of 25% is quite high. We know how vital the staff are. I acknowledge the improvement in staff qualifications because that skill set is important in providing a service for children, which gives them a good grounding before they move to primary school.

A couple of months ago I met providers and staff in Buswell's Hotel who outlined the difficulties and challenges they face. Their passion and care for their work was obvious. One factor highlighted was that many staff who improve their qualifications then undertake a graduate programmes in primary school teaching, leading to the loss of valuable skill sets in the early childhood care sector.

There is an underfunding of childcare which the Minister is trying to address. The spending on childcare in Ireland is 0.1% of GDP whereas the European average is 0.8%. The staff in the sector feel undervalued.

It is important that these issues are raised. They are the basis of my motivation to continue to seek increases in the development of the infrastructure, particularly as regards the professionals who work in the sector. I have outlined in response to this and other questions that in the context of the operative funding model we only have a certain amount of power or potential to make those changes. My main suggestions towards achieving a quantum leap are the implementation of a sectoral employment order and the development of a new public funding model.

My Department has had several discussions with trade union representatives. We understand that the "Big Start" campaign has increased SIPTU membership but it remains significantly less than is required for it to be accepted as an organisation representative of employees. There has been much discussion on an employers' representative group but nothing has been agreed. This needs to happen. It would be helpful. Such collective representation is why other professions are able to improve their pay and working conditions.

A subgroup of the early years forum addresses the issue of professionalisation. The members of the forum will continue to participate in work on the new vision for a public funding model laid out in First 5.

I am trying to accommodate the Members present in order that their questions can be answered before 12 noon. I ask all of them to keep to the time limits.

The childcare barometer of public attitudes to early years care and education published in 2018 indicates that 75% of respondents agreed that those working in the early childcare profession are as important as educators of children aged over five. Some 56% of respondents thought them professionals. However, staff feel undervalued and they do not perceive that working in the sector is a good job.

I refer to the particular difficulties experienced by childcare services in north inner city Dublin in respect of the feuds, drug dealing and intimidation in the area. Some young children experience such issues every day, some within their families and others in their community.

The Minister previously stated that an independent review of the cost of delivering childcare was being carried out. When will it be available?

I do not have an exact date for the publication of the review. A draft has been submitted which is being compared against independent data. I expect that it will be published early in the new year.

I hope that the new funding model we are trying to develop will address some of the questions and concerns of the professionals referred to by the Deputy. We want to develop an enhanced contract whereby settings are funded to meet certain quality indicators over and above the affordable childcare scheme or universal preschool programme contracts. Those may include minimum qualifications for room leaders and assistants for children of all ages. The model would also provide for maximum fee levels for parents, minimum qualification or experience levels for managers and a restatement of the role of managers including in regard to the staff-child ratio. Overall, it proposes that if more quality is delivered, more resources will be provided.

Childhood Obesity

John Curran


13. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the supports provided to the youth work sector to strengthen work in enhancing the knowledge and skills of young persons in regard to healthy eating and active living; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52341/18]

The Minister recognises and acknowledges that the issue of obesity in children and young people is growing. What support do she and her Department provide to the youth work sector, in particular, to strengthen work in enhancing the knowledge and skills of young persons in regard to healthy eating and active living?

Healthy Ireland 2013-25 aims to achieve an island where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and well-being to their full potential and where well-being is valued and supported at every level of society and is everyone’s responsibility. The three dominant themes of Healthy Ireland are equality, well-being and empowerment. Without equality, we cannot have well-being and without empowerment we will not achieve equality.

Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures includes improving childhood health and well-being among its key priorities. The first outcome, entitled "Active and Healthy", aims for all children and young people to be physically healthy and able to make positive health choices, have good mental health and a positive and respectful approach to relationships and sexual health. My Department oversees the implementation of the framework.

One of the main objectives of the national youth strategy is that young people enjoy a healthy lifestyle, in particular with regard to their physical, mental and sexual health and well-being.

My Department also provides funding to the national youth health programme, operated by the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYHP, in conjunction with and co-funded by my Department and the Health Service Executive.

At the launch of its recent statement of strategy, the National Youth Council of Ireland described how it aims to help Ireland become a country where all young people can experience positive health and well-being. The NYHP will make a defining contribution to the development of effective youth health promotion practices which support young people to make healthy and positive choices.

There are three major areas in which the plan will drive change, including the following: a nationwide provision of evidence based training and resources for those working with young people on topics responding to their needs, including mental health and physical activity; developing and promoting a culture within organisations in the youth sector which focuses on health and well-being; and advocating on issues that affect the health and well-being of young people.

I thank the Minister for her response. Despite all our best efforts, the issue of obesity has increased significantly in recent years. At the outset, I reflect that when I was a teenager - I looked at the figures - less than 1% of children were deemed to be obese at that stage. Current figures are that 9% to 10% are obese and one in four children are classed as overweight. When we look at lifestyles and activity, we know that we would have all walked to school. We see the schools and the type of food there is now. Most fast food chains did not even exist in this country when I was young so there have been significant changes.

The Minister said in her response that it is everyone's responsibility and I acknowledge that and I do not attach total responsibility to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs but my real concern is the opportunity the Minister has in terms of getting youth work to engage with young people proactively. We do it for other issues where we engage young people so that they avoid the misuse of drugs and other activities but the Minister talks about enhancing the skill base of those youth workers and this is where the opportunity is. I would like to see a more proactive approach in that regard.

It is good that the Deputy raises these questions. I have described the strategies that are ongoing and detailed how an organisation is being funded to help support some of the implementation of that.

The Deputy raises the issue of obesity, which is a key concern, even more so today than when the Deputy and I were growing up in different places at different times. On the better outcomes brighter futures policy, it is a significant part of that strategy to tackle the issues of childhood obesity, where work is ongoing on the top shelf of the food pyramid action plan. There are partner supports for youth organisations to ensure that through a mix of legislative policy and public awareness the environments will be put in place in order to tackle those issues. We are publishing results of lifestyle surveys, which include data on healthy eating policies. We support children to make healthier choices through education and we address food poverty, which is also a very big concern of mine, particularly in the context of DEIS schools and children who are hungry so that we can also look at the obesity issue in that context.

I thank the Minister for her response. I acknowledge the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures programme. It is a fairly comprehensive report and it is fair to acknowledge that the issue of obesity requires a whole of Government response and not just the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, but in terms of youth work, the Department has a particular role to play to ensure that for those who are engaged in youth work, this is at the top of their agenda.

I am not a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs but I acknowledge that it recently published a very detailed report with a significant number of recommendations. I take it that the Minister has read it and while the recommendations do not all directly relate to her, I ask that the recommendations that she has control and influence over are acted on in a prompt manner.

Yes, that is important and we need to ensure that we are doing that. By considering that and looking at it in the context of the youth organisations, the youth sector and the strategies that have been there in the past, as I understand it the actions are focused on developing the obesity policy action plan, setting out a national physical activity plan and continuing to support and build on existing youth arts provision.

We have probably been quite good at the development of these plans and identifying the actions. The Deputy is asking that we ensure that in the provision of resources, both directly to some of these organisations and small groups on the ground but also to the national organisations, we ensure that monitoring and the more proactive aspect of implementation take place and also that we take account of the work of the committee.

I will endeavour to take three questions from Deputies Moynihan, Wallace and Mitchell within limited time so I ask Deputies to be as brief as possible in their introductions to try to accommodate everyone.

Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 11.

Youth Services Funding

Aindrias Moynihan


15. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of funding for an organisation (details supplied); the implications for the funding of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52468/18]

There is no doubt that child protection is and has to be the number one priority and we have seen the further recent reports highlighting the issues in Scouting Ireland. The Minister previously withheld funding for the organisation when she was pursuing governance questions. I understand that funding is in place until next spring and in view of the recent reports, I want to establish the Minister's position and if she is satisfied with the governance.

I have had reason to suspend and later restore funding to Scouting Ireland on a number of occasions in the last year. I first withheld funding in April because of concerns relating to governance arrangements.

In May, I appointed Ms Jillian van Turnhout, as an independent expert, to examine governance and related issues within Scouting Ireland. Her report made recommendations in the areas of safeguarding, management of the organisation, governance proposals and charities regulation and indicated that the restoration of funding to Scouting Ireland should be clearly linked to the successful implementation of these recommendations.

Following confirmation of the board's commitment to implement all of Ms van Turnhout's recommendations, I decided to provide Scouting Ireland with interim funding from June for a further three month period up until the end of September. In providing this interim funding, I requested that Scouting Ireland provide me with a further report by 24 September. It did so, and set out the progress in implementing the outstanding recommendations of the review of Scouting Ireland.

At the end of September, the former board of Scouting Ireland voted to reinstate the chief scout as chair of their forthcoming EGM. Shortly afterwards, I received letters from the then interim chair and Mr. Ian Elliott setting out their serious concerns about the board's actions and its ability to govern the organisation properly. I decided to suspend funding further for as long as the then board was in place. A new board was elected at the EGM on 6 October.

Given the significant progress made by Scouting Ireland in implementing Ms van Turnhout's recommendations and in the essential governance changes committed to by the organisation, I then restored funding to Scouting Ireland until the end of April 2019. I have requested a further progress report from the organisation by the end of March 2019, as well as copies of the independent barrister's report and the final lan Elliott report of the individual case review he conducted.

How satisfied is the Minister with the current situation with the board and the governance that is there? Does she have confidence in the current board? Is she satisfied that the various undertakings are being delivered on in order to continue funding and that safety and child protection is as it should be there?

I am also conscious that there has been so much good done right across the country by Scouting Ireland as well and that parents do not want it all wiped out and they want to continue with a good, safe service for their children where everything is in order. We want reassurance that the Minister is satisfied with the areas that are functioning well and that she is dealing with the areas where there is an issue. Can the Minister clarify how satisfied she is with the progress that has been made and is she confident that the current board is in a position to deliver?

I am awaiting a progress report in March 2019, which is what I asked for in order to make an assessment about the restoration of funding for April 2019. That is still my plan of action.

The issues the new board is dealing with are shocking and deeply distressing. Some, though obviously not all of them, were apparent to the board and its new chair as they were willing to step forward and offer themselves to take leadership of the organisation at this point in its history. Yes, I do have confidence in the board to the extent that I have witnessed what it has done recently since taking on the leadership. As the Deputy will be aware, things change every day as Mr. Elliott continues his work on the investigation of files and alleged victims or abuse survivors contact Tusla as well as the Garda. This is in progress, and I believe that, as the board continues to manage this, we will ultimately have a deeper sense of the extent of the damage, the abuse and the horror that has happened in the organisation.

I acknowledge and welcome that the Minister has outlined her confidence in the board. She has also outlined that the report she expects towards the end of March will form a decision as to whether or not funding will be granted. Does this mean that funding will continue in the current form until then? Will she clarify this?

I am not considering reviewing my decision in October to renew funding until the end of April 2019. In other words, that still stands. I would only consider such a review were I to receive information pertinent to the ongoing review of the historic files that would draw into question the current services and the consequent governance problems. Furthermore, one matter that is critical for the organisation is to hire a safeguarding manager, which position has been advertised for some time. It is a crucial post. Once this post is filled, I think it is the intention of Scouting Ireland to put in place a safeguarding team to work with the safeguarding manager. This would also assist them in their work.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

Mick Wallace


16. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the findings of a report by the European Migration Network, published by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which found that only a small proportion of minors have secured an immigration status and that this was due to delays making applications on behalf of minors by social workers in Tusla; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52433/18]

We have limited time to get to the next two questions. The Deputy has 30 seconds to put his question.

The question relates to the findings of a report by the European Migration Network, published by the ESRI, which found that only a small proportion of minors have secured an immigration status and that this was due to delays by Tusla social workers in making the minors' applications. Does the Minister have concerns about this, and has she spoken to Tusla since the report's publication?

I thank the Deputy for his question, which relates to a report published on 4 December on the important subject of separated children seeking asylum. I wish to take this opportunity to note that children who arrive with their families and seek asylum remain in the care and custody of their parents.

It is also worth noting that some of the referrals made to Tusla in respect of separated children seeking asylum are found to relate either to young people over the age of 18 or to those who are reunited with a parent or guardian who is already in the country. As the Deputy knows, where a young person is under 18, they are taken into the care of Tusla.

The Tusla separated children seeking asylum team has developed an effective model of working with the affected children and young people to identify the supports they need. I am satisfied that the care provided to separated children seeking asylum is of a high standard and equal to that provided to other children in care. The report notes specifically that the standard of assessment and the provision of services to separated children in Ireland compare favourably to those provided in many European jurisdictions.

All separated children seeking asylum are assessed by a social worker from the specialist team working with these children on the day of their referral arrival and are placed in the care of Tusla. The immigration arrangements of young asylum seekers, mainly in the age group of 15 to 17 years, are considered in the broader, holistic context of the child's needs.

Many of these children may have high levels of vulnerability and have experienced trauma. Many face problems and challenges on issues including separation and bereavement from family and friends, social isolation, language barriers, emotional and mental health problems, discrimination and racism. In addition, they must live with the anxiety brought on by their possible removal from the country or uncertainty as to their future.

Based on a clinical decision approach, they may be deemed to need a period of stability and care before being supported in making their application for residency.

The new single procedures that have been put in place in the wake of the International Protection Act have seen significant improvements in waiting times for young people, especially those in aftercare. Of the 93 aftercare cases currently open to Tusla's team for separated children's aftercare service, 70 have some form of residency permission.

The Minister will have an opportunity to come back in.

We know there is some good care for the kids under 18 years of age. So far this year, however, 105 children have arrived in Ireland seeking asylum status without a parent or guardian, yet to date this year only 15 have been granted international protection, while last year only 11 children were granted protection. These are low figures. I remind the Minister of some of the contents of the report. It found that although Tusla is responsible for making an application on behalf of an unaccompanied minor, some social workers delay submitting applications for reasons including the view that an application is not in the child's best interest and that he or she may not be deemed ready for international protection, as well as the fear that negative decisions might lead to the child going missing. The report makes the point that published research has noted that the decision to delay an application may negatively impact a minor's entitlements, including family reunification and access to employment, education, aftercare services and other supports.

I am aware of that and of what the report stated. The model Tusla has developed is effectively providing, in Tusla's belief, supports that may be necessary before the application is made. Other jurisdictions sometimes do not have social workers involved in such support. Some of these children have come through horrible experiences, and at times a social worker may see fit to ensure that the child or young person is provided with counselling or other mental health supports in advance of the rigorous application process. The social worker may believe it would be unwise and not in the child's best interest to put him or her through numerous interviews and applications while in a vulnerable state. Such actions could cause undue trauma to the child. I emphasise this rigorous application process. Is the decision to delay wrong then? Does it necessarily have a negative impact? The report states that the research has noted that the decision to delay an application may have a negative impact but that this is not necessarily so.

I call Deputy Wallace to make a final comment. I want to fit Deputy Mitchell in with her question.

We know the children cannot get their status before the age of 18. Family reunification is gone; they are generally going into direct provision. We are not saying that everything about the system is wrong, but there are serious problems with it. We know a number of young lads who are waiting for interviews. More resources are probably required. We know there are some good things happening. Senator Colette Kelleher's Bill that was discussed here last Thursday night seeks to strengthen the facility and the mechanism for family reunification, but the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said the Government would not grant it a money message. There must be a more positive approach.

I am deeply appreciative of the Deputy's raising this issue and I acknowledge the incredible contribution he and his colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, have made regarding the concerns of unaccompanied minors who are separated from their families and the changes that have been brought about as a result of their work. I think a process is in place whereby although there may be delays, they do not necessarily negatively impact the child in light of the potential vulnerable situations in which they find themselves and that they are receiving very good care in this context.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Denise Mitchell


17. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of women and children in domestic violence refuges and step-down accommodation in 2018; the number of places in domestic violence refuges; if these refuges are capable of accommodating the level of need; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52297/18]

If Deputy Mitchell asks her question quickly, we will try to get her one part of an answer.

My question is to ask the Minister the number of women and children in domestic refuges and step-down accommodation this year, the number of places in such refuges, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender based violence. It has advised me that its funded services provide data relating to use of services on a retrospective basis. Data relating to the numbers of women and children accommodated during 2018 in specialist emergency domestic violence accommodation will be available in the second quarter of 2019.

Tusla currently provides funding, co-ordination and support to 43 organisations nationally for a range of support services to victims of domestic violence. Some 21 of these organisations provide specialist emergency accommodation for victims, with a total of 155 family units of emergency accommodation - 145 in emergency refuges and ten in safe homes. As Tusla does not directly fund the provision of step-down accommodation, it does not gather data on this area of service provision.

I am advised by Tusla that anecdotal evidence from service providers indicates that the current homelessness crisis is affecting the length of stay of families in refuges. Tusla is concerned about this situation, as am I. In cases where emergency refuges cannot accommodate families, it makes every effort to source safe and suitable alternatives. That may include sourcing accommodation that would typically be used by a homelessness service.

Tusla recognises that there are challenges to be addressed in ensuring that there is an appropriate configuration of spaces available to all women and children who require emergency refuge accommodation, and that those with the greatest need for safe accommodation, are prioritised appropriately.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have secured additional funding of €1.5 million for domestic, sexual and gender based violence services in 2019, bringing the total funding for these services to €25.3 million next year.

It is important that the needs of victims of domestic violence are met in the best way possible, with due attention to the quality, accessibility and outcome of services. I strongly support the work of Tusla and I am committed to supporting the agency in meeting the needs of individuals who experience domestic violence.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.