I thank the Minister for taking the debate on this Topical Issue matter, which has been exercising me for the past five or six weeks. It is time sensitive, given the roll-out of the new childcare scheme.
I will provide some context. I am speaking on behalf of the Carlow Regional Youth Service, CRYS, which provides a great service in Carlow town. Carlow is like most commuter towns and has a population of 20,000 or 25,000 people. Like most towns throughout the country, it also faces challenges. There are very good and middle of the road parts of the town, but there are other parts that can be challenging. This is where the CRYS plays a leading role, in that it ensures that children in difficult areas have futures.
The new childcare scheme is being rolled out on 11 October. While it is welcome in general, it is missing a key element. Childcare is meant to look after kids, in particular vulnerable children. In Carlow town, the CRYS looks after 59 vulnerable children. They are vulnerable in different ways. For example, there could be drug related or other issues that have a knock-on effect. These kids need to be given the same opportunity as everyone else, including us in our time, to progress from primary level education to second and third level education. If the new scheme is implemented as presented, however, such kids will miss out on that opportunity. Its roll-out is concerned with job activation. While that is welcome, the heart of the programme overlooks vulnerable children. I am sure that Carlow town is like other towns in that it has many such children. They need to be given the same opportunity as everyone else.
Will the Minister re-examine the scheme's format? She is engaged in an ongoing review. Unfortunately, the people involved in the CRYS are disappointed about not being asked to make a contribution to that review. They would have played a large part. Maybe other organisations of a similar status were asked to make contributions. Before the Minister makes a final decision, will she engage with the CRYS to determine how the issues can be resolved? It would be unfortunate if vulnerable children were not given the same opportunity as other kids. The CRYS looks after 59 kids from difficult sectors of society. They need to be looked after and given an opportunity to move to second and third level education. If they are not, then they may go the way of other kids from difficult backgrounds.
The scheme in general is welcome and a great deal of extra money has been invested in childcare in recent years. The Minister deserves to be complimented in that regard and on her work, but there is an anomaly in the system that is due to be rolled out in October. If it is not addressed now, the scheme currently operating in Carlow town will have to be closed at the end of July and the kids in question will lose out on a valuable future. Will the Minister address these points in her reply?