Estimates for Public Services 2016: Vote 40 – Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Chairman

We are running a little behind time but, hopefully, as with any good pilot, we will make up some time along the way. I welcome the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and her officials.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

The Department's briefing material and that provided by the committee secretariat have been circulated to members. I call on the Minister to make her opening statement.

I thank the Chairman. I am pleased to join the committee this morning to deal with issues relating to the Estimates for my Department and to discuss my plans for the future in the context of the programme for Government. I welcome the opportunity to brief the committee on the key issues from my perspective.

Before I continue, I wish to extend an invitation to the committee to visit Oberstown Children Detention Campus. I know members have had the opportunity for an exchange with both the chairperson and the director of Oberstown. I hope the committee will agree that, despite recent challenges, we are on the right path. I would be happy to return to this matter later if committee members wish.

I welcome the views of members on their priorities in terms of spending on children and young people. The discussion should be a two-way process and it would be helpful for me to understand the issues members wish to advance. Clearly, with a limited budget, choices must be made.

I will set out a little about the mid-year expenditure. The 2016 provision for my Department's Vote totals €1.117 billion. This is made up of €1.088 billion in current funding and €29 million in capital. The composition of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs Vote largely echoes the priority areas we will be discussing today. The largest portion of the allocation, a sum of €679 million, relates to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. The next largest allocation of €344 million relates to early childhood care and education scheme and the other early years schemes. The Vote also contains smaller but no less important allocations that support a variety of programmes and services. These include the youth sector, the Irish Youth Justice Service, research, the young person's policy framework, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

The mid-year expenditure position for the Vote shows an overall variation of €8.41 million ahead of profile. This over-profile position is largely attributable to timing issues, particularly in respect of Tusla. The agency made a significant drawdown of some €24 million in the last days of June, although the transaction was profiled for July expenditure.

At mid-year, the Tusla subhead was showing an expenditure outlay of €4 million below profile. As of the end of September, Tusla is showing an underspend of €1 million. The overall Tusla spend is currently largely on profile and I would expect that the full resource provision will be expended by the end of the year. Any marginal overspend which might occur will be met from within the Vote - this a key message.

The other areas of the Vote continue to show expenditure variations to varying degrees, including some under-profile figures on the child care schemes. Overall, however, I expect that the year-end position will see capacity within the Vote to meet any marginal overspend arising with no requirement for any Supplementary Estimate in 2016.

The expenditure details that I have just outlined set the context for my priorities in the future. Since this Government took office on 6 May, we have been working on a challenging and ambitious agenda of development and reform. I have had the opportunity to visit many services throughout the country, both statutory and non-statutory, and I am struck by the commitment, energy and, indeed, passion of all involved.

I am proud of the part that I played in negotiating A Programme for Partnership Government because of the nature and extent of its commitments about children, young people and families. In all, there are some 32 specific commitments in the programme relating to my Department and I want to make swift progress in as many of them as I possibly can, as early as I can.

The commitments will also inform my Department's statement of strategy for the period 2016-19, which we are working on and hope to finalise by the end of this month. As a framework for the specific commitments, my overall strategic objectives will be about having the right policies, legislation and resources in place to meet the particular needs of children, young people and families; making sure we have the right systems of support for all groups, whether they are vulnerable children in need of intervention by Tusla, systems like Meitheal, the family early intervention supports, child care supports for families throughout the country, or wider supports for children and families generally; supporting children and young people in active learning and participation in society, and taking a look at the systems, such as home-school liaison, school completion, school attendance; looking at policies across Government through the lens of children and young people and working effectively across Government to promote their well-being; addressing inequalities robustly; and critically evaluating our performance, and taking decisions informed by the best available evidence and research. I was delighted to hear about the recent outcomes and outputs of the Growing Up in Ireland survey and the Better Outcomes, Brighter Future consortium that I chaired last week. These are my overall strategic objectives, which then translate into a number of tangible priority actions that I want to advance.

One of the biggest contributions we can make as a society to families is to provide high-quality affordable child care. We made some progress recently but I want to do a lot more. I am pleased that the ECCE scheme was extended by an average of 23 extra weeks under budget 2016. This improvement came into effect from 1 September, with additional entry points in January and April next.

In 2017, my major proposal is for a single affordable child care scheme. This will combine a number of existing schemes and, more important, extend the numbers of children and families eligible for subsidised child care over time. My intention is to introduce some form of subsidisation of child care costs for nine to 36-month-old children who are looked after by registered child care providers. This is a key element of the budget negotiations at present.

Of critical concern to me is that we promote and support a constantly developing culture of quality in the sector, to add to what we have achieved in recent times. I recognise the commitment of those working in the sector and want to do all I can to address quality, sustainability and working conditions. Of course, we are not the employers in the sector and cannot set pay rates, but I am conscious of the issues that professionals face and I believe that it is possible over time to take positive steps to help address their concerns. Unless we do this we will not have a sustainable child care system.

I am particularly pleased with the work we have done, in close collaboration with all involved, to put in place the new access and inclusion model, AIM. From the feedback I have received, I believe the new AIM model is having a positive impact and will continue to make a real difference. I am delighted that the model was introduced on schedule and that take-up of various elements is increasing.

At my request, Tusla has maintained its emphasis on implementing a three-year plan to eliminate the list of unallocated cases and to ensure it does not recur. This is the second year of the action plan, and I can assure the committee that it is a high priority for me in budgetary negotiations for next year. Unallocated cases have fallen by 50% since the establishment of Tusla in 2014, and there has been a fall of 25% in such cases since the end of 2015. We need to keep the momentum in order to eliminate the list of cases.

Another key element of the reform programme is the development of a modern ICT system to support social workers. The national child care information system will ensure that every social work department can record the case history of every child, who is the subject of a child protection or welfare concern. This will apply from the point of initial referral to case closure. The system will also have the capacity to facilitate the integration and sharing of information on child protection and welfare cases between Tusla areas. The continued roll-out of the system is a necessity.

A lifelong concern of mine has been the inequality faced by many groups in society. I have committed to a set of important actions in the area of child homelessness as part of the Government’s action plan on housing and homelessness. Of course the overall solution is to prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place and to restore them as quickly as possible to their own accommodation when homelessness arises, but there are a number of practical steps we can take to support those in emergency accommodation, including access to early years services, school completion services and free public transport for school journeys. I will continue to work with my colleagues in government to ensure that we deliver a joined-up set of supports to those who are homeless, and to use pragmatic solutions.

Staying with the theme of inequality, another key concern of mine is addressing child poverty. As with homelessness, this is a personal and human issue which we must combat. The key to this is to work together, through public, private, community and voluntary sectors. We must work with young people, parents and front-line agencies. It is not only about income supports – even though these play a vital role. It is about providing services such as child care. We need to prepare children for school so that they have an equal chance at the opportunities that education provides. I believe that education is key to lifting children out of poverty in the long term. Of course, we have substantial research evidence to back this up. Among the initiatives I want to continue supporting will be the ABC programme, which I will also seek to support in the coming budget.

I am strongly committed to advancing our legislation on adoption. The Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 has passed Second Stage in the Dáil and I look forward to working with all the committee members when we reach Committee Stage, our first Committee Stage together, which has been set for 2 November. I am pleased to say that the adoption (information and tracing) Bill is at an advanced stage of development and I hope to bring it to Government for approval to publish later this month.

The last Dáil enacted an important piece of child protection legislation, namely the Children First Act 2015. We have commenced implementation of some provisions, and I will shortly announce a plan for the phased and structured implementation of all of the remaining sections.

Since becoming Minister, I have visited a number of youth services and projects, and met many young people in the context of a range of initiatives that they have been involved in. I have been hugely impressed by the enthusiasm of our young people, and especially by their confident attitude to what they, and we, as a society, can achieve. In particular, I have enjoyed my discussions with young people on participation in decision-making about issues affecting them.

I have put forward the case during the budgetary process to achieve a favourable increase in funding for youth organisations. In addition, my Department is working on the development of the promised LGBT youth strategy that will encompass education, youth services, mental health and other issues of priority to young people. Also, a lead team is in place in my Department to implement our first ever national youth strategy. While the youth sector may attract less commentary than other areas, it is a key focus for the coming year.

We all want to build better lives for our children and young people and I hope what I have outlined today will go some way towards achieving that. As I said at the outset, I would very much like to hear details of the members' own priorities and suggestions about how we, together, can make this a better country for children and young people.

Chairman

Thank you, Minister. I propose to take questions in two parts, namely, programme A, Child and Family Agency, and programme B, sectoral programmes for children and young people, which includes the ECCE and other early school year programmes.

My officials are Ms Michele Clarke, Mr. Dermot Ryan, Dr. Fergal Lynch and Ms Bernie McNally. They are delighted to join me along with the others behind us.

I thank the Minister for joining us. It is always very good for the Minister to read her statement because she encompasses it all and touches on every aspect of why we are members of these committees. I applaud her for that because she brings energy to it and I love to hear her read her statements. I will repeat what I continually repeat and harp on about. Minus the ICT, are we on target for delivering the programme under capital expenditure? I am back again asking whether we are on target regarding Tusla staff. Do we have the key people to reduce what we already discussed, namely, the 50% in retrospective cases? Do we have the social care network in place to deliver services? When I talk about Tusla and funding, I also have to talk about the family resource centres. Is there funding through the Tusla mechanism to support the family resource centres or is there an increase in the budgetary requirements this year?

I thank the Minister and her officials for coming in. We are dealing with two programmes. The Minister raised a specific issue, namely, the position of children in hotels and the opportunity to provide them with free transport to school, after school care and social activities. It is the right thing to do and I commend her on it. I do not know what programme it is in or whether it is in any programme we are discussing. I do not know where to raise it, but it is important. Is it in place? It was to start at the beginning of October. Is it comprehensive for all children living in hotels? Could the Minister give us some information about how it works and how families can avail of it? It would be very important for people trying to manage their money and give their children an opportunity to live as full and normal a life as possible in a very difficult family situation.

Regarding unallocated cases, the Minister indicated there was an under-profile figure. Could she clarify whether there is adequate funding to deal with the target number for this year? The target is gradually to reduce the number of unallocated cases and the Minister told us the number of allocated cases in July was 5,050. That was fewer than earlier in the year. The 2016 target was for a reduction of 60% in the number of open cases, which would bring the number of unallocated cases to 2,700. Is the target being monitored on a very regular basis and can the Minister give us information as to how it is progressing? Can the Minister indicate whether there are concerns regarding the availability of social workers? We got some information about a relatively small percentage of children who are in private foster case and there has been a concern about the cost of private care. Could the Minister clarify whether she is monitoring it and the outcomes, and whether there are plans. I presume private care is used only where no other kind of care is available. Is the Minister monitoring it in terms of why care by private companies is more expensive than regular foster care?

Gabhaim buíochas roimh an Aire agus an foireann. I welcome the Minister. She was recently in Knocknaheeny, boxing with some of the local people in Cork's north side. Would she speak with the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, about the centre of excellence for boxing on Cork's north side? The children she was talking to would be very grateful. Regarding the Minister's statement, it is very welcome that we will take Committee Stage of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 on 2 November and that we will also have a draft of the adoption (information and tracing) Bill soon. Deputies Anne Rabbitte and Jan O'Sullivan and other Deputies and Senators raised it previously. Is it possible that the legislative provisions in the adoption (information and tracing) Bill might be considered as Government amendments or amendments generally to the Adoption (Amendment) Bill when it comes before us on Committee Stage? They could be dealt with more quickly and comprehensively as a single piece of legislation at that juncture.

By the end of 2017, there is to be a reduction from 20% to 15% in unallocated cases, if the targets are met, but that still leaves 2,700 unallocated cases. Is it ambitious enough? Some 999 of the unallocated cases in June were high priority. Do we have a sense of the proportion of the remaining cases that will be high priority? I previously raised the issue that the Adoption (Amendment) Bill, when enacted, is likely to result in an increased demand for the services of the Adoption Authority, with foster parents seeking to regularise situations. Does the Department intend to increase funding for the Adoption Authority and to what extent?

I thank everyone. It is great to have the questions. I will start with Deputy Anne Rabbitte's questions and my answers may cut across similar questions from the other Deputies. The capital expenditure by Tusla, including on ICT, is on target. Tusla is working on a comprehensive ICT strategy, which I expect to receive shortly. Progress on the national child care information system is slightly behind schedule but it is progressing. My officials are working closely with Tusla to drive the development. I have met the chairman and the CEO recently and stressed the importance of ICT as a key aspect to promotion for a modern child care protection service. I feel encouraged and supported by the Deputy's interest in it to drive this priority.

The Deputy asked about staff recruitment in Tusla. The Deputy will be aware that Tusla is extremely proactive in its recruitment.

At the end of August 2016, Tusla had 3,570 whole-time equivalent staff employed compared with 3,460 at the end of December 2015. Its number of full-time equivalent staff has increased by 110, in effect, as a result of recruitment. Tusla is engaged in a three-year plan to address human resource deficiencies across its multidisciplinary workforce of social workers and others. As part of the process of recruiting that multidisciplinary workforce Tusla has more than 70 recruitment campaigns going on. It is dealing with in excess of 1,500 applicants for various roles across the organisation and it has completed 650 interviews to date. Like many Deputies, I am particularly interested in what is going on with the recruitment of social workers. If Tusla is to meet its target of having 1,570 whole-time equivalent staff in this area by the end of 2016, it will have to recruit approximately 150 more social workers by the end of the year.

That is where I was coming from. I thought we had a target for the end of the year. I thought we were aiming to achieve 248 or 250.

I want to know whether we are on target to achieve that number.

We need another 150. A total of 248 social work graduates were recently put on a panel and 69 of them have been offered posts. I have a lot more detail in that regard if the Deputy would like it. In response to the focus of her question, I was trying to describe the various campaigns that are ongoing to recruit the diversity of staff that will be required by Tusla.

I might come back to the question about the family resource agencies in a moment. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked about the position of children in emergency accommodation and the things I have identified in that regard. I think she is aware that a section of the housing and homelessness action plan specifically identifies measures that are to be implemented for children while they are in emergency accommodation. For example, school transport is a key aspect of those measures. As the Deputy knows, children and families can be housed in emergency accommodation that is some distance from their schools. The first thing to say is that the provision of school transport for children who are homeless is being administered through the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. It will come out of that budget. I assure the committee that 24-hour, five-day passes will be issued to families before the bank holiday weekend. Leap cards are being organised for children and accompanying adults. That will be done by the end of this month. This will benefit children and families that already use public transport. That relates back to the transport issue we discussed earlier.

At a very early stage of our negotiations regarding children in homeless emergency accommodation, we found money within the Tusla budget to support two additional child support workers who work with Focus Ireland and other front-line agencies. We are looking for an additional number of child support workers as part of the budgetary and Estimates process. We hope we can get them. We are developing a specific scheme to ensure child care supports like the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme are available to children who are in homeless or emergency accommodation. Perhaps Ms McNally can confirm whether we are doing that right now.

Ms Bernie McNally

We will be doing it before the end of the year. The community child care subvention programme is going to be extended to such children as well. As a result, they will have more eligibility than other low-income children.

Members will be aware that the Estimates process is continuing. In that context, we have identified a certain figure that we are looking for to support the implementation of the various initiatives that come out of our budget. We are working across Government in terms of some of the other commitments.

I have answered Deputy O'Sullivan's question about social workers, so I will move on to the issue of foster care costs. Approximately 6% of children in foster care are placed in private companies. The cost of Tusla foster care does not include the cost of social work time, as well as other types of supports. I think it is important to acknowledge that the cost of private care often includes the cost of other supports provided to children who have special needs. I refer, for example, to the cost of psychologists and other therapists. I ask my official, Ms Clarke, to address this specific question further.

Ms Michele Clarke

The key issue to bear in mind when the cost of private care is compared with the cost of Tusla care is that the Tusla cost does not include costs associated with social workers' time and salaries, assessments, link workers and supports to families. By comparison, the private companies' costs cover everything they provide. For that reason, it can appear that private care costs much more than Tusla care. In fact, that ratio would not be correct. I should also mention that Tusla sometimes identifies private foster care as an appropriate placement for a child with very special needs. In some cases, companies are able to surround some children with supports that might not be available to those children in the general population of foster care. There is no doubt that private care has also been used when shortages have emerged. The social workers who are being recruited will not all be sent into child protection, as some of them will go into backfilling the foster care teams that have become depleted. This will allow Tusla to recruit, train and support its own foster carers. That is part of Tusla's plan.

I think the cost is under review as well.

Ms Michele Clarke

Yes.

I thank Ms Clarke. I will answer the question that was asked about family resource centres before I respond to Deputy Ó Laoghaire. We are very much aware of the need for financial support. I suppose that is an aspect of the budget negotiations we are in the middle of.

The lead-in to my question was-----

Chairman

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to conclude.

It is fine. Deputy Rabbitte can go ahead.

My question related to the need to get increased funding for counselling through the 109 family resource centres that are dotted throughout the country. My question was coming from that angle.

I hope the information I have provided has been of assistance to the Deputy.

Okay. Deputy Ó Laoghaire asked about adoption legislation. I know Deputy O'Sullivan and all the members of the committee have an interest in this. I remind them that the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 was the first Bill to be brought into this Dáil for Second Stage debate. At that time, it may have seemed like we would have a long wait for the publication of the adoption (information and tracing) Bill. I worked extremely closely with the officials in my Department and the Office of the Attorney General to make the information and tracing Bill a priority. As a result, we are now in a position to say the Bill will be published this month. That is the first thing I want to say in response to the question Deputy Ó Laoghaire asked earlier. We are now in a different place in terms of timing. We might have to approach the issue differently if we were not so close to publication.

It is important to mention that as members are aware, both Bills deal with different although related issues. The information and tracing Bill contains a significant scheme that will help adopted people to trace their origins. I do not think the provisions of that Bill could or should be taken merely as amendments to the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 itself. It is too long and too important for that. A great deal of work will remain to be done as part of this process even after the information and tracing Bill is published. I looking forward to teasing out the provisions of the Bill and any amendments that may be proposed to it with the members of this committee. As I have said, I am committed to publishing it as quickly as possible.

It will be published before the end of this month. From a legislative perspective, it would probably do more justice to that second, more extensive complicated Bill, for which we have been waiting for so long, to keep them separate.

On unallocated cases, as we are all aware, Tusla has set a target to reduce the number of cases by 60% by the end of 2016. The target is set but demand can go up and down. That influences the way the target can ultimately be met. That is why is it is important to take a look at the issue of how it is we are moving towards that target, even with the ways in which more people come into the system. For example, a case needs to be opened and it is either allocated or not allocated. More social workers are being recruited but, at the same time, the demand issue impacts the target. With all of that, Tusla identified a 60% reduction with confidence. There has been an ongoing downward trend, regardless of all the dynamism that is going on from Tusla’s perspective in terms of the reduction of the number of unallocated cases. Between January and the end of July, it went down by 25%. Since the establishment of Tusla on January 2014, the number of unallocated cases has decreased by 48%. The trend is downward, no matter which way one looks at the figures.

Ms Michele Clarke

By way of background, it is important to point out that of the over 700 cases currently listed as high priority, they comprise three different categories of children. The first is those children coming to Tusla for the first time, unknown to the agency, and who are waiting for a first assessment. The second group is children who are already in the system. They may be well known and may have been receiving a service for quite a period but perhaps their social worker has left. Accordingly, while awaiting a replacement, they become a high-priority unallocated case. The third are children in care who obviously are known to Tusla but, again, where their social worker has left.

There are three different categories. Immediate and urgent cases are always dealt with immediately. There is no case of an urgent immediate concern about a child which is not picked up within 24 hours.

This is cases where the child is at risk.

Ms Michele Clarke

Yes, or where the Garda is involved, abandonment, a risk of or a declaration of sexual abuse.

When children are on the unallocated high-priority list, they are on the duty social work team’s list. This team will have done an initial preliminary look at the issues, the cases and the background. They may have met the family or the child and gotten as much information as possible. On that basis, the team would have continued to monitor the case. It could be a telephone call, a visit or checking with a teacher or a nurse, who has seen the child, to see if the child’s situation is changing or is becoming less at a risk. There could be a case where a grandmother moves in and becomes protective in the child’s life. It is a very dynamic list in that way.

That is not to say, however, that Tusla is not keen to have allocated social workers for all of their cases and are working towards that. When we get into the bulk of the other cases, some of the cases in the low priority are those scheduled to need a family support service. The question, again, of increasing community supports will remove those families from this list. It is important to understand that once an assessment is done, it does not mean the case is closed. Social workers are engaged with thousands of children who are not in care and who are not waiting. They are working with their families and the children directly to ensure their situation is safe.

We are seeking some additional support in the budgetary process for the Adoption Authority.

I thank the Minister for attending the committee today. There is a delay in the registration process for social workers with their approved professional body. Will the Minister comment on that? Has she met with them to get the finger out and go through the registration process a little faster?

Children are being born into homelessness. The latest figures show there are 2,300 children in emergency accommodation. That is one in every three people in emergency accommodation. There is also the hidden homeless such as those couch-surfing or borrowing space in sheds. From meetings in constituencies over the past several years and having worked as a mental health nurse, I have watched seven and nine-year old children in emergency accommodation regress in their development and become more infantile. Some have become doubly incontinent and started sucking their thumbs, for example. Their development is stunted and this a time bomb for their mental health in the making. Is there any planned research to see how these children’s mental capacity, as well as their mental and emotional well-being, is affected?

It was good to hear the Minister welcoming a dialogue between Deputies and Senators. It is important she hears what the issues are at ground level.

One issue which deeply concerns me, one which I will be focusing on for the next year, is mental health for children and adolescents. It is quite obvious that child psychiatry is dying. We often talk about waiting lists for CAMHS, child and adolescent mental health services, or children looking for assessment. Many of these children have serious issues such as eating disorders or suicidal ideation. Not only are they quite serious issues, they are life-threatening ones.

When the Taoiseach spoke to the Seanad for two hours last week, not once did he mention mental health. It was all about Brexit and the relationship between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Once again, mental health is the poor cousin. Every Government has ignored the issues which concern mental health. When I say child psychiatry is dying, I literally mean it. We have assessment teams which are unable to assess because there is no psychiatrist in place. The main problem is that our graduates are facing a salary which is half what it would be elsewhere in the world while working double the time. No wonder we have nobody to replace psychiatrists who are leaving the system.

We can talk about this forever. We can talk about bringing budgets and including more moneys into salaries. The people are not there, however, to do that because they are not interested. We do not make it an attractive country in which to work in psychiatry.

I believe unused moneys are returned to the Department each year. Will there be moneys returned this year? If so, how much? Can we use these moneys to come up with an immediate reactionary action plan to deal with these child psychiatry waiting lists and to look at the potential of PICUs, psychiatric intensive care units?

This is something to which I will dedicate my time here. I will continue to talk about this until somebody eventually listens. I hope the Minister might be that person.

Chairman

I thank the Senator. I have a question. Is there such a thing as unallocated social workers for children in care? Does every child in care have a social worker or are there still unallocated workers for such children? I realise that children in care will have different levels of need for social workers. Some children could be in care for up to six or seven years or from birth and might not have any requirement for a social worker if there is no access and the birth parent is not involved. Where a teenager comes into care, however, there could be massive demands. The allocated social workers figure is a raw crude figure that we can get hung up on, but I am more concerned that the services which the social workers are trying to access for the children are available. Ultimately, the social worker is an intermediary trying to get intervention for the child in care. Children in care have major issues with and have been traumatised by abandonment, the loss of parental influence, rejection and so forth. There is a vicious cycle for them as they grow up in care, go out into the world and try to deal with all of that. We have failed to invest adequately in the type of therapies that are required by these children. Is there a promise in the Minister's budget for the coming year to increase that and to ensure that Tusla will become more proactive in this area as opposed to reactive, particularly with regard to interventions for teenagers in care?

I thank members for their questions. Senator Devine's first question referred to the fact that delays are being experienced by some graduates in registering with CORU, the registration body, which would put them in a position to get a job. I am aware of and concerned about that. A successful candidate awaiting registration may be offered a three-month temporary contract as a project worker. That is not a full solution, but it is one action that has been put in place. Tusla is also assisting candidates on the panels with their applications for registration. That said, representatives of Tusla met recently with those of CORU and there is ongoing engagement with them. Tusla is working with graduates to ensure that they will have all of their paperwork in order. I have also met with some of my constituents who are experiencing difficulties due to the delays. I am aware of this concern and Tusla is proactively addressing it. However, it is important that proper checks and Garda vetting are in place. At the same time, there may be room for improvement. I am heartened that Tusla is conducting that ongoing engagement. However, I will raise the matter with it again.

With regard to her question about children in emergency accommodation who are homeless and children being born into homelessness, the Senator articulated the issue very well. It is very upsetting to be aware of that and to see it happening in some instances. It is important to offer that type of commentary so we all stay focused and motivated to ensure that the target set by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, that within a year we will not be dependent on emergency accommodation for children and families who are homeless, is achieved. It is a very ambitious target and I have offered him my personal support and interest with regard to any other measures which must be in place for that target to be met. This is not the setting to outline all the issues he has identified in the plan to ensure we will no longer be dependent on emergency accommodation, but it is really important that the target was set.

My second response to the Senator's remarks in that regard is that of course any day, week or month a child spends in that situation has the potential to impact them negatively, and undoubtedly is impacting upon them negatively. My primary concern, knowing the context or limitations of my Department, was whether there was something we could do. Initially we talked about trying to see if there was any way in which we could normalise or bring some sense of normality or ease to the children's days and experiences while they were in that situation. The measures we identified and are putting in place are specifically geared towards minimising the negative impact of their time being homeless or in emergency accommodation. There is the short-term target to end our dependency on emergency accommodation for children and families and then there is the immediate set of measures to mitigate the impact of the negative effect of that. The Senator's question about research on the ways in which they have been impacted is a good one. It is something we could consider.

I thank Senator Freeman for her extraordinary commitment to and tenacity in respect of the issue of mental health in general and especially for children and young people and for her effectiveness in working in that arena. I will make a few comments and my departmental officials might wish to comment as well. With regard to young people and mental health, the Senator will be aware that a task force has been established and we will play an active role with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, in that. One of my commitments as Minister with responsibility for children is to ensure that a child's lens is brought across Government Departments, so that there is a focus on children even though I do not have control on many things directly in my Ministry. We will feed into that process extensively.

The Senator will also be aware that the Department's Vote supports youth organisations. I have met with a number of them. As I travelled throughout the country, I specifically wanted to meet organisations that are working with young people who are challenged by mental health issues. That this is growing, especially for young people as distinct from it occurring later on in life, and all the reasons for that, is deeply upsetting. To the extent that I have direct responsibility, that is one of the key motivating factors for me to seek some increases in supports for the youth organisations that work specifically on mental health issues. The Senator and others will be aware that there were significant cuts to youth organisations over the last number of years, so we are seeking to reverse them.

The Senator asked about the people who are working in this field and said that this might not be an attractive country in which to work in that context. Indeed, and that is disturbing too. All Ministers must take account of that. It is not unlike the area of social work, which we have discussed a great deal. One of the matters I have been examining with my Department is how to ensure that more social workers are trained and that there is a growth in places at third level so that the demand is met. More recently we have been having conversations relating to social care workers, particularly in the context of being trained for working in settings such as Oberstown. In the long term, perhaps we must look at how our social care graduates are being trained specifically for jobs within those settings and, in the context of that training, ways in which - at third level or in our engagement with young people - we might make it more attractive. I hear the Senator's concern.

I will bring that question to the attention of my other colleagues because it is an excellent one.

Senator Freeman asked about unused money in my budget. There is never any money returned to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs by Tusla. There was a Supplementary Estimate in the Department's Vote in 2015. I referred in my opening remarks to how their eyes and ours are on the ball in order that if it appears there will be additional money within a certain aspect of the Vote, there will be ways to ensure it is used. There are great needs emerging beyond what we budget and the moneys will be spent.

I will move on to the questions asked by the Chairman, Deputy Jim Daly, who has an ongoing interest in this area and has shown commitment and generosity. On the question about children in care being allocated a social worker, Tusla has prioritised all new children coming into care, particularly those with a disability or mental health problem. The percentage of children who do not have a social worker is-----

Ms Michele Clarke

The percentage of children who do not have a social worker is 5%.

The figure is quite low across the board; 5% do not have a social worker but we need to bring that down to 0%. It is important to identify that.

The second aspect of the Chairman's question referred to the services that need to be accessed for children even if there is a social worker and he or she is effective and meets with the child regularly. I am aware of all the challenges in that regard. It is the role of the social worker to ensure there is access to services. The Chairman wrote to the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, about this issue asking to meet him and asking about the possibility of setting up a group to deal with the issue. It is a good suggestion. Does Ms Clarke want to say anything about that? It is a key problem.

Chairman

Before Ms Clarke comes in, I will stress where I am coming from. Budget time is an appropriate time to look at the emphasis we put on proactive measures as opposed to reactive ones. Are we managing to break the cycle of children coming into care? Often, they go in the circle of being cared for day to day, going out into the real world and having their own children who in turn go into care. They have many difficulties and challenges in their lives and that poses ongoing challenges. From a budgetary point of view, are we evaluating where our spend is and the bang for buck we are getting?

I will ask Mr. Dermot Ryan or Ms Michele Clarke to respond.

Ms Michele Clarke

I thank the Chairman. His question on whether we are helping children who come into care and how they can live their lives afterwards is important. The reports we hear about tend to be when something has gone wrong. We are gathering information to look at the overall welfare of children at the end. Some 55% of children over 18 who were in care are continuing in education and training and 45% continue to live with their former foster carers as young adults in care. Our stability rates for children in placements are much better than our neighbours in the UK. It is a crude measure but less than 3% of children have more than three placements in a year whereas the figure in the UK is around 10% and 11%. These are crude measures but they tell us something about the majority of children. It is not to say we should ignore the challenges faced by children who come into care very damaged by their earlier experiences or who have not been able to settle and so have had poor experiences. Those are the children who need therapy, play therapy, counselling and support. Those are the foster care families who need support to hold those children in placements. We are looking at measures in the overall system, while also focusing on the children with particular vulnerabilities.

The Minister, Deputy Zappone, has written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, looking for the two Departments to meet to address the issues regarding the oversight of our engagement with children in care, child protection issues, our engagement with the HSE on its services and how we can prioritise the needs of this particular group of children.

That is one specific example of the efforts by me and the Department to ensure improvements in inter-agency co-operation in terms of Tusla and other agencies, which we are aware is a challenging issue. It is important to examine specific settings, arenas and examples of how to do that. This is one area to do that in.

Chairman

Will the Minister update the committee after the meeting with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, so we can see how it progresses?

Chairman

I will move on to programme B, the sectoral programme for children and young people, and subhead B3, early childhood care and education, which is the ECCE free pre-school year programme. Do members have any questions on this programme?

Just before I go onto programme B, I will comment on the previous programme although I do not expect a response. It is important that the Department and Tusla open up a better line of communication with some of the homeless services run by the local authorities. I have come across a number of constituents who have been very concerned about registering as homeless because of the fear they might not be accommodated particularly in the case of single parent families with a male parent because there are so many family facilities that do not admit men. It is something that needs to be taken on board and a line of communication opened up.

Ms Michele Clarke

We will note that.

On the programme itself, I note the Minister's comments regarding child care professionals and the need to value their commitment and professional development. It is vitally important. What does the Minister intend to do to ensure they achieve appropriate pay and ensure their conditions are improved? Is consideration being given to extending the ECCE programme beyond 38 weeks? It is an issue that an awful lot of child care professionals have to register with the Department of Social Protection during the summer and it needs to be tackled very urgently. I note the detail in the Minister's proposals for additional child care subsidy. I and my party advocate a more universal programme. It is something that needs to be considered. On the proposal for the subsidisation of child care costs for children aged between nine months and 36 months, there is a bit of a gap between when maternity benefit comes to an end and the beginning of that scheme. It is a period of three months. That gap should be bridged to address the costs that would be involved in that. It would make a great deal of difference to people.

There has been fair bit of commentary on the access and inclusion model, AIM. It is a new model and it will take time to establish how effective it is. When will the first evaluation of its effectiveness take place? A lot of people rely on it so it is important to ensure it is effective. Subhead B5 seems to be over profile by quite a considerable amount. Over the course of the remainder of the year, will it be possible to meet the demand within that heading or will additional moneys have to be found under additional heads to ensure it meets its required capacity?

A number of child care providers have expressed concern to me about the inspection regime. There is a great deal of administration involved and pressure on child care facilities in terms of inspection by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills and also by Pobal from an auditing and administration point of view in the community sector in particular. Has much thought been given to how the administrative burden might be reduced and managed?

On the issue of administration and the capacity of child care facilities, has consideration been given to increasing the capitation per child under the ECCE scheme or any scheme? It is something that needs to be looked at in terms of administration, pay and progression of staff.

In her briefing, the Minister referred to the importance of youth as well as childhood. An issue both this and the previous Government have neglected, apart from a successful pilot scheme which seems to have disappeared off the agenda, is the implementation of the Youth Guarantee. I accept this matter falls under the remit of the Department of Social Protection, but the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs needs to work with that Department to get the Youth Guarantee up and running again. Very little progress has been made in this regard and action is desperately needed.

Chairman

I remind members that we must conclude this discussion in the next 20 minutes because we have a number of issues to deal with in private session. With that in mind, I ask members to be as concise as possible in their questioning.

The Minister referred to subsidised care for children aged nine to 36 months. How is she seeking to deliver that? Has she submitted it as one of her requirements in the budget discussions?

In regard to the provision of a second year under the early childhood care and education scheme, I am receiving many calls from parents of children with disabilities who have queries in this regard. Are there are any support mechanisms in place to assist those parents?

I have submitted several parliamentary questions in regard to the community child care subvention programme and the community child care subvention - private scheme. I am unclear as to the exact numbers available in respect of the CCS programme. Is 8,000 the correct figure? Will the Minister also clarify the uptake of the CCSP scheme? My understanding is there are some 1,300 places available under that scheme. A reply I received to a parliamentary question indicated the uptake under the CCS programme was 10,000 under band A, 2,350 under band AJ, and 7,000 under band B. Under the CCSP scheme, meanwhile, uptake was 450 in band A, only 104 in band AJ, and 726 in band B. I am seeking clarity in this regard.

I absolutely agree with the importance of a cross-departmental approach, whether in regard to child mental health, issues around homelessness or any of the other matters we are discussing. The Minister indicated that the delivery in regard to homeless children is not within her Department and, therefore, is dependent on funding in other areas. I am concerned there seems to be a slippage in the timeframe for the delivery of the transport provision. The school year started at the beginning of last month but problems remain. Can the Minister confirm that the 24-hour passes will be delivered before the bank holiday weekend? Given that the programme is being done through the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, does this mean it is not available to homeless children in other parts of the country?

I wish the Minister well in her budgetary discussions in regard to ECCE. The scheme clearly needs more money and I hope she gets it. On the disability programme, there seems to be an underspend of €4.746 million and a below-profile spend on the cost of administration. We all want to see that money being spent. It is a new and very welcome support in respect of which I had discussions with the previous Minister.

I have received a specific query regarding a child who will be three in December and whose parent is trying to register online for the access and inclusion model scheme. Is this programme available only to children of ECCE age, and how does a parent go about accessing it? People need to know about it so they can avail of the support.

I agree with the Minister that the area-based childhood programme is very important. There have been some very good evaluations of the scheme in various places and I understand the Minister is looking to secure that provision for the future. The committee will fully support her in this regard. The programme has made a real difference to the lives of children, particularly where provision begins from birth. The Chairman made the point that early intervention is crucial.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the figures relating to the community child care subvention programme. I understand the 2015 output target was €38,000, with a figure of €33,000 for 2016. Why is the output target lower for this year?

Will the Minister indicate the number of children with disabilities who are currently enrolled in the ECCE scheme? Has the Department projected what the demand will be in this regard into the future? Given there was an underspend in disability funding, will the Minister red-circle that allocation to ensure it is spent? I wish her the best of luck in getting more coppers for her portfolio in the budgetary negotiations.

Early intervention programmes are very important and support children by encouraging interaction with peers, securing the provision of speech therapy or whatever intervention is required, and so on. However, the waiting time for accessing the programmes seems to be seven or eight months. Will the Minister indicate whether that is reducing and if there are plans to put more such programmes into action?

Chairman

I invite the Minister to respond as briefly as possible to members' questions. She may get back to the committee later with any information she does not have today.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire asked about pay, particularly in respect of the ECCE programme, and how the Department is responding in terms of capitation rates and so on. We are aware this is a huge issue. As the Deputy may know, I launched a report, Breaking Point, this week, which highlighted the particular problem in the context of community services and children who are disadvantaged. Our eyes are absolutely focused on this issue and on trying to find the most effective way to ensure there is additional support to safeguard the sustainability of the sector. That translates to better pay and conditions for staff, which, ultimately, is the only way we can ensure our children receive the quality care they deserve. We are aware of all that and are looking at the most effective ways to address the issue of capitation rates. There has been an increase in the higher capitation rate, which Ms McNally might like to explain presently. We are trying to determine the most efficient way to begin to address that concern. I am hoping we can do it somehow, depending on the Estimates.

The Deputy also asked about the eligibility period of nine to 36 months and whether we should offer support sooner than that. As he knows, there is a maternity leave allocation for new mothers and we have just implemented the provision of two weeks of paternity leave. Our medium to long-term aim is that supports will be in place for parents in terms of leave up to the nine months mark. That is not happening yet but is part of the rationale for making this particular public support available for parents of children aged from nine to 36 months.

Several members asked about the access and inclusion model scheme. I agree we need to research its effectiveness.

Obviously, it has only just begun. Certainly, I am sure we intend to do that. Above all, we are aware that different levels of support and a high level of investment are part of this intensive model for including children with disabilities. We expect and hope that, ultimately, over a period of two to three years, there will be a cultural change. We expect this will be inclusive of investing in the workforce as well as particular supports for children at every level to ensure that we can put our supports for children with disability in the mainstream of the early childhood care and education scheme. It is available from 1 September. The issue around not spending as much is going to change now and spending will increase. Since children started enrolling, they have become eligible for the ECCE scheme and they are immediately eligible for AIM. I will answer a number of questions about the ECCE scheme raised by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. The provider should contact the local county child care committee or the Better Start team in Pobal. The details are on the Department's website.

We believe the model is going really well. As I have already indicated, it was rolled out on schedule. There has been an extraordinary take-up of and interest in the different supports being provided as a result of the model, whether they relate to upskilling of the workforce or the link programme. Again, 900 people are enrolled to begin the training. They have to do the training and then come back to the service subsequently. That is why it will take some time for its effectiveness and for the cultural change to materialise.

At a higher level support is part of the model. Effectively we are providing support for what we call an additional pair of hands, for example, for a severely disabled child who has been identified for support. It is important to point out that we are trying to provide some additional money to be paid for someone to work 15 hours per week in order that the preschool leader can be freed up to work with the child. The aim is to ensure specialised support and experience comes from the leader at another level. The support involves a mentor going into the service and working on the spot with questions, problems or issues they may have with some of our children. We have had 800 applications for people to come in to help with the services. A total of 506 site visits have taken place. I am trying to give a little detail on the model because there have been some questions about it. In any event, I am of the view that it has been well thought out and designed. It is on target and is being delivered. We have moneys to continue a full year roll-out.

A question was asked on the over-profile of the B5 subhead. Ms McNally will address that question.

Ms Bernie McNally

I will answer that question as well as Deputy Rabbitte's about the community child care subvention programme provided by private operators. Within our Vote, one small area is looking overspent. We are more than happy that before the end of the year we will be able to manage it within the Vote. That will not be a problem.

Deputy Rabbitte asked about the CCS programme. We rolled the programme out to private services. Approximately 900 community services are already providing the CCS programme. We rolled the programme out to private providers in order that more people could access it. Approximately 750 private providers are now providing the CCS programme, with approximately 1,700 children registered. We would like the figure to grow and it is continuing to do so. There is enough funding available to support further growth in the coming three months. We undertook a major marketing campaign over the summer to try to encourage more families who are eligible to avail of the programme. We expect to see a small continued rise in the programme numbers.

A question was asked about the CCS generally and the number of places released in the budget last year. A total of 3,200 full-time places were funded and approximately 2,300 places have been filled. There is capacity over the remainder of the year to add more children. The single affordable child care scheme that the Minister is seeking to introduce next year will be a far more user-friendly and accessible scheme for parents. More families will be eligible because it will not be linked to social protection benefits and whether people are working as such. We believe we will have greater demand and that will use up all available investment.

Can I ask a further question?

Chairman

Does the Minister have further responses to give? We only have five minutes left.

Chairman

I will make an offer to members. If any of their questions have not been answered, they should give them to the secretariat and we will send them to the Department to be answered. There are only five minutes left in this session. Does the Minister want to try to address as many issues as she can in that time?

A question was asked about the area-based childhood, ABC, programme. We are contractually committed to all of the ABC programme sites until June 2017, and we will fund accordingly. I am seeking money in the budget for a continuation of the programmes until the end of 2017. I am also going to examine closely the results of the evaluations. Evaluations of the ABC programmes are under way with a view to making decisions for the future. I will bring proposals to Government on how best to main-stream the learning in terms of the models of the ABC programmes. Again, it is a matter of investment, the amounts of money available and whether that also could mean an extension of those particular programmes.

We addressed one of the questions raised by Senator Devine on the disability underspend. I do not mind if Deputy Rabbitte comes back in because I know this is a key issue.

Chairman

Senator Devine had another question.

It relates to waiting times for children to access early intervention programmes. Children are waiting seven or eight months, when they need access more immediately.

Ms Bernie McNally

Is Senator Devine referring to the access and inclusion model scheme? Part of the access and inclusion model is about access to therapy services. However, I gather that the waiting list Senator Devine is referring to may fall outside of that. Within the AIM scheme, most therapy posts are now in place. In the case of any early years service that requires therapy input, we believe access is being achieved within a few weeks. It is early days, since this only kicked off on 1 September, but we believe that those responsible are making contact with the local early intervention teams and getting any critical intervention that is required for children. We are monitoring this closely. We have an implementation group in place with a parent representative on it, etc. We will continue to monitor the position.

Chairman

Does Deputy Rabbitte wish to ask a further question?

The figure for the CCS programme is 3,200. Is that the number of places available?

Ms Bernie McNally

No, they were the additional places funded in last year's budget.

What is the exact number? Is it 8,000 or 8,000 plus 3,200?

Ms Bernie McNally

The 8,000 figure represents part-time users. Most children who use CCS do not use it on a full-time basis. If every child used it on a full-time basis we would only have 3,200 places. On average, we have approximately 8,000 places. Of the 3,200 full-time places we have filled approximately 2,300. In other words, two thirds of the additional places funded in the budget have been filled.

How does that square with the question I asked about the figures for the number of places funded under the community child care prevention programme? The 2015 output was 38,000 and the 2016 output is-----

Ms Bernie McNally

That is the total number. The 8,000 we spoke of relates to additional places funded in last year's budget. However, approximately 25,000 places were already funded.

Chairman

They were part of the previous scheme run in 2015.

It is a complicated question and a complicated and difficult scheme. That is one of the primary reasons we are working carefully and diligently to ensure we have a new one.

Chairman

If any questions from members were not answered, they can forward them to the committee secretariat. The secretariat will send them to the Department to get them answered. We will then put them up with the minutes of the next meeting. I am going to have to move on because we had a longer, more extensive and robust engagement with the management of Oberstown earlier, and that is why we ran over. We have some private business to get through as well before we finish at 12 noon. We had hoped to discuss the strategy. In any event, the strategy has been circulated to all members. Again, if any members wish to make an input to the Minister directly, then can do so.

I thank the Minister and her officials for their time. I also thank the Minister for her commitment to transparency in the process and for giving us as much information by way of what she sent to us ahead of time. I thank her for the answers she provided as well. It is much appreciated by all of the members of the committee that she is endeavouring to be as open, transparent and helpful as possible. I thank her for her time and I wish her every good luck with the budget negotiations.