Children and Youth Issues: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

I thank members for their participation in this morning's meeting. We passed on Deputy Sandra McLellan's apologies for the first part of the meeting and Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has asked us to convey his apologies for the second part.

The second session is a meeting with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, who is joined from the Department by Ms Michelle Clarke, principal officer; Mr. Dermot Ryan, assistant secretary; Dr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General; and Ms Bernie McNally, assistant secretary. I am tempted to say "Hola" to the Minister, but I had better not. I welcome him back.

That had something of a Corkonian inflection.

Dr. Lynch intimated to me before the meeting that there was a clash in the schedule and we have facilitated a change, but he will have to leave us at approximately 3.30 p.m. Members have been given a copy of the Minister's speech and the questions for the quarterly meeting have been given out.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice and rulings of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin made reference to the Minister's reply to our letter about the Oberstown centre. We will come back to that issue later on as part of our discussion.

I am very glad to be here to update the joint committee on the work of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs since we last met in July. The committee has considered a number of issues relevant to my Department since. I thank members for the keen interest shown and the added value they have brought to the process.

I would like to summarise the significant progress made on my Department's legislative programme and outline a couple of issues which I hope to progress during the remaining term of the Government.

The draft heads and general scheme of the Adoption Information and Tracing Bill were published in July. I received the report on the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposals last month and I am very grateful for the thorough and expeditious manner in which it carried out this work. The report is being given very careful consideration and I have no doubt that it will make a valuable contribution to finalising this important legislation, on which I hope to consult shortly with the Attorney General and then to revert to the Government for permission to draft the Bill.

Just last week, the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 passed its final Stages. It provides, for the first time, for a legal right to an aftercare plan. I believe this legislation will be important in ensuring appropriate planning is taking place to ensure better outcomes, particularly for the most vulnerable of young people leaving care. We also recently enacted the Children First Bill and I am now keen to progress commencing sections of the Bill at the earliest opportunity, starting with the provisions that remove the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in cases of corporal punishment. As I signed that instrument this afternoon, as of tonight, that defence will no longer be available.

On the Oberstown centre, the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 was enacted in July. It provides for a range of matters in relation to children's detention, including ending permanently the practice of accommodating children in adult prisons. The full transfer of responsibility for all 17 year olds, including those on committal, will come into force as early as possible in 2016 on completion of a programme of recruitment of care staff that is under way. I wrote to the committee on 7 December with a detailed update and response to a range of questions it had posed. My officials are working with stakeholders to develop a consultation process with children around the Gender Recognition Act, while I have signed regulations on entries in the register of intercountry adoptions. We have an excellent group of individuals in the Department's participation unit who are organising this work which has to be treated with tremendous sensitivity because these are very vulnerable children and young people. We want to know what their opinions are, but we need to be prepared for any eventuality arising from their telling of their stories.

I recently announced significant additional funding for children and families in budget 2016. Next year my Department will have gross funding of €1.137 billion, an increase of €117.4 million, or 11.4%, on this year's allocation. There are two major elements to the increase: a €345 million allocation for child care, increasing the budget in this area by one third, alongside substantially increased resources for Tusla, putting the agency on a firm financial footing. The youth sector will also benefit from additional resources next year. Tusla’s financial sustainability is further bolstered by the Supplementary Estimate of €15 million for the Vote of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2015. These additional funds, with savings in other areas, will enable Tusla to deal with some legacy issues alongside current cost pressures. This very significant allocation of additional funds to my Department is testament to the commitment the Government has demonstrated to reforming and improving services for children and families. We are investing additional funds strategically during the early years and bringing a much stronger focus on intervening early to prevent problems arising or escalating in order that Ireland will become a better and safer place in which to grow up.

In July, I published the report of the interdepartmental group on future investment in child care, which identifies a framework for developing affordable, high-quality and accessible child care. The group's work was informed by evidence and best practice, alongside extensive consultation with stakeholders, including parents and child care providers. The Government took the first steps to implementing that roadmap in budget 2016.

By increasing the child care budget in my Department by a third, budget 2016 will provide for a number of important improvements. From September 2016, every child will be entitled to free preschool care from age three until they start primary school or up to age five and a half. To ensure children can benefit as early as possible, they will be able to join free preschool at three different points in the year rather than at one at present. In line with that development, I have announced €17 million in funding for a new model of supports for children with disabilities in mainstream preschools in order that all children can benefit from high-quality preschooling. The new model offers seven different levels of support, based on each child's needs. About 7,500 children are expected to benefit in a full year. As a father who had a child who overcame great challenges with disability, I believe this is a very important measure and one of which I am particularly proud.

I have announced funding to increase the availability of affordable child care by providing an extra 8,000 places under the community child care subvention scheme. For the first time, these places will also be available to private child care providers in order that more parents have access to more affordable child care. We are also working on the development of an affordable child care programme – a single subsidy to replace the confusing and sometimes inefficient array of targeted subsidies currently in place. We know they are confusing because in some areas the uptake is not what it should be. I have provided capital funding to incentivise the greater provision of after-school care options on school premises. These measures, while not a comprehensive solution in and of themselves, represent a concrete step towards the high-quality, affordable and accessible child care we want for our children at every stage of their development.

Reforming child and family services has been a high priority of the Government. Tusla is less than two years in existence but I believe we have made good progress during that time. For 2016, I have been able to increase Tusla's budgetary allocation by €38 million, which is an increase of over 5%. These additional resources for 2015 build on the extra €28 million in current funding and €5.5 million in capital funding that I secured for Tusla in budget 2015. I believe that, effectively managed, the agency now has the level of base funding needed to put its services on a sustainable footing and, critically, to address particular areas of identified need and risk.

The 2016 provision includes development funding to support additional services, especially those targeting areas of unmet need and risk. As with committee members, I was deeply concerned about the number of children in respect of whom there were concerns about welfare or child protection or both who did not have an allocated social worker. I asked Tusla to carry out an audit of such cases nationally and to develop a business case on how to address the problem. The additional funding allocated to Tusla will allow the agency to recruit around 400 extra staff next year, including social workers and essential support staff, to progress the solution to this very troubling issue. In addition, I am funding a national out-of-hours social service to support An Garda Síochána, a dedicated intervention team for urgent cases, the implementation of the Istanbul convention on violence against women and domestic violence, and improvements to Tusla's organisational structure. On 20 November, I issued a performance statement to Tusla setting out my priorities for 2016. I met Tusla's board on 27 November to urge it to continue the strong progress made over the past two years and to assure it of my continued support for its endeavours. Under the legislation, Tusla's business plan for 2016 is due by 20 December, which is in ten days.

In October, I published Ireland's first national youth strategy, setting out the Government's plan to ensure young people achieve the five high-level outcomes set out in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, namely, that they are active and healthy, achieving, safe, economically secure, and connected and respected. The strategy was based on extensive consultation, including with approximately 4,000 young people. This is an important milestone. With collective effort, implementing this strategy will help more young people to flourish and reach their potential.

I announced a youth employability initiative designed to meet the needs of young people who are not in education, employment or training, NEETs, and who are most at risk of long-term unemployment. The initiative is intended to support innovation in addressing the needs of these young people, particularly by developing relevant skills and competencies. The €600,000 available for the initiative in 2016 should benefit an estimated 200 to 300 young people.

I had the pleasure of attending the Dáil na nÓg event in Croke Park along with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, at the end of November. When I attend events such as this, it gives me a great sense of encouragement for the future to see and feel the energy and fresh thinking our young people bring. I was able to inform the assembled group that, from this year onwards, whatever Department is responsible for the topic under discussion in future sessions of Dáil na nÓg will have its Minister in attendance and will support the work of the Comhairle na nÓg national executive. This is the part of the mechanism to support Comhairle na nÓg and is a significant change in the way decisions made by young people at Dáil na nÓg will be progressed. It recognises the importance of listening to young people and acting on what they say. Everybody involved benefited from the session.

At the end of October, I appointed a new board for the Adoption Authority of Ireland. The appointments were made following an open process, fully in accordance with Government guidelines. I was pleased to reappoint Dr. Geoffrey Shannon as chairman. He has worked tirelessly over the past five years to put the authority on a firm footing and has provided effective leadership in a time of change.

I thank the Chairman and the members of this committee for their work in the interest of children and families. We may sometimes have differing views, but that is a reflection of the strong motivation we share, which is that of achieving the best outcomes for children and young people. As we embrace the Christmas season, which is very special for children, it is a good time to reflect on the work done in the year gone by and over the term of the Government. Our combined efforts have served to make Ireland a better place for children and young people. I thank the committee for that.

It may be somewhat premature but I wish everyone a happy and healthy Christmas. I look forward to members' continued support into 2016. Who knows where the road will take us then in our ongoing collective effort to make Ireland the best place to grow up.

I thank the Minister and hope he will not take the road less travelled.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I will try to contribute in the good spirit of the Minister when he concluded his presentation.

Mr. Jeyes was before us this morning and highlighted the alarming issue of the IT support Tusla is receiving from the HSE. I am not in any way criticising the Minister but I believe he needs to intervene. Tusla is receiving support in the region of 0.5% but it needs this to be increased to 5%. Intervention is needed at a very senior level in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health to ensure Tusla is adequately supported with IT. The Minister needs to take this on board and intervene very quickly.

I recently raised with the Minister on Question Time the capacity and expansion of the ECCE scheme, and he said he has commenced a mapping exercise. Will he indicate who will conduct it? When will it be completed and what measures will be introduced to support areas where there is a deficiency in the supply of places? In replying to a parliamentary question of mine last year, the Minister cited capacity of approximately 10,000 spaces. The expansion of the community child care scheme alone, which it must be acknowledged is very welcome, involves an initial 8,000 places. I genuinely fear that with the introduction of the scheme, there will be serious capacity issues in some regions, although I acknowledge there will not be in others. What measures will the Minister take to ensure there are no capacity issues, regardless of location?

The community employees who work in community child care settings can currently form part of the ratio numbers.

I think that is to cease next September and they are still unaware of what supports will be put in place to help them cater for this. I serve on the board of a community child care facility, so I know that without the community employees the facility would not be viable; we would not be able to re-hire our community employee workers as core staff. What plans does the Minister have in place to address this for September 2016?

It is unbelievable that the 2014 independent report by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon has not been published or laid before the Dáil. I was critical of the Minister's predecessor for not publishing the report before the summer recess. The 2015 report will be launched by the Department shortly, yet we have not had an opportunity to discuss the 2014 one. It is an important piece of work, not just for the Minister and his Department, but also for all Members of the Oireachtas, in order to see how we can address and advance the issues of concern raised by the independent rapporteur. Perhaps the Minister can indicate when that matter will come before the Dáil.

We had representatives of Tusla before the joint committee this morning. We still do not have a full complement of social workers. I acknowledge that we have had after care legislation, namely the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, and the Children First Bill, but those will only put added pressure on the number of social workers available. How does the Minister intend to deal with that?

As regards the departmental supplementary budget, last week I asked the Minister to come back with an outline of how much we are spending on legal fees. Today, Tusla said that, in 2014, €38 million was spent on legal fees. It is scandalous when 6,000 child welfare referral files remain unassessed.

I recently met a number of front-line staff working at Oberstown. This committee had staff appearing here before the summer break. We sent a report to the Minister but my information is that things are not getting better, rather they are getting worse. I was given an example of a young resident of Oberstown who held the unit to ransom. Staff were locked up in an office and the inmate, or resident, was wielding a TV bracket as a weapon.

Another young resident took a concoction of illegal substances. Senior management refused to call gardaí for back-up despite a request to do so by paramedics. Is the Minister confident that senior management is engaging sufficiently with front-line personnel at Oberstown? These are serious concerns. I understand that there is a threat of industrial action and a ballot is to be taken within the next two weeks. Greater intervention is needed to provide support to those working at the coalface. One man told me he has been working for 30 years between Oberstown and other similar institutions, yet he never saw it as bad as it is now. When this new campus opened, everyone - regardless of our political persuasion - thought things would get better. None of us thought things would go into reverse. The Minister should inform us how he intends to intervene there.

What official protocols are in place to deal with the child and adolescent mental health services, or CAMHS? Recent figures concerning the length of time teenagers are awaiting psychological assessment are worrying. While it is not under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, surely there is an official protocol for dealing with this matter.

On a positive note, I compliment the Minister for introducing the special educational fund for children with disabilities who are attending the pre-school service. It is possibly the best piece of good news announced in his Department's budget. I have been highlighting the matter for a number of years, so I hope it will be quickly rolled out.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their presentations.

I am sorry to interrupt Deputy McLellan, but I wish to welcome Mr. Alan Savage to this meeting. I did not have his name earlier, so I apologise for not mentioning him. He is very welcome.

It has been a busy year. I acknowledge that a lot of good work has been done, in addition to a lot of good legislation being passed. Last week, we dealt with the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, which is very welcome. My only concern is that we need to provide resources to ensure that the after-care plans are implemented. I also welcome the Children First Bill. Senator van Turnhout got her amendment passed to remove the common law defence of "reasonable chastisement" in cases of corporal punishment, which is most welcome.

The adoption (tracing) Bill is progressing but will it come before the Houses before the end of this Dáil? Other welcome matters include the additional €17 million for children with disabilities, as well as extra budgetary funding for child care, particularly the second free pre-school year. My only concern is over capacity, an issue that has already been raised by Deputy Troy. There are concerns that sufficient places will not be available in certain areas around the country. Can the Minister guarantee that every child will be able to avail of a place for both years? Perhaps he cannot do so.

The question of social workers is of huge concern. I acknowledge the additional funding for 400 extra staff but can the Minister tell us how many of those will be social workers? I thank the Minister for his responses to questions I have tabled. As regards the answer to Question No. 7, it prompted another question about the Youth Work Act 2001. Does the Minister have any plans to review that legislation? It is now 14 years old and our economic and social situations have changed significantly since then.

Question No. 8 concerned refugee children. While the Minister's reply is reassuring, the question referred to all refugee children and not just those who are separated from their parents. I know that in future we will be taking children in from war-torn areas. All those children should be supported and funding should be made available regardless of whether they are separated from their parents.

I wanted to raise an issue with Tusla this morning but unfortunately I was not able to attend the meeting. Perhaps the Minister could indulge me in regard to one or two minor concerns I have. The first one is about reporting historical abuse cases and trying to get acknowledgements from Tusla with regard to receipt of queries, which we need.

There is a problem chasing it up. It can take up to two months even to get an acknowledgement. We are only reporting it - they are historical abuse cases - and we need to file that. It is something we are not working on, rather we are just waiting for the reply. It should be acknowledged as soon as it is received.

My office wrote to Tusla about an issue in September. When we did not hear anything back, we followed up with a phone call. It was actually my secretarial assistant who got on to a duty social worker. She stated that they did not take representations from Deputies and that they were only treated the same as any concerned citizen. She said an e-mail was not sufficient and that we would have to write to them. My secretary printed off the e-mail and posted it.

That came from who?

That is what I thought.

It was a duty social worker who stated this when my secretary outlined the situation, which was just that we needed a referral to CAHMS for a child. Due to behavioural issues, he was only receiving two hours of school per day. It was a significant issue and he needed a referral. While the truancy officer is working with the family, he has not to date - this happened in September - got a referral to CAHMS. Following the posting of the letter, it still took nearly three months for Tusla to acknowledge it. There has still been no referral or contact with the family. It is something I wanted to highlight this morning to the Minister but did not have the opportunity to do so earlier. It is difficult to get acknowledgements let alone to have anything processed or progressed. During that conversation, the duty social worker said that a GP was the only person who could make a referral for the child. It was pointed out that it states on the website that, in certain circumstances, a social worker can make it. My secretary was told that the website was wrong. I just wanted to make that point.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. It is very fitting that he has signed the commencement order on human rights day. I know he did it purposely and it is really great. Ireland, with its common law basis, has done something that has pointed the way for many countries. The ripple effect will start. The fact that the Minister has signed the commencement order so quickly is welcome and I thank him and his officials for their co-operation. They made it happen.

I asked about the 24-hour out-of-hours service. It is great to see at long, long last that it has started. It is something we will all have to observe and monitor to see how access to services works. However, I welcome it. Deputy Troy asked about ICT. I agree that there appears to be an impasse at Department level. That is the understanding we got from Gordon Jeyes. It is now between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health and that is where it stands. I would welcome the Minister's views. Where is it and is there something we should be doing as a committee? Similarly in relation to psychological services, which the Child and Family Agency has the statutory remit to provide, I am extremely concerned that the necessary staffing is not in place which is supposed to have been provided by the HSE. Again, it is an impasse. While it is an impasse, the difficulty is that children are at risk. I raise that with the Minister.

The issue of Oberstown was raised, and I thank the Minister for his response to the committee. We could probably have a separate session on the issue of children in detention. Of particular concern to the committee is the staffing level. According to our colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is paying attention to these aspects, there is a recruitment competition with a closing date for applications of today. However, the advertisement did not say how many staff were being recruited. It would be very useful for the committee to know. I do not expect the Minister to have the figures now, but perhaps we could be advised of them. We are still concerned about the following. I checked the figures on Monday and there were 13 17 year olds in Wheatfield Prison. We have not ended the detention of children in the prison system. We should be conscious of that. A separate issue I raised with the Minister for Justice and Equality and which also applies to the Minister is the need to get the daily occupancy and capacity figures within Oberstown. The reason I can give the Minister the Wheatfield figures is that the prison publishes its statistics every day, including the number of 17 year olds. If we could get them for Oberstown, it would be really useful. We are extremely concerned at the recent report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture published in November 2015. The report raised concerns about the excessive use of force and handcuffs at Oberstown, the use of lock-up, insufficient access to natural light, the austerity of the rooms, staff numbers and ratios and the need to photograph and report. As I said, that is a whole issue we could devote ourselves to as a committee.

I thank the Minister for all that he has done in the area of child care. We have seen significant strides in development. I have two specific questions on his announcements yesterday. He announced funding of €1.5 million for Learner Fund 4 to assist practitioners in early childhood care and education to upgrade their qualifications. Reading the announcements, my understanding is that the fund will assist one person per setting to gain a QQI or FETAC level 6 qualification in early childhood care and education. That is to help the settings to expand. However, there is a major diversity in the size of early childhood care and education settings and services nationally. I wonder, therefore, about limiting the funding to one staff member per setting, which may not give us the expansion the Department wants and the sector needs. Can the Minister clarify whether as part of that incremental approach, it is his intention in time to expand the learner fund to support those who want to gain a level 7 or 8 qualification? If settings are to expand and quality is to improve, level 7 qualified staff are needed to qualify for the higher capitation funding. I am concerned that settings are at risk of losing their higher capitation funding, which is unacceptable.

Deputy Troy raised the special rapporteur report. I have a question about the next report. Would the Minister consider asking the special rapporteur to conduct a review of legislation and reports to date and to provide guidance in a comprehensive report for incoming legislators to give them an overview of the existing law and proposed laws and where we should be looking to further strengthen children's rights? Another challenge for the future centres on legal fees. This is the next major issue for the Department to address. Is the Department going to publish a report so that we all understand the full scale of it? We all hear about the legal fees, but where are the real blocks and where it is happening? It the issue the reform of the GAL system? Where do we need to focus our attention? It is something I have not quite been able to identify. I would welcome the start of work to build us up in that regard.

I thank the Minister for all he has done. I give huge thanks personally for the constitutional amendment. There are issues ranging from transgender children to smoking in cars with children for which I thank him. I thank the Minister for furthering children's rights and welfare and I thank all the officials in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It is a new Department although we will probably not be allowed to say that about it from now on. The Minister had to build up capacity and that has happened. In each moment in time, I will have a long list of things that need to be done. When one presses "pause" and looks at all that has been achieved in the past four and a half years, however, it is very significant. Congratulations must go to each one of the Minister's staff in the Department acting under his leadership and that of Dr. Fergal Lynch. I thank them all so much. I wish the Minister all the best in his future endeavours and I wish all my colleagues well in getting re-elected because we need to continue this work and the impetus, urgency and ambition we have for children in Ireland.

Thank you, Senator van Turnhout. Before I call Deputy Catherine Byrne, I forgot to give apologies from Deputies Healy and Ó Caoláin earlier.

The early childhood care funding for three to five-year-olds is welcome and will make a significant difference to many parents crippled with large mortgages. They will now be able to put their children into child care at an earlier age. It has had a major impact on the ground and that is what I am hearing at the doors.

The Minister said over 400 new staff will be appointed at the Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. What will be the make-up of that staff? I also welcome the launch of the national youth strategy. It was an important that it was launched when it was because we are in a crisis with young people on the ground, particularly with addiction, young people involved with gangs and anti-social behaviour. This leads on to building a better place for children in this country.

As we enter 2016 - it will soon be 100 years since the State was formed - if one looks back into the history of that time, there was poverty and neglect with children reared in slums. We have come a far way since then. I have read much about people’s stories about 1916 and how they have lived, worked and reared their children since then. Even though some of the stuff was bad regarding religious orders, we sometimes neglect to say there were many children who would never have had any education but for the effort put in by the religious orders.

When I was 18, I visited the Oberstown Centre when it was run by the Oblate Fathers at the time. I have spoken to many people who work in the prison service dealing with youths. When the new campus was opened at Oberstown, it was long awaited because of the condition of the old campus. Are the staff there properly trained to deal with some of the young people who will come out of St. Patrick's Institution? Not criminalising them all together, but they are different cohort coming from St. Patrick’s Institution into what used to be a detention centre for young people with problems. I am concerned about the difficulties.

I also want to raise the amounts given by the special projects for youths, the youth facility services fund and the local drugs task forces to youth services in my constituency, Dublin 8, 10 and 12. Significant sums of money have been transferred into these community groups. Although I know most of the groups, some of them better than others, I have concerns about the duplication of some services. When an application is made for an allocation of funding, who makes the decision which group gets the funding? Who cuts the cloth and decides one group gets €100,000 or another gets €31,000? In all my time as a council member and a Dáil Member, I have never been asked by any Department or service what I thought of any of these groups, how they function or if they function. I have never been asked as a public representative do these groups work, have I seen them working as someone who has been working on the ground with young people all of my life. How is the decision made to give these allocations of funding to groups? Is it made by a particular unit in the Department? Do those involved visit the services? Have they the history of these services?

I thank the Minister for his participation at these meetings because I find them rewarding. I compliment his staff, as well as his predecessor, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. A significant amount of work has been done with young people on the ground.

How many staff will be recruited to Oberstown? Is there a timeline for the transfer of 17 year old males from St Patrick's Institution? What about a timeframe for the detention of young people in prisons? Tusla still has not got access to psychologists which the committee regards as important. Will the Minister comment on this?

I thank everybody for their questions. I genuinely meant what I said earlier that I believe this committee has been very good at teasing out matters and improving our legislation for children.

The ICT support for the Health Service Executive, was raised by many members. During the Estimates process, moneys were sought for this which we allocated. The performance statement has been issued. We have emphasised ICT and the national child care information system in that. I made this clear at a meeting I had with the chairman and the chief executive officer of the executive. They are also concerned about this. It is not an issue of replacing one with the other but ensuring we have a joined-up service and there is not duplication. These are important but expensive services to provide. We need to have more cohesion.

We have the jigsaw programme, run by Headstrong, which uses speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and other professionals. From the Department's point of view, we see the Tusla service focusing on the overall psychological welfare of children, including general and non-acute supports. Acute services such as child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, should stay in the HSE, unless there is a big shake-up of the whole set-up. Whatever service configuration we develop, we need to agree working relationships with the HSE to ensure no gaps or duplication occur. Only in the past several days, I received a document on this. It will have to be further considered and we will engage the HSE, Tusla and others. Moneys have been put aside for this and in the interim we are purchasing private psychological services for children in care who are known to Tusla while we await an eventual agreement, so that children are not left disadvantaged.

In relation to the learner fund, I might ask my colleague, Ms Bernie McNally-----

We will come back to that after we suspend for the vote in the Dáil.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 2.50 p.m. and resumed at 3.05 p.m.

The Minister was replying to the members' questions.

I would like to reiterate what I was saying about ICT. Capital moneys that were given to Tusla in 2014 and 2015 remain unspent. I met the chair and the CEO during 2015 to discuss this issue and the national child care information system, which I mentioned earlier. I do not think money is the issue here per se. Tusla wrote to the Department in late November about the HSE-Tusla service agreement. The HSE indicated that Tusla received the same level of service as HSE staff. It undertook to draft a service level agreement. The issue is not whether the budget is 0.5% or 5%. It is about service. If Tusla is not happy with the service, we will have to look at it. The Secretary General is meeting the chair and the CEO next Monday. Obviously, ICT will be one of the main issues on the agenda at that meeting. We all understand the importance of ICT, When I talk about supporting social workers, for example, I refer to the level of ICT support they have, or do not have even though they should have it. This is an issue for us.

I will come back to the main questions that were asked. My colleague, Ms Bernie McNally, will speak about the mapping exercise because she has more up-to-date information on it than I have.

Deputy Troy is right when he says that the use of community employment scheme workers will cease in September 2016. He asked what supports will be provided to the workers in question. Ms McNally will address that in the context of the learner fund, for example. Additional moneys have been put into the learner fund to help to support these workers. The original timeline dictated that this would cease in September 2015, but we decided earlier this year, in light of the impact its cessation would have on community services, which depend on community employment workers, to give those services an extra year to get their people up to speed. We will always have this dynamic. Are we going to insist on quality in order to get the best outcomes for children, or are we going to continually accommodate those who do not come up to speed? I think we have struck a fair balance by giving them an extra 12 months. Many private providers are very cross about it because they have made the effort to invest in getting their staff up to speed, but they now see that others have not done so. I want to put it on the record that I have no intention of allowing this to travel beyond September 2016. I do not believe that would be the proper approach. I know that might present challenges to people, but they have been given quite a bit of support to date.

The rapporteur's report is being circulated to the various Departments because it involves so many different people. Senator van Turnhout raised this as well and she also asked for a report to be done on existing law. We can examine this but it is probably a matter for the next Government.

A number of members asked about the figure for social workers. A total of 400 additional staff will be recruited in 2016, 174 of which will be to social work posts. This is a reply to Question No. 20 from the Chairman. Tusla has been requested to provide a detailed plan showing how the recruitment targets are to be achieved. As of September 2015, it was actively recruiting 344 staff, 258 of which relate to social work posts and 51 to other line services such as social care work, family support, psychology and counselling. The agency has the money but I do not want the committee to get the wrong impression. When I met the board members, I was complimentary to them. They have done a great job. They have set up a new agency and everybody is trying his or her best but having secured them the resources, the ball is very much in their court. There is no question that is a challenge for them and they know it. However, we will support them in every way we can.

The overall amount is €36 million but of that, approximately €16.5 million is for GALs. The Department is working up a document on that and we have to engage in a manner that will allow us to change this but there will be a great deal of resistance to it. The major problem we have is there is no control. I do not mean to be critical of any individual but there is a sense overall of people lawyering up every time they go to court and that is costing the State a fortune. That money should be spent on child care, not on legal fees. We are all agreed on that and we are all seeking a resolution to that. I am supportive of Mr. Gordon Jeyes and Tusla in resolving that.

Deputy Troy asked whether I had confidence in the management of Oberstown; I have. A ballot will be taken but I am reassured by the fact that even when it announced the ballot, IMPACT said it would continue to work with management to resolve the issues. The changes that are taking place present a challenge to staff but they are changes for the better and nobody in this room could think that it is a good idea to have three separate schools or three separate managements and three separate administrations and no crossover in support when somebody is ill or absent and cover is required. That is not the way to move forward and there will be no yielding on that. Other issues are being brought into play and it is not up to me to step into the middle of negotiations in an industrial relations dispute. I have confidence in the management and I also have great confidence in the workers. They will manage to resolve the issues with goodwill.

There is also the issue of shorter sentences in Oberstown. It makes it difficult for staff to build up relationships with young people. No one would suggest that sentences should be longer but these are all challenges that come as a consequence of change.

Senator van Turnhout raised the occupancy issue in Oberstown. We can examine that. The more transparent the position is, the better for everyone. Some people see it is a threat but I believe it is a protection for those who work there. I mean no disrespect to the Judiciary but there will be a need for a greater uniformity in terms of the use of Oberstown because no matter how much its capacity, it will always be limited. Sentencing to detention should always be a last resort. Members of the Judiciary - some of whom mean well in this respect - say, "If there is nothing else for the child, what else can I do?" but that should never be the case. That is why we are investing in community services. If we all work together, we can achieve a much better outcome for the child. That is what we all want and I include the Judiciary in that.

What about the issue of 17 year olds?

Is that about the number in Wheatfield Prison? Somebody mentioned that 17 of that age cohort were in the prison but I was not aware that was the number. The Chairman wanted to know when we will complete the new building. Significant progress has been made. The final unit will be received either this month or early next month but our main challenge is not the legislation or the building, which will be finished and handed over, but recruitment. No member would question the quality of the build, which is good. There will always be snags and so on and, as representatives of the taxpayer, we have to make sure we are not left with unfinished elements that incur further costs to the taxpayer. We have had three rounds of recruitment and we have failed to secure the numbers we need. We have, therefore, embarked on a fourth round. We have had negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and we have been able to make an improved offering to those who may come to work there. We have put the word out far and wide, both nationally and internationally, and I have brought it to the attention of the Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection. The Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is in receipt of communication as well. We are pulling out all the stops.

This is exciting, challenging work and perhaps people are not aware that these well-paid jobs are on offer. Members have asked how many we are trying to recruit and the number is 30. All the applications will have been received by the middle of next week and we will screen out the ones that will not pass muster. Then we will have an idea. If we only get 20, we know we are in trouble. If we get 40, 50 or 60, then it is game on. Hopefully, we will have the staff in place quickly.

Members mentioned training. There will be continuous professional development and there are people in situ who are involved in that. This is a priority for Government and we have done everything we can up to this point. I am confident the building will be handed over. Having had three rounds of recruitment and pulling out all the stops nationally and internationally, the issue we are faced with is whether we can recruit the right people.

Deputy Byrne mentioned the transfer of 17 year olds from St. Patrick's Institution. None has been transferred because we do not want to inculcate that culture into the new detention school. It will be a school of rehabilitation and re-education, not a secondary school for the university of Mountjoy. We want as few people as possible to end up there but when they do, we want to make sure that as many of them as possible can be rehabilitated and do not end up in trouble later in life. However, the reality of life is some will. This is a huge step forward and I echo Senator van Turnhout's comments about the committee and the Government over the past four and a half years. We have made significant strides in this area and we need to continue down that pathway, to which we are all committed

On CAMHS, Deputy Troy acknowledged this comes under the remit of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. We are concerned and we seek to meet regularly with the relevant officials to iron out issues. I appreciate the Deputy's comments about the fund for special needs children in preschool. It was always bizarre that there were SNAs in primary school but no supports of any consequence in the early years. Services were sporadic throughout the country and involved local arrangements rather than anything national.

We want all children, including those with special needs, to reach their full potential because sometimes they can surprise people.

Deputy Sandra McLellan talked about the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill that will be brought before the House. The process has been very difficult and I thank the committee for its support, help and scrutiny of it, which has been really useful. I will strive in so far as I can to address some of the major issues that have been a cause of concern for the Deputy and many people who are affected by the issue of adoption. We are looking at it very closely and I hope to get something to the Attorney General reasonably soon. I would like to receive permission to publish the Bill, but it will be a real challenge to get it done before Christmas. The process has been hugely technical and difficult and I thank all those involved for their forbearance, not just members of the committee but all of the groups involved and all those affected. I hope they will accept our bona fides in saying we are trying to get the best result as quickly as we can. We do not want to rush it and end up making things worse.

The Deputy asked about aftercare, the ECCE scheme and special needs and whether there would be capacity. I believe there will be. Ms McNally can address the issue further, but we are sensibly allowing time for the capacity to be built.

I think Deputy Robert Troy may have been conflating, although not intentionally, the CCS capacity issue with that of the ECCE scheme. They are separate. I replied to a parliamentary question from the Deputy on whether the private sector would be prepared to take people on from the CCS scheme given that the charges were higher. I do not think it will be a huge problem because it is a big opportunity for them. While it is entirely up to them, I think many will be glad that we are taking the initiative to open these places to them where people are entitled but there is no community care scheme provider and, therefore, because of geography they have not been able to access it.

I have answered the question on Tusla and the number of social workers. The figure is 400. We will follow up on the issue of the duty social worker declining to provide information and of referring to the CAMHS and come back to the Deputy directly in writing. We will make sure that will happen.

I can provide the information. The other question was on the reporting of historical abuse and receiving an acknowledgment in a timely manner.

Is the Deputy referring to the reply to her office?

It is mandatory to report-----

I was asking about the reply to the Deputy's office.

It takes ages to receive an acknowledgement when one reports. It may not be deemed a priority because it is historical, but it is very important to receive an acknowledgement.

Is the Deputy referring to Tusla?

We will take up that matter with Tusla and the committee rather than the Minister.

The only reason I raised it here was I missed this morning's meeting when I had intended to raise it.

I appreciate that. We will raise the matter with Tusla on the Deputy's behalf.

Apart from social workers in Tusla, other workers are needed to support the social worker, not least administrative staff to do the secretarial work. There are social workers who do not even have IT support such as an iPad who are writing reports when they could be face to face instead of using a dictaphone and sending off reports.

Deputy Sandra McLellan raised an issue in a parliamentary question; I could go through my response again, but the answer lies in the information I have given to the committee. A lot of things will happen, but the bottom line is that the role of the National Youth Work Advisory Committee will be considered in the light of developments in the past 12 to 18 months and the implementation arrangements in order to achieve the objectives of the national strategies.

I thank Senator Jillian van Turnhout for welcoming the introduction of a 24-hours out-of-hours service. I have addressed the ICT issue but perhaps Dr. Lynch might add something to it. I will finish and get off the stage in order that Ms McNally and the Secretary General can talk.

The Secretary General has to leave by 3.30 p.m.

I will stop now.

Dr. Fergal Lynch

On the Oberstown centre, I will add a few points to what the Minister has said. The reason I have to leave now is I have a meeting with Mr. Bergin and others on Oberstown issues which I regard as very important. As the Minister said, we have confidence in senior management, but it is very important that we engage with them fully to make sure they are working intensively with everybody. This has been acknowledged and Mr. Bergin has been working extremely hard in that regard.

On the planned timing for taking all 17 years olds into the Oberstown centre, as the Minister said, we hope to do this as rapidly as possible. Staffing is the issue. There is one piece of information in which the committee may be interested. We have been doing this on an incremental basis in the past few years. The Oberstown centre has been taking 16 years olds since 2012 and in 2015 it began to take 17 year old remands. We received some interesting data recently from it on how many young males would have been in adult prison if we had not moved to this system incrementally. The total figure between 2012 and late-2015 is 428. There are 428 cases of young males detained in the Oberstown centre between 2012 and 2015 who would have ended up in adult prison if the Minister had not incrementally increased the number of people and type of cases we can deal with in Oberstown. The final component is 17 year olds on committal. While we have not achieved this, all other children between 16 and nearly 18 years are now catered for and 428 cases have benefitted because of this. I hope this information is of some use to the committee.

We have said a lot of negative things about the Oberstown centre, but there has been huge progression in the detention of children. We want to see improvements. It has been a huge development, but we want to make it better.

I want to make a point on the Oberstown centre. I am delighted to hear the Secretary General is due to meet senior management there. To clarify, I agree totally with the amalgamation of service because I do not want to see duplication. I also want to make a point on the staffing issue which is backed up by the fact that the Minister is in the fourth round of advertisements for personnel to work in the centre. There are complex issues, but the anecdotal evidence from staff is that they feel vulnerable and do not feel safe, which will lead into the fear of potential applicants. I encourage greater consultation with the staff to iron out the issues of training and staff rostering. I am aware of a unit with 15 staff in which at one time only four permanent staff were present. The others were absent on stress, assault and sick leave. There were only four permanent members of staff and the others were agency and other staff, which is not right.

Dr. Fergal Lynch

I accept the points made by Deputy Robert Troy. Senior management has been very conscious of the points he has made. There have been a number of important HR developments that the Deputy may wish to note. A training officer was appointed in September and there is a campus wide training strategy and schedule in place. This is very important. The point the Deputy about training is highly relevant in that regard. There is now a designated human resources manager for the campus. The post commenced in August. There is a commitment to ensure best practice in the area of human resources. To make sure we get the right number of staff in the right place, a good deal of work has been done for some time on the issue. Much work has been done on recruitment fares, in changing rosters in the Oberstown centre and making it as attractive and practical as possible for people to work there. Mr. Bergin and others have been promoting it as a good place in which to work. Senior management has emphasised and tried to demonstrate in practical terms that it is a good, appropriate place in which to work, that it is well run and will be even better run as the training kicks in.

The staff are showing significant commitment in very difficult circumstances. As the Minister stated, three units are being amalgamated into one and people are moving into new facilities, which are hugely improved. I have been there myself and it is great to contrast the physical facilities now versus what was they were a year or 18 months ago This type of change brings its challenges and we are very conscious of this, as is the management in Oberstown, which is very much committed to working with us to ensure the facility can continue to develop and that we move all of those aged 17, including those on committal, into the facility as early as possible in 2016.

Senator van Turnhout spoke about the early childhood care and education, ECCE, contract, the learner fund and the higher level 7 qualification. As has been indicated, we want at least one level 6 qualified leader per centre. I hope future learner funds will be able to address level 7 qualifications. The focus to date has necessarily been on levels 5 and 6. We will get there incrementally. While I fully accept we need more highly qualified leaders at the very top, we need to ensure that we bring up the base level all the time to ensure all children get a quality service and care.

Is it limited to one per setting regardless of the size of the setting?

Yes, because we could end up with two or three people qualified to level 6 is in one area and none in another.

Some of the settings are very large.

Yes, but at least they will have one person qualified to level 6. Ms McNally will go into more detail because she has more up to date information. Senator van Turnhout also mentioned guardians ad litem and we have addressed this.

I am very much in agreement with Deputy Byrne on the youth strategy, ensuring we hear the voice of youth and cherishing all of our children equally in the year we are coming to. She also mentioned St. Patrick's and Oberstown, which I have addressed, and the impact issue which I have also addressed. With regard to money for youth services and various schemes, the Deputy asked how decisions are made and Ms McNally will go into detail on this. They come through the county or city child care committees, depending on location, the voluntary child care organisations and the education and training boards. They make decisions and recommendations to us. A number of measures are in place to ensure money is used to optimal effect, and the Department is happy to receive feedback, so if the Deputy has specific concerns we can certainly speak to her. The value for money report was very much on this issue, and the new youth strategy will allow us to implement its recommendations.

Value for money reports always cause concern because when people hear "value for money" they think there will be a cut. Sometimes it does result in a cut in one service, but more money goes to another. It is not a cut to take money from youth services, to which I pay particular tribute because they do a fantastic job. For every euro we spend we get several euro back. The value is beyond this, because we cannot put a value on the work they do. It is outstanding and we can only stand back and admire the volunteerism in the sector, with 40,000 people giving of their time freely, many of whom went through youth services themselves.

We have quality standards in place, which puts a bit of strain on services, and they must show compliance with them. This is another dynamic we face. On the one hand we want quality, monitoring and to be able to validate, but on the other hand we do not want people who are giving freely of their time and volunteering having to spend hours writing reports and dealing with red tape. We try to strike a balance and get it right. Youth officers are employed by the education and training boards throughout country to monitor quality and report back. The City of Dublin Education and Training Board youth officer is co-located with the Department. The youth officers can make recommendations to my officials on reducing funding to one service and giving more to another. This happened in Deputy Byrne's area, at St. Michael's in Inchicore. I understand Deputy Byrne's concerns. We know that in general we are getting great value for money and a great return for the Government's investment in supporting the youth sector, but there are always concerns about how to monitor and ensure we get the best for our children. If the Deputy has specific concerns we will be happy to listen quietly to her and take it back through the chain and see where the problem lies.

Ms Bernie McNally

With regard to mapping to ensure we build enough capacity, the forward planning unit in the Department of Education and Skills has been very helpful to us and, this week we hope, it will give us data on the number of children born in each electoral division and therefore the number of children eligible to enter ECCE in September, January and April. This will be detailed information which we will be able to pass on to the city and county child care committees in the coming weeks. We have them on stand-by to receive the information. They will then work with the providers to ensure they can build capacity. They will know where there will not be any challenge and where there will be some challenges. Where there are challenges, a number of measures will be taken. We will restore capitation from September next year. The Minister spoke about the learner fund and there will be a capital programme, which he is considering at present. The Minister will be inclined to put this capital money into ECCE services to help with this capacity agenda. While the interdepartmental group on disability is very much to the benefit of children, it will also help services which, in the past, absorbed some of this cost themselves. It will help a little with their sustainability and encourage expansion. We are doing a huge amount of consultation with the sector. Yesterday, we met all the city and county child care committees and voluntary child care organisations, which we meet regularly to ensure there is good communication. We speak to Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government about planning permission. Yesterday, we put up new frequently asked questions on our website to help providers with this. We are working very closely with them.

The question on community employment showed some concern for the individuals on these schemes. We are working very closely with the Department of Social Protection, which runs the scheme. It is very committed to continuing with the scheme and providing these people with training. When the regulations come in at the end of next year these people can continue in their training slot, they just cannot be part of the staff ratios. They can continue to finish their qualification, but outside the staff ratio.

I thought we would have an opportunity to ask more questions. I am glad Ms McNally clarified this, because my point on community employment workers is that some of them have a level 6 qualification. I argued it should not have been extended by a year, but the Minister did so. The eligibility criteria of community employment schemes mean the people on them are allowed to work a maximum of three years. They must leave the service after three years and the only way community services can retain them is by employing them directly. Most community services do not have the capacity to employ directly community employment scheme workers. The group with which I work has five community employment workers, and not in a million years would it have the capacity to employ these workers when their eligibility runs out. The new community employment participants coming to replace them will not have a level 6 or level 5 qualification. This is the issue I want to highlight to the Department. This needs further examination, to tease out with the Department of Social Protection how this difficulty will be bridged.

Ms Bernie McNally

We are working very closely with the Department of Social Protection.

Those who have qualifications can seek employment. I understand the Deputy's point about services possibly not having money, but people will have the opportunity to earn 60% extra through the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme from next year. Some €16 million will go into the community child care subvention, CCS. Community providers may be able to expand, generate more income in so doing and thereby employ people with qualifications.

On the special needs initiative, every one of the services from 2017 on - the course runs next year - that has an inclusion officer or co-ordinator will get an extra €2 per child per week in capitation regardless of whether there is a special needs child in the school. The idea is to promote inclusion. These are further funds that have been made available. There are many ways of making the services sustainable, but I understand Deputy Troy's point on the issue of in and out and-----

The crossover.

Yes. We want to continue to have training for community employment, CE, scheme participants, but we cannot do that at the cost of the quality of service provided to the child.

Has the Minister a date for the publication of the rapporteur's 2014 report? I might have missed it when the Minister stated the numbers, but what is our full complement of social workers, how many are employed currently and how many is the Department recruiting?

Since the rapporteur's report involves many Departments, it is being circulated to them. We are waiting for it to return, which we hope will be shortly. We have the social worker numbers, but we may need to revert to the Deputy separately with them. I had them a few minutes ago. I do not have the total number, only the number of new workers. Some 258 new social workers were recruited in 2014, with 174 to be recruited in 2015. Those plus the replacements and ancillary staff amount to 532 people, recruiting all of whom will be a major challenge for Tusla. We will be as supportive of it as we can.

The Minister might update us on developments during that process.

We can do so. That is not unreasonable. It will be after Christmas.

We will not be here.

I thank members for their questions. I will take the opportunity to echo what several of them have said, that is, to thank my young Department - why would it not be young, looking after youth affairs and children - for all of its work. Its personnel have met many challenges, but there are more to be faced. We have worked well together with the agency, the youth sector and the voluntary bodies. If we continue doing that, we can achieve much greater things for our children and make Ireland a better place in which to grow up.

I should also mention the previous Ministers. The current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, did a great deal of work to set up the agency and the Department and get the children's referendum through. The stay of the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, was short but none the less of high quality. It is Christmas and the season of goodwill, but I genuinely thank the committee. Everyone present has been committed and constructive in his or her contribution.

I thank the Minister.

On behalf of the members, I wish the Minister, his family, his staff and personnel in the Department a happy Christmas.

It all sounds very valedictorial, having the Chairman and the Minister saying "Goodbye".

It is our last quarterly meeting this year with the Minister.


We have seen how having a dedicated Department for children and young people has made a difference in their lives. That is what we should be saying.

I was going to finish by saying that the creation of a stand-alone Department with a Minister at Cabinet level has given the issues of children and youth affairs a prominence and priority in the hierarchy that they did not necessarily have before. We have travelled a long way, but there is another ways to go.

I thank everyone for attending. Please convey to your colleagues and staff our thanks and appreciation. It is our last quarterly meeting of the calendar year. Whether we will be here in 2016 is a matter for others to decide, but I will remind members that the report on child care has been circulated since the meeting this morning.

Members should send their views on it to the clerk, Mr. Murphy. I hope to have it approved at next Thursday's meeting. We will only have one meeting next week, at 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 December. I propose that we adjourn until then. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.45 p.m. until 11.15 a.m. on Thursday, 17 December 2015.