Vote 40 - Children and Youth Affairs (Revised)

Members are reminded 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.

We do not have any apologies today.

I welcome the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, and his officials here today. The officials present are Dr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General of the Department, who is seated 2 m from the Minister, Mr. Dermot Ryan, assistant secretary general, and Mr. Conor Rowley, assistant secretary general. They are both seated in the Public Gallery. They are all very welcome.

On my own behalf and that of members of the select committee, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. While his appointment to the position was a number of months ago, this is our first opportunity to have him present at the committee and to meet with him. We look forward to working closely with him over the lifetime of this committee. Hopefully we can work effectively and safely during these testing times.

As members are aware, we are meeting this afternoon to continue the Revised Estimate for Vote 40 on children and youth affairs, referred to the committee by Dáil Éireann on 30 September 2020. In accordance with Standing Orders, discussion should be confined to the items constituting the Revised Estimates. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement, which will be followed by a questions and answers session with members.

I thank the Chair for her kind words and congratulate her on her appointment as Chair of this committee. I look forward to working with her and all members of the select committee and joint committee on both the financial matters in my Department and on the busy legislative schedule that we will have over, hopefully, the next years.

I look forward to the committee's input and working closely with it. I am open to engagement with all members on various pieces of legislation. We have had a turbulent year and this is finally a good opportunity for me to speak to the committee today about the Department's Vote.

I am speaking today about the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and we have not completed the transfer of functions to the new Department. The first set of those functions is due to be completed in the next number of weeks and I will speak to the committee about those, probably after the budget.

The Revised Estimate for my Department for 2020 provides for taxpayer investment of €1.6 billion and this represents a €91 million or 6% increase in the Department's 2019 allocation. As such, in total my Department is spending €1.578 billion on current expenditure and €38 million on capital expenditure in 2020.

At the outset I acknowledge the huge work of my Department and the agencies working within it have done in the context of Covid-19, particularly with the impact of the virus on the early learning and care sector and Tusla. Throughout the pandemic Tusla has continued to provide front-line services and in the early learning and care sector my Department worked with providers and childcare professionals to put in place supports to sustain the sector and retain capacity to the greatest extent possible while trying to keep parental fees as low as possible. There has been provision for €109.5 million in supports for the sector in respect of Covid-19 along with a provision of €8 million in support for Tusla for Covid-related costs.

Funding for much of this has come from savings that arise from the temporary suspension of childcare schemes in March and other areas in the Vote have also been responding to the challenges presented by the pandemic, particularly youth justice and the youth services sector. Great work has been done in youth services and all sectors in my Department and the relevant agencies have had to be very innovative in their response to Covid-19.

The committee has been provided with a brief of the Department's Vote, in which we have set out the funding allocations across different programmes, along with a summary by subhead to include details of the allocation and any changes from 2019.

I will briefly expand on the two largest areas, which are Tusla and early learning and care, before going to the wider discussion. Approximately half the Vote is targeted towards public services that protect our children and provide for their welfare and the Department's Estimate provided for €825 million for Tusla, including €8 million for Covid-related costs. That was an increase of €17 million, or 2%, over the 2019 allocation. Tusla, in recent years, has experienced an increase in demand for its services and this has led to budgetary pressures on the agency. In particular, private residential care has experienced significant increased demand. Costs have increased year-on-year since 2016 and in 2019 a Supplementary Estimate of €15 million was required due to the increase in residential care costs in Tusla. In 2020 this continues to be an area of pressure and my Department is working closely with Tusla on the effective management of its 2020 budget allocation.

The other big part of my Department's Vote is early learning and care, and this has an overall allocation of €630 million this year. This represents a €59 million increase, or a 10% increase over 2019. This was primarily for the first full year's application of the national childcare scheme, NCS. As has been mentioned, the childcare schemes were temporarily suspended in March and we know they have resumed. Funding provided for 2020 will see an increase to the minimum and maximum number of available hours under the NCS from September this year. The minimum hours will go from 15 hours to 20 hours and a the maximum hours will go from 40 hours to 45 hours. This enhancement will support working families needing school-age childcare and children whose parents are not in work or study, or who may be at higher risk of poverty, will benefit from additional hours of early childhood education.

As a result of the pandemic, my Department has developed new funding streams to support this sector. In March, with the closure of schools and crèches, the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme and other childcare schemes were suspended. My Department worked across government to develop supports linked to the wider Government initiatives, such as the temporary wage subsidy scheme and, subsequently, the employee wage subsidy scheme, along with specific capital and Covid reopening packages.

Deputies will see in the Estimate for the area that a new subhead has been created, B11, early learning and care and school age childcare Covid-related supports. That is a very significant subhead which we will look at in more detail later on, no doubt. These supports have been important in helping providers to retain experienced staff and to facilitate the successful reopening of services. During the lifetime of this Government I hope to do further work to reduce the cost of childcare for parents and to improve the services provided.

I wish to briefly speak on legislation. I am pursuing certain legislation as a matter of priority. I have spoken to some members of this committee about the recently introduced general scheme of a Bill to safeguard the general archive of records and the database of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and allow for its transfer to Tusla. This was advanced further at Cabinet today and I will be publishing that Bill shortly. I hope to bring it to the Seanad next week and subsequently to this committee. Work on a review of the Child Care Act is also under way in my Department. Changes to that Act are needed to reflect societal developments, the establishment of Tusla and other developments. In due course I hope to seek the Government's approval to develop a general scheme and heads of Bill for an Act amending the Child Care Act.

As mentioned earlier, the Department is expanding significantly and the new areas under its remit will fall within the remit of this committee too. I am looking forward to that and to some of the really exciting actions that we can work on together over the next number of years. The significant increase in resources provided in the 2020 Vote allows services to continue and has also allowed for targeted developments and improvements in certain areas, particularly the national childcare scheme. My Department and I will continue to work closely with Tusla, the early learning and care sector, the youth sector and all of the different stakeholders to achieve the best possible outcomes for children, young people and their families with the resources we have been given. I thank Deputies for their attention and look forward to their questions.

The first to indicate was Deputy Sherlock.

I thank the Minister and his officials for being here today. I will start with the issue of departmental responsibilities. I want to get a sense from the Minister as to when the various functions will transfer across. He said that it will happen within the next number of weeks but I ask him to provide certainty on when exactly the transfer will happen and what budget lines will transfer across. As I understand it, the National Disability Authority will come across and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will be fully engaged in the Department of children, disability, equality and integration and will have delegated functions as well. We do not have a sense yet of when or how that will happen and what it entails. It would be very useful for this committee to have a better insight into the status of the transfer of powers.

What way does the Chairman want to conduct this meeting?

Seeing as there are not many members here and we are not under time pressure at the moment, I will allow each member to ask questions but if we start running out of time, I will have to cut people short. There will certainly be some leniency at the start.

Is a question and answer session with the Minister appropriate for now?

Deputy Sherlock should ask all of his questions and then allow the Minister to respond.

Okay. That is my first question because the Minister said the transfer will happen in the next number of weeks but before we know it, December will be upon us. We need greater certainty on that matter. The National Disability Authority will be coming under the Minister's ambit but where is the demarcation between children and adults in that? This issue was raised earlier in the context of the work programme of this committee. Where is the demarcation between children and adults? Will the Department be dealing with adults too?

The Minister spoke about childcare. Very serious issues arose in the provision of childcare services during Covid-19. Some of us were understandably angry and we were reflecting the anger of our constituents. It is only fair to acknowledge that the Minister and his departmental officials have done their level best to work through a lot of the issues, notwithstanding some bigger philosophical issues around the rights of workers within that sector and its funding.

We will get to all those in due course. I want to pin the Minister down on what the budget line will look like after the new responsibilities come through. That is the first theme.

Second, I seek assurance on whether the Estimates will lead to more social workers or an assurance that no persons who are front-line workers will be deployed to contact tracing and testing if it results in the loss of service to a child. There are 26,000 children waiting on occupational therapy here. That figure is from a response to a parliamentary question I put to the Minister for Health. It is unconscionable that children would still be waiting for services and the lists are getting longer in a whole range of areas. I want the Minister to succeed in his role and for his Department to be successful but the evidence suggests we are going slightly backwards because of Covid. While the Department will be bigger and have a larger budget, it looks as though front-line services are being retrenched to a degree which is having an effect on families. I think we are all feeling that as public representatives. I will be happy to support the Minister in any efforts to stem that tide.

A previous meeting of this committee considered the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019, which dealt with guardians ad litem. It went to ground, having reached Committee Stage. It has disappeared into the ether. I do not want to see the ten proposed Bills which come under the ambit of the committee to be put on the never-never. I refer to Bills like the parental leave and benefit Bill, the adoptive benefit Bill and the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill, many of which have being doing the rounds for some time. If some energy is given to these Bills it will have a tremendous impact. I am not assured by headings such as "revised heads of Bill in preparation of preparatory work underway" in relation to the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, for instance. The committee had come a long way on this and invested a lot of time.

Before the Minister responds, I remind members that this meeting is on the Estimates only. To be fair to the Minister, that is why he is here. That is just a reminder.

It is all about resources and money.

The Minister may not be able to deal with some of those matters. I also remind members that everyone has five minutes.

The point on the transfer of functions is important. The functions will come over in two phases. The first is the transfer from the Department of Justice and Equality. I had hoped the delegation would be before today's Cabinet meeting but I expect it at next week's Cabinet meeting, with an official date of the transfer of function the following week. I am aware I have said that for two weeks, but it is imminent. The Deputy has asked for the budget lines that are coming over so I will list them. They are C3, the Magdalen fund; D3, the National Disability Authority; D4, refugee migrant integration; D6, grants to national women's organisations; D7, national Traveller and Roma strategy; D8, equality for women and girls; D9, equality and LGBTI+ initiatives; D10, decision support services; E3, asylum migration and integration fund; and E5, international protection seekers' accommodation. It is an extensive budget of about €147 million in 2019. I might get a scribbled note correcting that figure, but it is around that.

As the members know, the programme for Government contains significant commitments in some of those areas, particularly the area of direct provision and international protection. We look forward to expanding those budget lines in order that we can deliver on the White Paper that will be coming at the end of the year.

The second area I wish to refer to is the transfer of disability services from the Department of Health. This is taking time. Disability services are provided by the HSE, which will have to have a reporting relationship with my Department similar to its current relationship with the Department of Health. That will probably require primary legislation. Officials from my Department and the Department of Health have jointly put together a paper in the last several days outlining the various steps needed to progress this, both in terms of primary legislation and the staff numbers and resources that will need to be moved. A very extensive budget of about €2 billion will be moving from the Department of Health to my Department. This will take a long time, which will probably be the subject of criticism, but it is important to get it right. This is a major change. It is an initiative of this Government. It is important to note that the entire policy area of disability, not just disability among children, is moving from the Department of Health to my own. As the Deputy noted, certain areas of disability policy have previously been under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. We are reuniting those policy areas with disability service provision, heretofore a concern of the Department of Health. Both will operate under aegis of my Department. Do members wish me to discuss social workers specifically?

There is a certain narrative about social workers and where they sit in the wider landscape. The recruitment of social workers is a long-standing issue for this committee. The question of whether there are resources to recruit more now arises. Perhaps the Minister can guarantee, in the context of the Estimates process - to hang it on its hook and remain on message - that there will be more social workers recruited. We are already seeing the negative effects of the insufficient number of social workers, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. The question is whether something within the Estimates process can give us grounds for hope there.

The number of social workers leaving the profession or retiring has eclipsed the number of new recruits in many individual years. This is a major issue, but it was not the case during 2020. I should single out an initiative taken by Tusla under its chief executive, Mr. Bernard Gloster, to convert agency staff to full-time staff. That has been extremely successful and has provided 140 full-time social workers. In 2020 we have seen a net gain of 100 social workers. That takes account of those who have retired or left the organisation and those on career breaks. That is a significant difference from other years. We must give credit to the innovation the HSE is showing in its approach to this area.

These Estimates also provide for a significant recruitment campaign which Tusla is undertaking in the United Kingdom. A significant number of Irish qualified social workers are there at the moment. We are hoping to encourage them to come home and return to Tusla. One issue facing the profession in the long term is the fact that not enough graduate social workers are emerging each year. Only in the region of 215 graduate from the universities each year. They are in great demand because Tusla is not the only agency that employs them. A social worker education group is investigating the possibility of increasing the number of degree programmes for social workers in the country.

Finally, Tusla is working on its strategic workforce planning model. That work started in 2019 and continues in 2020. One aspect involves looking at the balance between social workers and social care workers to make sure we are getting it right.

It is also to ensure that tasks are done at the appropriate level. Some more administrative tasks have also been taken on by Tusla to try to take some of the non-social work type work away from the social workers, to an extent.

On legislation, I am aware that a number of Bills were well in progress and did not get through the previous Dáil. I am having very quick legislation put through and I will have one on the books very quickly. Obviously, that is not the ideal way to proceed. I appreciate everyone working with me on it because of the particular context there. There are some very important pieces of legislation in the area of children's welfare and there are also some legacy issues we need to progress. I am extremely eager to get legislation progressed. The Deputy has my assurance on that.

I will start with the issue of private care, which the Minister has rightly identified as a huge cost for Tusla. Figures given to me recently show that 63% of young people in residential settings are in private residential units. This is a huge financial burden. We have seen a growth in private fostering placements and this has a significant marginal cost to Tusla also. The opportunity to place children into these settings is built on the fact that Tusla struggles with the recruitment of foster carers. Perhaps the Minister will give the committee some information on what is being done to reduce that private residential care and the private fostering bill, and the steps being taken for Tusla to meet its own recruitment.

I echo the Minister's words that the conversion of agency staff was a positive. There has also been a lot of investment by Tusla, which should be acknowledged, with investment in mobile working that facilitates social workers. While it reflects the rhythm of the social worker's chaotic day it also enables them to continue to work during Covid-19. These need to be singled out as positive steps. The Minister has got it right, however, in that the issue is not the recruitment, it is the turnover. What are we doing about turnover and about improving conditions for social workers? Part of this is Tusla still being stuck in fire fighting. Consider the number of unallocated cases and so on, and the struggle for early intervention. I am conscious that before he retired, and he was about three or two CEOs ago, Gordon Jeyes wrote a memo to Cabinet to say that without proper funding Tusla would struggle to meet its statutory requirement. In the intervening years we have seen it struggle to do that. I hope that with the next budget it can actually start to achieve those things.

On the key outputs for public service activities in the Estimates, I feel they are measuring the wrong things if we are trying to measure the success of Tusla. One of the things measured in these outputs is the percentage of children across all care settings to have a care plan. I understand the idea behind this but the reality is that I have seen cases where children are allocated a social worker, a care plan is done and then that social worker will move on to another child to do just a care plan. It is not necessarily a marker of stability of placement. Equally, we see an approval rate for relative foster carers, but what we should be looking at is an aim to recruit more foster carers and more relative foster carers. In parts of Northern Ireland, relative foster carers, or kinship carers, eclipse regular or general foster carers. That is part of a broader thing, but by measuring simply the approval rate we are missing huge issues in there. We should be looking at issues such as the turnover of social workers and how many have left, not just the recruitment. The reason many social workers are still with us is because they cannot travel to Australia due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of children in education would be a better marker of stability of placements than the success of Tusla, and equally, the number of placement moves.

I am conscious of my speaking time slipping away. Will the Minster give members an update on the timeline for a replacement strategy for better outcomes?

I thank Deputy Costello. A draft retention framework is being trialled in a number of Tusla regions where the issue of retention is very significant. There are other areas where the issue is not as significant. The turnover in social workers is approximately 7.3% across the organisations, but there are variations. Some regions are regarded as tougher and may have built up issues, case backlogs and the like over the years. The pilot scheme is being undertaken in order to support retention within areas. If the Deputy would like a note on this matter at some stage, I would be happy to provide one.

I recognise the Deputy's comments on the move to mobile working across Tusla. It was done extremely quickly, with almost 80% of the organisation being easily facilitated in working from home. It should be recognised that the organisation responded in such an effective way.

I agree with the Deputy regarding the reliance on the private sector. He has raised this matter with me a number of times in respect of foster care, including via parliamentary questions, but the issue also arises in respect of private residential care. The growth in residential care generally is one of the reasons for a significant overspend in Tusla's 2020 allocation. The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, has just completed a report on the use of residential care, in particular private residential care. That report was just completed this week, so I have only scanned over the initial headlines and have not gone through it in detail yet. However, I believe it will be important in giving us and Tusla guidance on how to deal with this issue. Private residential care is demand led. If Tusla has children and young people who are in extremely difficult situations, for example, because they are vulnerable or gang-related or other criminal issues arise, then it must place them in secure and safe accommodation. That accommodation must be found, which is the core reason for the overspend. The complexity of the cases that Tusla is dealing with is also growing all the time.

I take the Deputy's point about fostering. I see that the Chair is wearing her Tusla fostering campaign badge. That campaign was last week. Tusla is constantly trying to recruit more foster carers, but it runs a campaign on a particular week every year. I am happy to support that as much as possible.

Of children in care, 91% are in foster homes. That is a good figure. I would like to get it higher, but we should recognise that the vast majority of children in care are in foster placements. We are considering a number of innovative measures in this regard. Previously, the Deputy asked about fostering in the Traveller community. We are considering a particular scheme to help foster parents in the Traveller and Roma communities so that children can be fostered in more appropriate settings.

I take the point about measurements of success during the year and the best use of our resources. We can feed that information back. I am trying to make sense of some of my notes here.

The Deputy remarked on Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, BOBF, the national strategy for children and young people. It will end this year and we will introduce a successor strategy next year. I had a meeting with the advisory council approximately two weeks ago and we started discussing the initial steps towards drafting the new process. We want to include the Department's initial set of new responsibilities because some of the issues to do with direct provision, LGBTI+ and Traveller and Roma communities could feed into the new BOBF strategy. I am looking forward to having the new strategy published next year. I also hope to have the new child poverty reduction targets set out in the new strategy.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. As this is the first time that I have had an opportunity to converse with him, I ask the Chair to give me some latitude.

Do not worry, I will interject.

On the Estimates, are the initial supports for Tusla adequate due to Covid? I attended the meeting of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response where we heard testimonies by experts and witnesses that there had been an increase in domestic violence, among other things. In normal times, children from homes experiencing domestic violence found a safe haven in school but they did not attend school during the Covid lockdown. More children also contacted Childline during that time and I believe that is increasing as we speak. Domestic violence has a knock-on effect in terms of children's mental health. Jigsaw has stated it has been inundated with requests for its services. The waiting list for the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, has not improved and increased in many cases.

Children have been adversely impacted by Covid, a lot of which has not been mentioned. Children have been unable to deal with the loss of their loved ones, loss of structure, loss of their community and sports, which has had a negative impact on their mental health as well.

The following issue could not have been included in the Estimates as it only recently developed. I was not going to raise it but the Minister mentioned that responsibility for disability services would be transferred from the HSE to his Department in the future, if I have heard him right. With the return of services at the St. John of God Home to the HSE, is it planned to transfer them to the Minister's Department in the future? I do not expect him to answer me now. I asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the same question in the Dáil. I suggest that the transfer is considered because 8,000 people avail of the services, many of whom are children, and many people work in that home so all of them will be adversely affected.

As Deputy Costello has mentioned, there are care plans. Over the years I have worked in services where care plans have been really good when followed through but not if they became box ticking indicators. Care plans are not worth the paper they are written on if they are required to secure funding. Someone should be made responsible for ensuring that any care plan for children is followed from start to finish as that would be a better indicator rather than just producing a care plan.

I am glad to hear the Deputy raise the issue of domestic violence because it is something that I feel particularly passionate about. Tusla funds most of the domestic violence refuges and €750,000 was provided during the Covid crisis to support Tusla in taking the basic measures around ensuring they had additional personal protective equipment, PPE, within the services.

Many refuges provide communal living. We know that communal living is not appropriate from a public health point of view as regards Covid so 42 units could not be used. The funding that Tusla provided during the period allowed for 52 additional units to be provided to make up for the missing 42 units. In addition, an 11-bed emergency centre was opened in Dublin for women and families in need of emergency accommodation.

Since my appointment I have met representatives of Women's Aid, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Safe Ireland.

We would have discussed issues to do with the funding for the Covid-19 response and the wider issues with domestic, gender and sexual-based violence. We need to look at the number of refuges provided around the country and the amount of space they have. Tusla is undertaking a review of that and we hope that will be finished by the end of this year. That will be important, both the issue of the quantum of refuges and also the issue of where they need to be located because I know that particular parts of the country were disregarded. There were two new refuges in south Dublin. Sonas opened one in south Dublin-----

Yes. There are two now.

-----and it has one in Blanchardstown as well which is not far from me. A refuge was also opened in Galway so we are seeing a gradual expansion of the number of refuges but more needs to be done, particularly now that we have signed up to the Istanbul Convention, which places further obligations on us.

On mental health, I have met with Jigsaw since I have been elected. It has done great work in Dublin 15 in the last ten years so it is an organisation I see as incredibly beneficial. My Department's role here has been in the context of supporting the other Departments and encouraging them to remember that wider impact on young people. I am not sure if the Deputy had the opportunity to look at it yet but yesterday, in conjunction with my Department did a detailed piece of research over the summer called How's Your Head, Young Voices During Covid-19. That was a detailed survey of 2,000 young people that asked them about what was difficult for them during the period of Covid-19, what worked well and what changes they see that need to be made. We used the preliminary results of that survey in the context of the roadmap for resilience and recovery so there is a significant section in there about young people.

That is a reminder for all of us, because we have seen some criticisms of young people recently. Large gatherings are not on, we cannot do that and it puts young people and their families' health at risk. However, at the same time, there have been breaches of Covid-19 regulations by all sections of society once or twice and no one group should be singled out as being the cause of a spike. There is a combined national responsibility. I feel strongly about that, particularly in the context of the return to schools and the significant section in the roadmap for return to education on well-being, the use of the existing well-being programme and the tailoring of that to respond to the many difficulties that certain young people have. It was not all young people but it was certainly young people with special educational needs, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or, as the Deputy pointed out, young people who have a difficult time at home, who find that school is a break from the troubles they have.

I take the Deputy's point on the indicators we will use and I will discuss that with the Department. I have not been around long enough to figure out exactly how certain indicators are picked but the Deputy is right that a completed care plan is a much more significant step than a care plan that is laid down without being completed.

St. John of God Hospital continues to be with the Department of Health. It will be moving over to my Department and I have discussed it with the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte. She will be moving to my Department when the functions move but we are conscious of the huge number of adults and young people who use St. John of God Hospital supports at the moment. The Minister of State has written to St. John of God Hospital and asked it to re-examine its request to depart from services and there is ongoing discussion taking place there. The Minister for Health can probably brief the Deputy better on the immediate situation there.

I wish the Minister the best in his new role, as well as the officials in the Department. I want to focus on two areas. I mention the need for more funding for the youth work sector. I am looking under subhead B6, youth organisations and services. We see that there has been an additional investment of 2%, which to my mind is probably meaningless when one looks at the need for youth workers and services, especially on the back of Covid-19 and the invaluable work they do.

I have been in discussions with many different organisations such as Foróige, the National Youth Council of Ireland and Junior Chamber International, and they are calling for real action in this area. We have seen what Covid has done to many of our young people, from both from a mental and physical health point of view. The challenge now is supporting our voluntary organisations and workers in this area. This sector had a budget of €65 million in 2020 and that budget has not been substantially increased over the past decade. Going into the future, we need to start investing in youth services and workers. They are a core part of community and voluntary organisations and the buy-back they give to young people is enormous.

Young people face many challenges. We also have to look at the substance misuse strategy, on which we need major support. Access to illegal substances is now rampant for young people throughout the country. We need to invest in educating people and that must be adequately resourced as well.

Deputy Ward referred to the CAMHS waiting list and I would like the committee to discuss that as well. That curve will most certainly need to be flattened post Covid and in the months and years ahead.

I also want to talk about youth employability for early school leavers. It is a huge area in which we see an awful drop-off of young people from disadvantaged areas. We need to start investing in young people and their employability. The Minister with responsibility for further education, Deputy Harris, has looked at a new apprenticeship scheme but the Department of Children and Youth Affairs would have some sort of remit to support young people moving into post-junior certificate apprenticeships. That is a good area to promote in order to ensure we have an education programme for early school leavers. Those are the areas I want to prioritise.

As the Deputy noted, €64 million is a very small amount in the grand scheme of things but the value the State gets from that investment is absolutely huge. The value we get from youth work is incredible. The sector never shut down during Covid but just went online. I have met various groups over the last number of weeks, including Foróige, the National Youth Council of Ireland and the Youth Work Forum, which represents the entire sector. Originally, it was proposed to drop the term "youth" from my Department's title but after some engagement we decided not to, as an acknowledgement of the youth sector's importance and the difference it makes to the children and early years sector.

The Deputy said that the addition of €1.5 million last year was not a huge amount of money. While it was not massive, it is clear that a little goes a long way and every extra euro we put into this sector is valuable and is used extremely well. The various funding streams are designed in such a way that there are targeted ones and universal ones. Our universal streams support youth work in order that wherever somebody is, they have the option and the opportunity to get involved should they want to, whereas targeted ones are obviously focused on areas and communities of disadvantage. That is a good model and we need to balance it because while youth work is incredibly important for people from deprived areas, it can be incredibly beneficial to anybody. It is about getting that balance right. I am very conscious of what the Deputy is saying about needing to support the sector financially. It suffered significant cuts during the last recession and I have been completely clear that that is not going to happen in the economic downturn we are experiencing at the moment. Things have yet to be decided for this day next week but I will certainly be pushing to ensure the allocation is going in the right direction.

I am very conscious of the considerable work that is done there. We have been very innovative in Ireland, for example, in the LGBTI+ youth strategy. That is the world's first dedicated youth strategy for the LGBTI+ community. That was meant to run out this year but a good few of its actions were not completed because of Covid. We will run that into 2021 before we bring in the successor strategy.

CAMHS does not fall within my jurisdiction and will not after the transfer of functions. That will continue to be within the Department of Health and under the responsibility primarily of the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health. However, that is not to in any way take away from its importance. As I have said, I have spoken already about youth mental health. There are matters on the non-clinical intervention side that my Department can do in the context of "How's your Head?", other work that we have been doing and our engagement with other Departments to remind them that the mental health of young people needs to be in their consideration when they are taking various measures.

It would be a similar issue as regards youth employability, which falls between the Department of Education and the Department of further and higher education. As was said, the Minister, Deputy Harris, has been placing a real focus on further education. I am not sure if the Deputy ever served on an ETB. I did in my area. There is a significant amount of work in supporting further education and making that provision for young people who leave school early for a variety of reasons. Youth work services, such as Foróige, do a considerable amount of work in supporting that. Ours is a supporting role rather than a leading role but I am eager to do whatever we can to support it.

Deputy Cathal Crowe might be under a bit of time pressure.

Yes. I have one eye on Deputy Ó Snodaigh speaking in the House as I am speaking there shortly but I can assure the Minister that my attention is directed to this room. I will be brief so that the Minister will have time to respond.

I congratulate Deputy O'Gorman. He will be excellent in this brief.

It is an important committee. I have three young children. Two of them have birthdays today. I was a schoolteacher for 16 years. We must invest a great deal in our youth. I will get straight into it.

Under the Minister's equality brief, I reference a case that has been covered in all the national media, and I would say quite unfairly in some of it, during the week. It is the case of Barbie Kardashian. I will not reference one media outlet because it has gone under the belt in its rapportage. RTÉ identified something that I hope the Minister can look at in his tenure. There was a really positive piece of legislation passed by the Government that preceded the previous one. The Gender Recognition Act 2015 was a really positive piece of affirming legislation for young people where on reaching the age of 18 one could self-identity one's gender. It was liberating for many young people who in their teenage years grappled with what they believed was their true gender.

However, legislation never deals with every eventuality and certain concerns were flagged at the time. The legislation is now five years old. We have had a case in the past week where somebody has entered a female prison who is not biologically female or has not undergone gender reassignment or any form of surgery.

I hate to have to intervene but this meeting is specifically on the Estimates. I made that point earlier to Deputy Sherlock as well, to be fair and treat every Member the same.

I can wrap it up.

This does not specifically relate to the Estimates.

It is important legislation. I will wrap it up as follows. Given what has come to light in the past week, the Act does not need overhauling. It only needs clarification in so far as it goes into the judicial process of the Irish Prison Service. I will leave it at that.

I can reference it in the Dáil some other day or write to the Minister personally. It is good legislation. The newspapers are tearing it apart but there is something specific in there that needs to be looked at by the Department.

Apologies, I was late into the meeting as I was at another committee. In terms of the Estimates, the last matter I want to speak about is that Covid and the country moving up to level 3 has taken away much of the pressure valves that children would have, such as the sports matches and going down to the local youth club - the unwritten supports. We all talk about CAMHS and the therapeutic aspects of it, but there is a great deal of good done by going down to one's local youth club or scout meeting or playing that game of soccer on a Saturday morning.

As the Minister engages with the Government, even though the guidelines are set out in the roadmap for the next six months or so, everyone knows there is a fluidity to everything. As the Minister is the person tasked with speaking for young people, I ask him that certain activities that happen straight after school on the school pitch, or Irish dancing in the school hall, be considered. They are the very same kids who have spent the whole day sitting across from each other over textbooks and art activities. I cannot see any reason that certain activities after school cannot continue. I ask the Minister to champion that.

Coming into budget week, I also ask him to champion additional funding for things like CAMHS. As someone who taught in primary school, I know that in every classroom there are a number of children who find the challenges of everyday life quite severe and even debilitating. We must now add to that all the uncertainty Covid has brought. We turn on the television every day and they are talking about new cases and deaths in the country, which is very worrying and a cause of anxiety for young people. No school is functioning as normal right now, although they are doing the best job possible. The budget needs to champion all of those ancillary services that come in and help to pick up kids when they are at a low point.

I might write to the Minister on that specific piece of legislation. As we are in public session, I wanted to finish the point because I did not want to leave it in mid-air, given many media outlets have wrongly and inappropriately reported on it.

That is fine. It is to be fair to the Minister, who came here prepared to deal with the Estimates.

I accept that. I apologise but I must leave to go to the Chamber.

I am happy to respond in writing to that point once I get that correspondence from the Deputy.

With regard to schools, I absolutely take the point. As the Deputy knows, schools and childcare facilities remain open all the way up to level five, and that is because of their importance from an educational point of view but also from a socialising point of view for children and young people. There is that balance between what happens in school - which I do not want to say is a completely controlled environment because it is not always that way, but a reasonably controlled environment - and what happens at the matches that take place afterwards, which everyone will accept are more difficult to control. I take the Deputy’s point. Even the decision to move to level three was a decision the Cabinet thought long and hard about because there are implications for the wider economy to put those restrictions on sport, and this is relevant to children, adults and to anybody who relies on some element of sport to chill out and to clear their head. I absolutely take that point.

In the roadmap on Resilience and Recovery, there are specific elements about children and young people which are informed by research, including the SpunOut research and earlier research done by my Department. Throughout the pandemic, we have been doing research and I am a strong believer in having a research base to inform the policies we follow. Both in terms of research and advocacy, I am certainly making those points at Cabinet. I have met the alliance for mental health and we have discussed those broad areas where investment is needed, and there are commitments in that regard in the programme for Government. I have been seeing early intervention organisations such as Jigsaw, which does great work, and obviously there are the more significant situations where people need to move over to CAMHS and such services. I absolutely understand and support the importance of investment in those areas.

I thank the Minister for coming in to take questions. Much of what I am going to cover has been touched on already. In particular, I wanted to raise the issue of youth services. When I saw the Estimates, I was quite disappointed that the Minister had not provided more in regard to youth services. There was an increase of €1.5 million on the €65 million but that was balanced by the decrease of €1.5 million on the €6 million for the children and youth policy programme. With Covid, what we saw was that our youth were severely impacted and, for much of the Covid period, they were not top of our minds and our initial response had very much a health focus. The issues relating to children and how this impacted on children and young people were largely forgotten.

As the Minister stated, there were services and they did not stop. I would have liked to have seen was more money being put in to assist those services and to help them reach more children, because it is really important that we make those linkages. I expect that young people have a lot of pent-up issues and, as the Minister is aware, sometimes it can take time for these issues to manifest. It would be good to have a greater focus on how we can support these young people.

I have written to the Minister previously about some of the programmes in place for young people, and how the funding is being allocated. It came as a surprise to me when the Minister talked about targeted funding to a particular communities. It appears that this targeting is based on Pobal data from 2016 and also the level of social housing within certain areas. The face of disadvantage is changing and our communities are changing. With Government policy moving away from the building of social housing towards a more privatised approach through the HAP scheme, the fact that housing is not taken into account in the allocation of funding for youth services is a big gap.

In my county of Wicklow, there has been a huge increase in population over the last number of years and there is a significant number of HAP scheme premises. It would appear that the funding has been stretched further and further in these areas. I have been approached by a number of service providers in Wicklow seeking assistance, because the youth service is being expanded further into the county, yet additional funding is not being provided and it is going to impact on them severely. Will the Department review how that funding is allocated and take into account not just social housing but also HAP and other criteria in order to identify where it needs to be allocated?

I echo what Deputy Ward said about the takeover of the St. John of God home by the HSE. This issue has been raised with me. We have a year in which to get something in place. It is important that there is a focus. Although it is not directly within the Minister's remit, in his role as champion for children, and with the ability to facilitate things together with other Departments, I ask him to engage with his ministerial colleagues and work with them to come up with a solution. We are very focused on Covid at the moment. There is a risk that this issue will be parked for a few months and that it will become more difficult to address. The St. John of God home provides a fantastic service, particularly in respect of children. It is key that we get ahead of the problem.

In relation to the budget and the Revised Estimates, there are direct Covid increases. Those increases represent funding that probably always should have been allocated because Covid just exposed very much the weaknesses in our system. Where we see Covid-related increases in the Estimates reflects money that should be allocated as standard. Is the Minister taking any of the lessons from this and putting them into play in the context of the next budget? Perhaps that we should be taking the lessons from Covid and bringing them forward. I include budgetary lessons in that regard.

I thank the Deputy. On an initial point, the Revised Estimate we are looking at today relates to decisions taken at Budget 2020, therefore last year. When I come back to the committee next year, I will be dealing with a full year of decisions that l will have made as Minister. The position of youth services is as of what was allocated in last year's budget. As I stated earlier in response to a question from Deputy Dillon, without making an absolute commitment, because there is a week to go, I am pushing to try to secure greater funding for youth services, particularly as I see the major benefit they offer.

I have a fairly detailed response on the query as regards Bray youth service, and I will send that to the Deputy in writing. I hope it addresses some points, but I am happy to come back to the Deputy.

I take the Deputy's point on the metrics used. If I am honest, I am not 100% sure as to how they are established, but I am happy to look at them. In my area of Dublin 15, there has been a similar situation where there has been a significant uptake of the HAP scheme, and houses can be taken by a local authority in an area, so I take on board the point made by the Deputy. I will look into what the situation is there.

I also take on board the point made by the Deputy on St. John of God. We cannot park the issue, because it is too big a service provider for too many, and across too many CHOs. It is a very significant operator in this area. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, responded immediately to the issue, and is engaging with the board to see what measures can be undertaken. I understand there is a significant deficit in the organisation, but it is engaging with the Department and the HSE, and this will continue to be the case. The issue is being prioritised and will not be parked, of which I can assure the Deputy.

On Covid-related increases in the budget, there is a significant line in early years as regards Covid, and much of that is the employee wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and so on. Hopefully that sort of financial support will not be required post-Covid. However, the provision of support for victims of domestic violence, family resource centres, and direct provision, which is outside of today's Vote, are areas in which Covid has lain bare the cracks in the system. In those areas, I would be cognisant of what we have learned from the Covid crisis, both in terms of how we operate and the costs that State, community and voluntary organisations experience.