My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country including those from disadvantaged communities. The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 400,000 young people and involve approximately, 1,400 youth work staff in 477 projects and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country. In 2014, funding of €49.78m is being provided to my Department for these schemes.
Continuous improvement in the provision of safe, effective child and youth centred services is an important priority for my Department and there are a number of recent and current initiatives, including legislative initiatives, which will be of interest to the Deputy in this regard.
The National Quality Standards Framework for youth work (NQSF) was introduced in January 2011. on a phased basis. By the end of 2014, all youth services and youth organisations funded by the Department will be implementing the NQSF. The purpose of the NQSF for youth work is to provide a support and development tool to organisations and projects and to establish standards in the practice and provision of youth work. These standards are helping to ensure an improvement in good practice, that these services and projects are outcomes focussed and that the young people involved are deriving the maximum benefit from being involved in youth work activities. The Quality Standard Guidelines for local volunteer led youth groups, launched in March 2013, are an important resource for local groups throughout the country in delivering quality programmes, which meet the needs of their young members.
The Child Protection Unit and Programme based at the National Youth Council of Ireland and which is funded by my Department, supports the implementation of The Code of Good Practice: Child Protection for the Youth Work Sector. A Child Protection Training Programme has been developed for the sector and awareness of child protection procedures and responsibilities have been enhanced at all levels within youth work organisations. In 2013, the Child Protection Programme developed a new website and training programmes for youth workers on internet safety for young people - http://websafety.youth.ie/. This resource aims to equip youth work practitioners to engage with young people's online life and experiences and to promote their online safety.
Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, published in April 2014, sets out a framework to coordinate across government, all policies that have an effect on children’s and young people’s lives. In line with the National Policy Framework, my Department is developing a new youth strategy for later this year. The new youth strategy will aim to enhance the role of youth services in contributing to the achievements of the five national outcomes for children and young people i.e that they are active and healthy, achieving, learning and developing, safe and protected from harm, economically secure, and connected, respected and contributing to society. The strategy will, inter alia, promote co-ordination between government departments and youth sector organisations with a view to maximising the effectiveness of the State funding available to support services for young people in future years.
The Children First Bill was published by my Department in April, 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to make further and better provision for the care and protection of children including raising awareness of child abuse and neglect, providing for reporting and management of child protection concerns and improving child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children.
The youth services are working closely with my Department in preparation for the enactment of the new legislation and to ensure that models of best practice in the care and protection of young people are continuously improved and updated.