127. Deputy Shane Ross asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide an update on the Irish-Russian bilateral agreement on inter-country adoption. [20872/14]View answer
Written Answers Nos 127-141
127. Deputy Shane Ross asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide an update on the Irish-Russian bilateral agreement on inter-country adoption. [20872/14]View answer
Efforts are ongoing in my Department in relation to a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoption between Ireland and the Russian Federation. A delegation of Russian officials travelled to Ireland in October 2013 for further discussions on a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoption between Ireland and the Russian Federation. The meeting was very positive and detailed discussions took place between the Russian officials and officials from my Department, the Adoption Authority of Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Health Service Executive. In order to explore the potential for agreement of specific areas addressed in the discussions my Department subsequently undertook work on revised draft wording which was forwarded to the Russian Authorities in February of this year. In transmitting these revisions it was suggested that should these revisions be acceptable to the Russian Federation, it would be useful for both sides to meet again for further discussions.
The Ministry of Education and Science have advised the Irish Embassy in Moscow that all proposed adoption agreements are currently on hold while the Russian Government considers proposals in relation to how they deal with adoption agreements in general. It is understood that the Supreme Court recently made recommendations regarding adoption agreements and these are currently being considered by the Russian Government. It is hoped that following the Russian Government's consideration of these matters they will be in a position to examine and respond to the Irish proposals.
128. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he has ensured that the contracts for the early childhood care and education scheme have been revised to remove the clause that excludes children with special education needs in the event of the childcare service not having the appropriate resources to cater for the child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21043/14]View answer
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme provides one free pre-school year to qualifying children before they commence primary school. The ECCE programme is a free and universal programme to which all children have access and there is no provision in the programme contract for the exclusion of any child.
To make the ECCE programme more accessible to children with special needs a number of additional provisions are in place. These include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification under the programme where a child is developmentally delayed and would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. In addition, children with special needs can apply to have the pre-school year split over two years on a pro-rata basis, for example availing of the programme for 2 days a week in the first year and for 3 days a week in the second year. Application for these exemptions are made prior to the child commencing the programme.
I am aware that the Health Service Executive does, where possible, provide additional supports to children with special needs to enable them to avail of pre-school services in mainstream pre-school settings and my Department has been working with the Department of Health in the context of building better supports to facilitate the inclusion of special needs children in mainstream childcare services. Also, in Budget 2013 a capital funding programme was available to allow childcare services to apply for grants under four strands, one of which was to improve the accessibility of services for children with disabilities.
129. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number and proportion of children in care without an assigned social worker; the number and proportion of children in care without a care plan; the January 2011 and January 2014 figures for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21039/14]View answer
The Child and Family Agency compiles monthly performance reports which include statistics in relation to children in care. These reports are published on the Agency's website. The latest report published in February 2014 shows that the majority of the 6,489 children in care had an allocated social worker (92.2%) and an up to date written care plan (87.5%). Of the children in care, 505 (7.8%) were without an allocated social worker and 811(12.5%) did not have an up to date written care plan. It is important to note that statistics on written care plans may refer to those that have not been revised in line with specified time frames outlined in the Child Care Regulations 1995. This means that in some cases social workers have developed written care plans in consultation with children in care and their families but they need to be updated in line with the Regulations.
Of course, the legislative framework requires that all children in care should have an allocated social worker and written care plan and I am confident that the Child and Family Agency is working towards this goal. The Agency has advised my Department that a number of factors impact on the Agency's ability to allocate a social worker to children in care and ensure children in care have written care plans including vacancies and staff absences due to maternity leave. However, I am advised that a number of social worker posts have been approved for filling and are currently being processed as a priority by the National Recruitment Service. Also, outstanding children in care reviews and care plans have been prioritised for completion and social work staff have been reassigned to undertake this work.
There was an increase of 583 children in care between January 2011 and January 2014:
- In January 2011, 94% of the 5,907 children in care had an allocated social worker and 90% had an up to date written care plan.
- 371 children did not have an allocated social worker (6%) and 590 did not have a written or revised care plan (10%).
- In January 2014, 92% of the 6,490 children in care had an allocated social worker and 86.8% had an up to date written care plan.
- 518 did not have allocated social worker (8%) and 855 did not have a written or revised care plan (13%).
130. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his plans to review the existing child care regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20947/14]View answer
The enactment through the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 of amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 underpins a number of key reforms being introduced as part of the Pre-School Quality Agenda. The amended legislation strengthens the current inspection regime, provides a statutory basis for the registration of early years services, and also provides for the setting of minimum qualification standards for staff working with children in early years services.
To provide for the implementation of the changes to the Act it will be necessary to amend or make additions to the current Regulations in a number of areas, and these are currently being finalised. New National Quality Standards for Early Years Services, which will set out the outcomes and supporting criteria against which the quality of childcare services will be measured, will replace the existing explanatory guidelines in 2014.
131. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views on whether the Children First guidelines are being adhered to in the context of children whose families are made homeless and are in homeless services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21042/14]View answer
Services for families who are made homeless are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and the Local Authorities. These statutory bodies have responsibility for child protection in their own sectors.
The Deputy may wish to note that in the Children First Bill 2014, which is currently progressing through the Oireachtas, persons who are employed as managers of homeless or emergency provision facilities are specified as mandated persons. Furthermore, homeless and emergency provision facilities will be required to consider the potential for risk to children availing of their services and demonstrate awareness and good practice in a publicly available Child Safeguarding Statement.
In general, my Department is taking a lead role in the cross-sectoral implementation of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children . Under the Bill, the existing Children First Implementation Inter-Departmental Group will be put on a statutory basis, and it proposed that its membership will comprise representatives from all Government Departments, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The purpose of the Group is to promote the importance of Children First compliance across Government and to ensure a consistent approach is adopted.
In July 2013 the Government approved the publication of Departmental Children First Sectoral Implementation Plans on the website of each relevant Government Department, which included the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government . These Implementation Plans are high level documents setting out implementation requirements for each parent Department and for agencies under its aegis which have contact with children and young people. The Plans set out the mechanisms in place, or to be put in place, to support the continued implementation of Children First Guidance at sectoral level. These plans were for a period of one year, and are due to be reviewed in the coming months.
The next phase of the Interdepartmental Group’s work will focus on quality assurance mechanisms in relation to implementation and compliance, and the necessary preparatory work which is required prior to the commencement of the Children First Bill.
132. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way his Department will assist youth organisations to take advantage of the Youth Guarantee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21047/14]View answer
The youth work sector has an important contribution to make to implementation of the Government’s jobs agenda for young people. Many youth organisations, funded by my Department, are working closely with the relevant government departments and are delivering training and employment opportunities including measures under the Youth Guarantee for young unemployed people throughout the country. In addition to developing a Youth Employability Initiative, the details of which have already been provided to the Deputy, my Department will progress a number of actions in the context of the Action Plan for Jobs for 2014 which will address youth employment and will complement the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan.
In the area of entrepreneurship, my Department will support the role of the voluntary youth work sector in relation to the new Youth Entrepreneurship Programme and the Youth Entrepreneurship Fund to be introduced by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and its entrepreneurship agencies. My Department will work with the relevant agencies to identify how best to facilitate links between local youth services and the Local Enterprise Offices /Microfinance Ireland so that young people under age 25, especially those who are furthest from the labour market, can be supported and mentored in entrepreneurial initiatives. My Department will also work with the youth sector organisations to facilitate the increased participation in volunteering opportunities by unemployed people in supporting the provision of youth services throughout the country. Such volunteering provides young people and adults with opportunities to develop and derive job relevant skills and competencies. The Department is also working closely with Léargas, the Exchange Bureau, on the Youth Chapter of the new Erasmus + programme 2014-2020, under which significant resources will be made available to Ireland in the coming years. The objective is to encourage youth groups and organisations to bring forward proposals to ensure that as many young people as possible can avail of transnational exchanges and opportunities to enhance their skills, competencies and employability.
My Department continues to work closely with the Departments of Education and Skills, Social Protection and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and with youth organisations to identify in what ways the youth sector can contribute to shared policy objectives to address youth employment and the Youth Guarantee.
133. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the forthcoming early years strategy will provide an action plan for the regulation of paid for profit child minders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21045/14]View answer
The development of Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to 6 years, is being progressed in my Department. The objective is to create an innovative and dynamic blueprint for the future development of Ireland’s early years sector and a coherent approach to seeking to improve the lives of children from birth to 6 years. The Department of Childen and Youth Affairs is committed to ensuring high standards in early years service provision, both in terms of care and curriculum. The role of quality provision is critical in contributing to childhood development and this key objective will be reflected fully in the Early Years Strategy.
One of the specific issues of policy which has been identified for consideration in the preparation of the new Strategy is the future role and regulation of the childminding sector, which is already an important component of early childhood care and education. At present pre-school services are subject to the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No.2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991.
Services providing care for children who have not yet commenced primary school are required to notify their service to the Early Years Inspectorate of the Child and Family Agency and are subject to inspection and report by the Inspectorate on a regular basis. Services covered by the Regulations include full-time, part-time and sessional services as well as childminders taking care of more than three pre-school children from different families in the childminder’s home.
Childminders who are not subject to the requirement to notify are, however, encouraged to voluntarily notify their service to their local City or County Childcare Committee which provides a range of supports to enable them to improve the standards of their childcare service. These supports include the Childminders Tax Exemption scheme which provides for a tax exemption for those childminders who have satisfactorily participated in the Voluntary Notification process and whose annual income from childminding does not exceed €15,000.
Some €10 million of funding, allied to these supports, was invested over a period of 10 years to encourage childminders to notify. This was seen as a potential first step to bringing all non family childminders under the Regulations. This stepped approach has worked in some countries, such as Scotland. However, only 1250 childminders voluntarily notified here and a further 2,000 to 3,000 participate in training. It is clear that there are barriers specific to Ireland in bringing childminders under the regulatory framework. The Early Years Strategy will include consideration of how this complex issue might be addressed in the future.
134. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the current status of the national audit of neglect cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20948/14]View answer
The Audit Report on neglect cases and its recommendations have informed the ongoing development of services to ensure improved wellbeing and outcomes for children. This audit was commissioned as part of the wider process of continued improvements into the practices in child protection.
My predecessor, Minister Fitzgerald, provided replies to the Deputy on 12th February and 27th March and the position remains as outlined in these recent responses. I will be happy to provide an update for the Deputy as matters are further progressed.
135. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he is satisfied with the manner in which residential care staff sleep-over duty hours and payments are calculated and that this matter has been referred as a formal complaint to the European Commission as breaching the EU Working Time Directive; the action he will take regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20866/14]View answer
The matters referred to above are currently part of a Labour Relations Commission conciliation process which is ongoing and I am therefore not in a position to comment at this time.
136. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Taoiseach the current capacity utilisation in the manufacturing industry here; the reason Ireland is the only EU state not to have provided this information to EUROSTAT; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20608/14]View answer
The data referred to is the Current Level of Capacity Utilisation in the Manufacturing Industry, part of the DG ECFIN suite of Business and Consumer Surveys. The CSO are not the suppliers of this data and this type of qualitative data is not collected by the CSO.
This suite of Business and Consumer data provide information for economic surveillance and short term forecasting. Almost all of the questions are of a qualitative nature. In particular, the industry survey is largely qualitative and its main questions refer to an assessment of recent trends in production, of the current levels of order books and stocks, as well as expectations about production, selling prices and employment. In addition, the survey provides on a quarterly basis quantitative information on two variables that are not reported in conventional statistics, capacity utilisation and the number of months of production assured. The organisation supplying data for Ireland to DG ECFIN for the consumer section of this suite of surveys is GfK NOP. We have twice queried with DG ECFIN the source of the industry data supplied up to Q2/2012 but they have yet to confirm who are their suppliers of the data.
137. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the number of commercial semi-State companies under the aegis of his Department; the current value of the pension fund assets held by each commercial semi-State company; the latest funding position of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20912/14]View answer
There are no commercial semi State companies under the remit of my Department.
138. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Taoiseach if he will provide in tabular format, a breakdown of all annual costs associated with the running of the MerrionStreet.ie Government news service since 2011; including staffing, overtime, website maintenance, equipment costs, hosting, spend on promoting content on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter or any other platforms and any other associated costs. [21003/14]View answer
There are no costs associated with promoting content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or any other platform.
139. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Taoiseach if he will provide details of all official foreign trips he and Ministers of State in his Department intend to take between now and the end of 2014; if he will detail whom he and Ministers of State in his Department will be meeting on these trips; the purpose of the trip; the duration of the trip; if there are plans to use all of these trips to promote Ireland as a good place for doing business and as a destination for foreign direct investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21083/14]View answer
The following is my official travel confirmed to date for the remainder of the year.
I am scheduled to travel to the United States of America from 4th to 7th of June. The final programme has not yet been confirmed but the primary focus will be on promoting investment, trade and job creation.
I plan to travel to Berlin on 3 July (1 day), to deliver an address to an economic conference. The visit will include a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel. The purpose of my visit is both to promote Irish economic interests, and to consolidate bilateral Ireland/Germany relations.
I plan to travel to Turin on 11 July (1 day), to attend an EU Heads of State and Government (HOSG) level meeting on youth employment. I also propose to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Renzi. The purpose of my visit is both to identify actions at EU and national level to combat youth unemployment, and to consolidate bilateral Ireland/Italy relations.
My other EU engagements between now and the end of the year include attendance at European Council meetings with Heads of State and Government and attendance at informal meetings of EU Heads of State and Government in Brussels. These include:
- 27 May - Informal meeting of the European Council
- 26-27 June - European Council
- 23-24 October - European Council
- 18-19 December - European Council
I am also due to attend the British Irish Council (BIC) Summit in Guernsey on 13 June and again in the Isle of Man on 28 November. I will be meeting with the other BIC Heads of Administrations at these summits.
I am informed that Mr. Paul Kehoe T.D., Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, does not have any plans for official travel this year.
140. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Taoiseach if any telephone calls in or out of his Department are being, or ever have been recorded, and if so, if he will provide details of the systems used to record and store such calls, the cost to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21241/14]View answer
There is none and never has been any system in place to record telephone calls in or out of my Department.
141. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the number of State agencies and public bodies that have been merged or abolished in each year since 2011, under the remit of his Department; the annual savings associated with each body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21799/14]View answer
Although no agencies or bodies under the aegis of my Department have been abolished or merged since 2011, the number of bodies within my Department's remit has been reduced substantially since 2009. In that year the Active Citizenship Office and the Forum on Europe were closed, while in 2010 the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance were dissolved.
Following the Public Service Reform Plan published by the Government in 2011, in July 2012 the Government agreed to the recommendations of a Review undertaken by my Department of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) and the National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO). This includes dissolving the NESDO while retaining the NESC as a statutory body. Work to implement the outcome of the Review, including development of the necessary legislation, is ongoing.