Childcare Services

Questions (1201)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

1201. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will review correspondence (details supplied); if she will address the concerns outlined and respond to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13392/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Assisting families to access high quality, affordable early learning and care and school age childcare is a priority for me as Minister and hence I take the issues raised in the letter very seriously. My officials have responded separately to the service provider who wrote the letter referred to in the Deputy's question.

My Department funds a number of early learning and care and school age childcare programmes. Given the large amount of public money that is used in funding these programmes, there needs to be an appropriate level of oversight and accountability. My Department believes that our approach to compliance and supporting services strikes a necessary and appropriate balance. Our approach involves setting out the rules for the receipt of State funding, supporting providers to deliver services, and at the same time, the approach offers assurances to the taxpayer that the funding assigned is being spent as it was intended.

A high level of compliance with the rules of the various childcare schemes is vital to maintaining existing investment as well as ensuring future investment. It is a requirement that services operating the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes funded by my Department must be compliant with the ‘Rules for DCYA childcare funding programmes’, the most recent of which was published on 9 August 2018. Compliance with these rules is overseen by Pobal on behalf of my Department. Because subsidies for the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes are paid based on attendance (not enrolment), this is a vital governance component of the funding for which my Department is responsible.

I very much appreciate that community childcare settings provide a valuable service to children and families across the country. I also appreciate their stated concerns regarding their sustainability. Hence, significant support is available to them to bring their service onto a more sustainable footing, whilst being necessarily compliant with scheme rules.

My Department oversees an integrated Case Management system operated by Pobal through which a dedicated team assesses services facing challenges. This Case Management service provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance. Financial supports are also available for services facing certain challenges which may also be accessed through Case Management following a financial assessment.

Results from Pobal compliance visits for the first part of the programme year 2018/2019 show some issues in relation to non-compliance which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am encouraged however that most services have engaged constructively with the process so far. I would recommend all other services to get in contact with Pobal or their local City / County Childcare Committee if they need support or advice, or if they believe a sustainability issue arises.

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) will replace the targeted schemes later this year. My Department’s policy relating to the NCS was informed by evidence and with the best interests of children and families in mind. The legislation that I brought forward, supporting the scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was the subject of much discussion in the Houses and many elements of the policy were considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children on a number of occasions.

The new scheme will not have a snapshot window. Its attendance rules will seek to reflect the reality of children and parents' lives and the need for services to operate as businesses. The attendance rules will reflect a certain degree of flexibility whilst honouring the requirement to ensure that Exchequer funding is used for the purposes it was intended.

My Department has begun to roll out a major national information campaign in relation to how this new scheme will operate. A significant amount of time will be invested in working with services to ensure that they are ready for it.

Under NCS, subsidies will be paid to a service provider for a child regularly using the childcare place. In other words, the scheme will contain rules in relation to circumstances where a child leaves the service, is absent or is not fully using the agreed place over a prolonged period. The rules have been developed to be fair, proportionate and child-centred, while also being clear and consistent. Importantly they will recognise the need for flexibility for parents. My Department has worked hard to ensure that they will not disadvantage services for what can be considered minor non-attendances. At the same time, they will recognise the need to protect State finances by ensuring that Exchequer funds are used to support the maximum number of families in need of financial support, represent value for money for taxpayers, and are managed and allocated in accordance with robust and appropriate procedures.

The Deputy will be aware that investment in childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the last four budgets, now totalling €575 million per year. Community services access much of this growing investment. Turnover for many services has increased quite substantially (given that the number of servicers operating has increased only slightly) and co-payments / top-up payments made by parents has decreased, both measures assisting many services to strengthen their sustainability and review their business model to meet compliance requirements.

The National Childcare Scheme will mark another significant milestone for early learning and care and school age childcare in this country, creating an infrastructure from which Government can further increase investment in services over the next decade. This is in line with the commitment made in First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, I published last November.

Preschool Services

Questions (1202)

Bríd Smith

Question:

1202. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if it is possible for parents to sign a legal disclaimer to protect their child's place in a crèche that is being instructed by Tusla to reduce its numbers due to small floor size. [13416/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Under the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016, any pre-school service (other than childminders who are exempt from regulation under the Child Care Act 1991) must be registered with Tusla and is subject to the Regulations. The Regulations apply to all relevant services without exception. The Tusla Early Years Inspectorate promotes the quality, safety and appropriate care of children by robust inspection of the sector, in line with the Regulations.

Regulation 30 includes specific requirements regarding floor space, which are specifically intended to protect children's health, safety, welfare and development. The Tusla Early Years Inspectorate can request a reduction in child numbers if deemed necessary to meet the Regulations, given the floor space available in a service. Where the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate takes this course of action, the service is required to comply. If as a result there is a reduction in the number of places available in the service, the local City/County Childcare Committee is available to help parents to find alternative provision in their locality.

Early Childhood Care and Education Data

Questions (1203)

Joan Burton

Question:

1203. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the estimated number of children who will be in ECCE in September 2019, by year of birth and local authority. [13430/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is a universal programme available to all children within the eligible age range. It was first introduced in 2010 as a one-year programme to provide children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school.

In line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, the ECCE Programme was extended in September 2018. Children are now eligible to enrol in this Programme once they are 2 years and 8 months of age in the September of a given programme year and are eligible to avail of two years of the programme (provided that they are not older than 5 years and 6 months at the end of the programme year). The proportion of children availing on this entitlement is determined by a range of factors, including the child’s month of birth and parental choice with regard to school starting age.

The estimated number of children enrolling in the ECCE Programme 2019/20 is 108,518. This estimate is derived using a number of data sources, including population data provided by the CSO and data on school starting age from the Pupil Online Database held by the Department of Education and Skills. It also reflects consistent trends in uptake of the ECCE Programme, which is in the region of 95% of the eligible cohort. It excludes children within the eligible cohort who may choose to enroll on other DCYA funded programmes.

Drawing on previous analysis from the Forward Planning Unit in the Department of Skills on the estimated number of children in each Local Authority that are within the eligible age range for this Programme, the estimated number of children enrolling in the Programme 2019/20 Programme Year in each Local Authority is provided as follows.

County

No.

Carlow

1,323

Dublin City

10,973

Dun Laoghaire - Rathdown

4,316

Fingal

8,570

South Dublin

7,297

Kildare

5,531

Kilkenny

2,272

Laois

2,061

Longford

980

Louth

3,043

Meath

5,046

Offaly

1,811

West Meath

2,124

Wexford

3,373

Wicklow

3,257

Clare

2,544

Cork City

2,181

Cork County

10,146

Kerry

2,889

Limerick

4,338

Tipperary

3,438

Waterford

2,536

Galway

5,900

Leitrim

711

Mayo

2,647

Roscommon

1,332

Sligo

1,428

Cavan

1,744

Donegal

3,319

Monaghan

1,388

Total

108,518

Interdepartmental Working Groups

Questions (1204)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1204. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the working groups currently established in her Department; the focus of their work; the membership composition of each; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13560/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The information requested is currently being collated by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is finalised.

Childcare Services

Questions (1205)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

1205. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if a response will issue to correspondence from an organisation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13618/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Assisting families to access high quality, affordable early learning and care and school age childcare is a priority for me as Minister and hence I take the issues raised in the letter very seriously. My officials have responded separately to the service provider who wrote the letter referred to in the Deputy's question.

My Department funds a number of early learning and care and school age childcare programmes. Given the large amount of public money that is used in funding these programmes, there needs to be an appropriate level of oversight and accountability. My Department believes that our approach to compliance and supporting services strikes a necessary and appropriate balance. Our approach involves setting out the rules for the receipt of State funding, supporting providers to deliver services, and at the same time, the approach offers assurances to the taxpayer that the funding assigned is being spent as it was intended.

A high level of compliance with the rules of the various childcare schemes is vital to maintaining existing investment as well as ensuring future investment. It is a requirement that services operating the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes funded by my Department must be compliant with the ‘Rules for DCYA childcare funding programmes’, the most recent of which was published on 9 August 2018. Compliance with these rules is overseen by Pobal on behalf of my Department. Because subsidies for the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes are paid based on attendance (not enrolment), this is a vital governance component of the funding for which my Department is responsible.

I very much appreciate that community childcare settings, such as the one referred to in your question, that provide a valuable service to children and families across the country. I also appreciate their stated concerns regarding their sustainability. Hence, significant support is available to them to bring their service onto a more sustainable footing, whilst being necessarily compliant with scheme rules.

My Department oversees an integrated Case Management system operated by Pobal through which a dedicated team assesses services facing challenges. This Case Management service provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance. Financial supports are also available for services facing certain challenges which may also be accessed through Case Management following a financial assessment.

Results from Pobal compliance visits for the first part of the programme year 2018/2019 show some issues in relation to non-compliance which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am encouraged however that most services have engaged constructively with the process so far. I would recommend this service, and any other service, to get in contact with Pobal or their local City / County Childcare Committee if they need support or advice, or if they believe a sustainability issue arises.

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS)will replace the targeted schemes later this year. My Department's policy relating to the NCS was informed by evidence and with the best interests of children and families in mind. The legislation that I brought forward, supporting the scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was the subject of much discussion in the Houses and many elements of the policy were considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children on a number of occasions.

The new scheme will not have a snapshot window. Its attendance rules will seek to reflect the reality of children and parents' lives and the need for services to operate as businesses. The attendance rules will reflect a certain degree of flexibility whilst honouring the requirement to ensure that Exchequer funding is used for the purposes it was intended.

My Department has begun to roll out a major national information campaign in relation to how this new scheme will operate. A significant amount of time will be invested in working with services to ensure that they are ready for it.

Under NCS, subsidies will be paid to a service provider for a child regularly using the childcare place. In other words, the scheme will contain rules in relation to circumstances where a child leaves the service, is absent or is not fully using the agreed place over a prolonged period. The rules have been developed to be fair, proportionate and child-centred, while also being clear and consistent. Importantly they will recognise the need for flexibility for parents. My Department has worked hard to ensure that they will not disadvantage services for what can be considered minor non-attendances. At the same time, they will recognise the need to protect State finances by ensuring that Exchequer funds are used to support the maximum number of families in need of financial support, represent value for money for taxpayers, and are managed and allocated in accordance with robust and appropriate procedures.

The Deputy will be aware that investment in childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the last four budgets, now totalling €575 million per year. Community services access much of this growing investment. Turnover for many services has increased quite substantially (given that the number of servicers operating has increased only slightly) and co-payments / top-up payments made by parents has decreased, both measures assisting many services to strengthen their sustainability and review their business model to meet compliance requirements.

The National Childcare Scheme will mark another significant milestone for early learning and care and school age childcare in this country, creating an infrastructure from which Government can further increase investment in services over the next decade. This is in line with the commitment made in First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, I published last November.

Architectural Heritage

Questions (1206)

Michael McGrath

Question:

1206. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the partial demolition of a historic 19th century stone folly on the grounds of the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Mahon, Cork; if her Department is taking action on the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13713/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am aware of the concerns being expressed in relation to recent construction activities on the grounds of the former Mother and Baby Home in Bessborough, Cork.

These concerns have also been raised with me by members of the Collaborative Forum of former residents of this and similar institutions.

My understanding is that there are protections in place in respect of this property under Section 53 of the Planning and Developments Acts. Relevant regulations and controls are a matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Cork City Council.

I am informed that Cork City Council has been in contact with the owners of the property in this regard. The Deputy may wish to contact the Council directly for any further information that may be available.

Departmental Complaints Procedure

Questions (1207)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1207. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of complaints submitted to her Department in 2017 and 2018 and to date in 2019; the number of appeals made with respect to the outcome of such complaints; the number referred to the Office of the Ombudsman; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13775/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department’s procedures for dealing with customer complaints are detailed in its Customer Service Action Plan and Charter, which is available on the Department's website. If a complaint is made by a customer it is dealt with by the Unit of my Department responsible for the issue to which the complaint relates.

If the complaint is not resolved by the Unit to the satisfaction of the customer, they may contact the Department’s Customer Services Officer who will liaise with the customer and the Unit involved to resolve the matter if possible.

Under the Action Plan and Charter referred to above, a complaint is formally logged by the Department when a customer contacts the Customer Services Officer in relation to an unresolved complaint, and requests that Officer to intervene to resolve the matter.

In the years 2017, 2018 and to date in 2019, no such requests were received by the Customer Services Officer of my Department, and as such no complaints were escalated to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Childcare Services Regulation

Questions (1208)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

1208. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the findings of a report by an organisation (details supplied) in relation to childminders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13812/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The 2019 Childcare Barometer published recently by Early Childhood Ireland, referred to by the Deputy, showed that almost 90% of Irish adults believe that childminders should be Garda vetted and have basic first aid and other relevant training. I warmly welcome this finding as I am strongly committed to high quality early learning and care and my Department is taking important steps to ensure childminders are central to the provision of early learning and care.

My Department is currently finalising a Childminding Action Plan, which will contain short, medium and long term goals. This action plan will set out steps to move incrementally towards the wider regulation, support and professional development of childminders, along with a timescale to bring them into mainstream provision. A National Childminding Coordinator has recently been recruited who, along with six regional Childminding Development Officers to be appointed in the coming months, will spearhead implementation of the first phase of the Childminding Action Plan.

In relation to Garda vetting, childminders who care for four or more pre-school children from different families or seven or more children of any age (other than their own children) fall within the scope of regulation, and must therefore register with Tusla, be Garda-vetted and meet other regulatory requirements (e.g. having first aid training). The Childminding Action Plan will map out a pathway for bringing a much wider cohort of childminders within the scope of regulation, who will then also be required to be Garda-vetted and meet other regulatory requirements. My Department is actively engaging with the Department of Justice and Equality on the matter of Garda vetting in the context of these plans.

In relation to training for childminders, much is already available in this regard, and I intend to increase the training available through the forthcoming Childminding Action Plan. The Childminding Action Plan will include plans to support the upskilling of childminders though both initial training and continuing professional development.

More immediately, the Children First Act 2015 imposes statutory obligations on certain people to report child protection concerns at or over a defined threshold to Tusla. My Department established the National Early Years Children First Committee in 2013, who are responsible for rolling out child protection training across the early learning and care sector. This training has been made available to all childminders who are registered with Tusla. A free online 'Introduction to Children First' e-learning module has also been developed by Tusla and is available for everyone to complete. Other resources in relation to safeguarding training will become available in 2019, which childminders will be able to avail of. In addition, through the City and County Childcare Committees my Department will shortly make available financial support for early learning and care providers to receive First Aid Response training, which will be a regulatory requirement from June 2020. In addition to one funded place for every registered provider, I am also providing ring-fenced funding for a number of childminders to take part in the training.

Childcare Services Regulation

Questions (1209)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

1209. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of childminders registered with local city or county childcare committees; the number of childminders who have been Garda vetted; the number of childminders in receipt of childminder's tax relief; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13813/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

In accordance with the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended), only childminders who care for seven or more children or who care for 4 or more pre-school children of different families (other than the childminder's own children) are required to register with Tusla. There are currently 101 childminders registered with Tusla. As Garda-vetting is a requirement of registration, these 101 childminders have all been Garda-vetted.

Childminders who are not required to register with Tusla may voluntarily notify their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC) and avail of supports offered. There are currently 610 childminders voluntarily notified to their CCC.  As part of this process the childminders have agreed to an undertaking that they will engage in the Garda-vetting process.  By voluntarily notifying their CCC, childminders can access information on good practice along with training courses such as the Quality Awareness Programme, First Aid and Children First training in child protection.

In addition, there is a significant number of childminders who are exempt from registration with Tusla and who have chosen not to voluntarily notify their CCC. The number of these childminders who are Garda-vetted is not known.  

While voluntary notification is a condition of claiming the Childcare Services Tax Relief of up to €15,000, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs does not hold data on the number of childminders in receipt of this tax relief, and the Minister for Finance would be best positioned to answer this question.

Officials in my Department are currently considering the report of an expert working group on childminding and in the coming months I intend to publish a Childminding Action Plan, which will include a timeline and actions for wider regulation, support and quality assurance of childminders.

Childcare Services Provision

Questions (1210)

Niall Collins

Question:

1210. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will address a matter (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13820/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Assisting childcare providers in extending their existing childcare services, or establishing new childcare services, have always been key areas of focus for my Department's capital programmes.

Each year the Department reviews the capital programmes as a whole and determines the priorities for Early Learning and Care and School Age Capital grants.

The capital strands have been made available to achieve the strategic priorities for 2019 as determined by the Department, having regard to the funding available, developed using analysis of the current state of the childcare sector, learnings from previous capital programmes and feedback and input from stakeholders, including childcare providers and Pobal.

As the service has already identified, they are eligible to apply for Strand C - which is funding for the creation of new school age childcare places. I would advise that the service contacts Pobal by phoning (01) 5117222 or Limerick CCC by phoning (061) 556000, with any questions they may have about eligibility for this year's School Age Capital programmes.

I remain committed to assisting all childcare providers, both community and private, in providing world-class childcare and meeting demand for childcare places, and I anticipate that this year's Capital programme will build on last year's good work in the sector, as well as that of previous years.

While I am unaware of specific funding available outside of my Department, I believe Limerick County Council do some specific initiatives which may be open to the provider. Further details are available here: https://www.limerick.ie/council/growing-limerick/projects-initiatives.

Children in Care

Questions (1211)

Bríd Smith

Question:

1211. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if children in the care of Tusla are accommodated in emergency situations at locations provided for adult homeless services; if so, the safeguards taken at these locations; if the policy is approved by her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13877/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Children in the care of Tulsa are provided with placements with foster families, relatives and where necessary, residential services. At the end of September 2018, 5,602 children, more than 90% of those in the care of the State, were placed with foster families or with relative foster carers.

Children in the care of Tusla are not placed in adult homeless services.

In certain circumstances young people who present as homeless , that is in the absence of a parent or guardian, are accommodated with approved emergency foster carers and residential services. These services are dedicated to children under the age of 18.

Child Custody and Access

Questions (1212)

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

1212. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if child contact centres will be established to enable the supervised access to children without a parent who is a victim of domestic violence having to make contact with the other parent; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13909/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am committed to supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children, and to help families be the best that they can be.

I want to see every child maintaining positive contact with both of their parents, when it is in the child's best interests. For some children, it is in their interest that this contact happens in a supervised, neutral, child-friendly venue. This is especially pertinent where children are in state care and where domestic violence has been a feature of family life.

 The Final Evaluation of the Barnardos/One Family Pilot Child Contact Centre Report recommended an integrated response by my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality. It is my belief that this is the best approach to progress the recommendations.

I can  advise that officials from my Department have come together with colleagues in the Department of Justice and Equality to jointly look at the implementation of the recommendations of the report.

In preparation for the work of the Group, officials in my Department are finalising a scoping exercise to establish the current provision of family contact services.

To date this has included reviewing:

- evaluations and recommendations relating to family contact services;

- family contact services available in other jurisdictions;

- the services currently offered at Family Resource Centres;

- information from other service providers relating to the needs of children and families

and consultation with individuals who are/have been working directly in  family contact services.

My officials are in contact with the Department of Justice and Equality with a view to share the findings of the review and to plan next steps.

Youth Services Funding

Questions (1213)

Eugene Murphy

Question:

1213. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the avenues of funding and grant support open to a group (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14027/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The overall budget for the youth sector in 2019 is €60.4 million. This represents an additional €1.5 million over 2018. The level of funding supports the delivery of a range of youth work programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth work sector. Youth work programmes and services are delivered by volunteers in communities throughout the country.

Scouting Ireland receives funding under the Youth Service Grant Scheme (YSGS) This funding is provided to 30 national and major regional voluntary youth organisations for the support of voluntary youth work. The funding is provided to ensure the emergence, promotion, growth and development of youth organisations with distinctive philosophies and programmes aimed at the social education of young people. Funding is provided primarily to the head offices of these organisations and many are engaged in youth work activities on a regional or nationwide basis.

In 2019 current funding of €1,100,000 was allocated to Scouting Ireland. While the funding of Scouting Ireland under the Youth Service Grant Scheme comes within the remit of this Department, any operational questions are a matter for Scouting Ireland. The Deputy may wish to note YSGS funding for Scouting Ireland beyond 30 April 2019 is contingent upon a full report from the organisation by the end of March on its compliance with all of the recommendations contained in the Jillian van Turnhout governance review as well as a commitment from Scouting Ireland to ongoing engagement with Tusla.

Any Scouting group is open to apply for a grant under the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme which is operated by the regional Education and Training Boards. The total grant available nationwide this year under this scheme is just over €2 million and is divided among the 16 Education and Training Boards.

Departmental Reviews

Questions (1214)

Joan Burton

Question:

1214. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she will publish the independent review of the cost of delivery of quality childcare; and if it will be published before Easter 2019 at the latest. [14066/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Crowe was commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to undertake an independent review on the cost of providing quality childcare in Ireland in Autumn 2017. The brief included:

- analysing the current costs of providing childcare and the factors that impact on these costs;

- the development and delivery of a model of the unit costs of providing childcare that allows analysis of policy changes and variation in cost-drivers, including the potential impact of professionalisation; and

- providing an objective, high-level market analysis of the childcare sector in Ireland, including analysis of fee levels charged to parents.

An approach and methodology were decided upon in partnership with the DCYA and a number of key activities have been undertaken to date. These include:

- engagement with key stakeholders from the sector, including the Early Years Forum, provider representative organisations, the City and County Childcare Committees, Statutory bodies, childcare professional training bodies, and academics;

- the administration of a survey to all centre-based childcare providers nationally, to provide the data on which the modelling tool would be based;

- the development of a cost modelling tool (and guidance document) to present the baseline cost data and enable the testing of the impact of a range of scenarios, namely changes to cost drivers on the unit costs of delivering childcare services; and

- the preparation of an economic and market analysis paper, and a final report detailing the elements of the review and the key findings.

Crowe delivered the outputs from this Review in early 2019; the costs modelling tool, guidance document, economic and market analysis paper, and final report.

All outputs received will be subject to independent peer review. A Request for Quotations (RfQ) to undertake the peer review was issued on 5 March 2019. Once complete, the outputs will be made available to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for consideration.

It is anticipated that the Review will be published in Q2 2019.

Consultancy Contracts Data

Questions (1215)

Joan Burton

Question:

1215. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the amount paid to a company (details supplied) in each of the years 2015 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the purpose of the payments; the date of the original contract; if the contract is ongoing; if not, the date of completion; and if the review or report has been published. [14067/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The information requested by the Deputy is included in the following table:

Year

Amount (€) including VAT

Purpose of the payment

Date of original contract

Contract ongoing (Yes/No)

Date contract completed (if completed)

Review/Report published? (Yes/No)

2017

67,930.42

Payment in respect of the Independent Review of Costs

26 September 2017

Yes

 

No

2018

11,992.50

Payment in respect of the Independent Review of Costs

26 September 2017

Yes

 

No

2018

67,637.70

Payment in respect of the Independent Review of Costs

26 September 2017

Yes

 

No

2018

€134,316

Development of an appropriate control environment for ACS (Governance)  

January 2018

Yes

n/a

no

2018

€104,574

Focussed Research to Support ACS Work/Study Rules and sustainability   analysis

May 2018

Yes

n/a

no

2018

€17,134

Provision of Process Audit/Procurement Advice Services for ACS

March 2018

No

July 2018

No

Childcare Services Funding

Questions (1216)

Seán Haughey

Question:

1216. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if funding will be restored to a childcare provider (details supplied) to 2017-2018## levels under the community childcare subvention scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14077/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Assisting families to access high quality, affordable early learning and care and school age childcare is a priority for me as Minister and hence I take all questions and concerns raised by services very seriously.

My Department funds a number of early learning and care and school age childcare programmes. Given the large amount of public money that is used in funding these programmes, there needs to be an appropriate level of oversight and accountability. My Department believes that our approach to compliance and supporting services strikes a necessary and appropriate balance. Our approach involves setting out the rules for the receipt of State funding, supporting providers to deliver services, and at the same time, the approach offers assurances to the taxpayer that the funding assigned is being spent as it was intended.

A high level of compliance with the rules of the various childcare schemes is vital to maintaining existing investment as well as ensuring future investment. It is a requirement that services operating the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes funded by my Department must be compliant with the ‘Rules for DCYA childcare funding programmes’, the most recent of which was published on 9 August 2018. Compliance with these rules is overseen by Pobal on behalf of my Department. Because subsidies for the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes are paid based on attendance (not enrolment), this is a vital governance component of the funding for which my Department is responsible. As funding is based on attendance, the Department cannot restore funding which was provided on the basis of registrations which did not match actual attendance. 

 I very much appreciate that community childcare settings, such as the one referred to in your question, provide a valuable service to children and families across the country. I also appreciate the impact reduced income, as a result of compliance visits, can have on their service. Hence, significant support is available to them to ensure  sustainable, whilst being necessarily compliant with scheme rules.

My Department oversees an integrated Case Management system operated by Pobal through which a dedicated team assesses services facing challenges. This Case Management service provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance. Financial supports are also available for services facing certain challenges which may also be accessed through Case Management following a financial assessment.  

Results from Pobal compliance visits for the first part of the programme year 2018/2019 show some issues in relation to non-compliance which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am encouraged however that most services have engaged constructively with the process so far. I would recommend this service, and any other service, to get in contact with Pobal or their local City / County Childcare Committee if they need support or advice, or if they believe a sustainability issue arises.

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) will replace the targeted schemes later this year. My Department’s policy relating to the NCS was informed by evidence and with the best interests of children and families in mind. The legislation that I brought forward, supporting the scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was the subject of much discussion in the Houses and many elements of the policy were considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children on a number of occasions.

The new scheme will not have a snapshot window. Its attendance rules will seek to reflect the reality of children and parents' lives and the need for services to operate as businesses. The attendance rules will reflect a certain degree of flexibility whilst honouring the requirement to ensure that Exchequer funding is used for the purposes it was intended.

My Department has begun to roll out a major national information campaign in relation to how this new scheme will operate. A significant amount of time will be invested in working with services to ensure that they are ready for it.

Under NCS, subsidies will be paid to a service provider for a child regularly using the childcare place. In other words, the scheme will contain rules in relation to circumstances where a child leaves the service, is absent or is not fully using the agreed place over a prolonged period. The rules have been developed to be fair, proportionate and child-centred, while also being clear and consistent. Importantly they will recognise the need for flexibility for parents. My Department has worked hard to ensure that they will not disadvantage services for what can be considered minor non-attendances. At the same time, they will recognise the need to protect State finances by ensuring that Exchequer funds are used to support the maximum number of families in need of financial support, represent value for money for taxpayers, and are managed and allocated in accordance with robust and appropriate procedures.

The Deputy will be aware that investment in childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the last four budgets, now totalling €575 million per year. Community services access much of this growing investment. Turnover for many services has increased quite substantially (given that the number of servicers operating has increased only slightly) and co-payments / top-up payments made by parents has decreased, both measures assisting many services to strengthen their sustainability and review their business model to meet compliance requirements.

The National Childcare Scheme will mark another significant milestone for early learning and care and school age childcare in this country, creating an infrastructure from which Government can further increase investment in services over the next decade. This is in line with the commitment made in First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, I published last November.

Domestic Violence

Questions (1217)

Seán Haughey

Question:

1217. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the budget for domestic sexual and gender based violence services in 2017 and 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14085/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Under the Child and Family Agency Act, 2013, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the provision of care and protection to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV). In discharging its statutory responsibility, Tusla supports 59 organisations nationally that deliver a range of services to victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence.

Since taking up office, in 2016, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I have prioritised the development of DSGBV services. This has been reflected in the level of additional funding provided to Tusla for these services.

In 2017, Tusla provided €22.1 million in funding to domestic, sexual and gender based violence services, an increase of €1.5 million over 2016 funding. This level of funding was increased by €1.7 million in 2018, bringing the total level of funding for DSGBV services to €23.8 million.

I can further advise that the allocation for DSGBV services in 2019 is €25.3 million, an increase of €1.5 million over 2018.

Tusla will continue to work with service providers throughout the country in the provision of resources to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, including emergency refuge accommodation, non-refuge accommodation, and community supports for victims.

Departmental Data

Questions (1218)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

1218. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the date research on placement stability (details supplied) collated by Tusla with statistics published in other jurisdictions will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14111/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I have written to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency to request this information. A further response will issue when I have their reply.

Mobile Telephony Services

Questions (1219)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

1219. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the cost of the mobile phone black spot pilot project his Department is co-funding in Malin Beg with a company (details supplied) and Donegal County Council; the timeframe for the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13866/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

The project referred to by the Deputy is supported by my Department under the Digital Innovation Programme.

The Digital Innovation Programme was launched in 2018 with the aim of supporting digital development in Local Authority areas for the benefit of communities.

Applications are required to meet certain criteria which include the project being Local Authority-led, and providing evidence that the project will take an innovative approach and provide a public benefit. Collaborative projects and projects that benefit multiple sections of the community are particularly welcome.

The project in Malin Beg is an initiative driven by local people and supported by Donegal County Council, who submitted a successful application for funding under the Digital Innovation Programme in 2018. The project aims to use a publicly owned building as a site for a mobile phone mast, providing the residents of Malin Beg with reliable mobile phone coverage. This is a service that local people and visitors do not currently enjoy.

A mobile phone operator has committed to partner with the Local Authority to ensure that the project is completed. The collaborative nature of the project could serve as an exemplar of development through cooperation in the field of telecommunications service provision, and could encourage other communities, Local Authorities and telecoms operators to collaborate in a similar way for mutual benefit.

Funding of €35,000 was awarded to Donegal County Council by my Department under the Digital Innovation Programme for the project. My Department did not provide any funding to the mobile phone operator.

A survey of the site was undertaken in February of this year which informed the detailed design of the mast, which is now in its final stages. Current estimates are that the project will be finalised before the middle of this year.

The expected benefits of this project are wide ranging, from social inclusion, to meeting the needs of local businesses. The area of Donegal in question has never had reliable mobile phone coverage, leaving local residents at a distinct disadvantage. The project will be reviewed to ensure that the learnings from the project are fully captured, including the extent to which this particular approach can be replicated in other parts of the country.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (1220)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

1220. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to establish a digital development office in each local authority area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13867/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

My Department currently co-funds the salary of a Broadband Officer in each of the 31 Local Authorities across the country. The Broadband Officers were appointed to support the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, which I chair. The Taskforce is working to improve mobile phone and broadband services for all users by identifying and addressing issues that can enhance those services.

Under the 2018 Work Programme of the Taskforce, the County and City Management Association (CCMA), with support from my Department, has committed to reviewing the role of the Broadband Officers in order to clearly define and standardise the role across all Local Authorities, and to put in place structures to provide a greater level of support to the Broadband Officers.

I understand that a proposal document is currently being drafted on behalf of the CCMA by one Local Authority and this document will be reviewed by the CCMA. Ultimately, the question of establishing a Digital Development Office will be a matter for the Local Authorities to decide.

Control of Dogs

Questions (1221)

James Browne

Question:

1221. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the most recent tender issued by a local authority (details supplied) regarding operating its dog pound and warden service; when the local authority will reopen a tender process for this service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14018/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

Under the Control of Dogs Acts, local authorities have responsibility for operating and managing dog control and licensing services in their administrative areas. This includes the management of dog pounds and shelters and my Department has no involvement in this process.

However, enquiries have been made by my Department with the local authority concerned. It tendered for the provision of a dog pound and dog warden services on its own behalf and on behalf of some other local authority areas in March 2017. Each of those local authorities then put their own individual contract in place. The local authority referenced put in place a contract for one year from 1 July 2017 with an option to extend for a further three periods of one year each (a maximum of four years). The local authority has confirmed that its contract has been extended to 30 June 2019 and that a decision on a further extension will be made shortly.