Questions Nos. 49 to 61, inclusive, answered orally.

Childcare Services Provision

Questions (62, 83)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

62. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the alternative arrangements put in place for children attending crèches (details supplied) that face closure by the end of 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51554/19]

View answer

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

83. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way in which she will address the lack of childcare facilities for parents in the Dublin 7 area, which has worsened due to the closure of facilities run by a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51331/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 83 together.

The removal of crèches from the Register of Early Years Services is the ultimate sanction by Tusla, the independent statutory Regulator. It comes at the end of an enforcement process, during which a provider is afforded fair procedure, and generally provided with several opportunities to rectify matters and meet regulatory requirements. Tusla does not take the decision lightly and generally does so because of persistent and serious non-compliance with the Regulations. While there is a right of appeal to the District Court within 21 days, the services will be required to close after the notice period.

The safety and protection of children remains the first priority of the regulator and indeed of Government. Safety and protection is assured through the enforcement of regulations which have children at the heart of their implementation.

I have great sympathy for parents who, due to de-registration of their crèche, now need to find alternative childcare options. This comes in addition to the distress they may already be experiencing due to the poor standards uncovered. Their distress is further exacerbated where access to alternative services is limited or indeed absent.

Where a service is removed from the register, City and County Childcare Committees are available to support parents who need help finding alternative provision. In the case of current de-registrations in central Dublin, officials in my Department have been liaising closely with Dublin City Childcare Committee and Fingal County Childcare Committee, to offer supports to parents who will be affected by the closures. Both Childcare Committees have operated extended opening hours to support parents who need help finding alternative provision.

Both Childcare Committees have also been actively seeking to support the development of alternative childcare options in the locality, either through the development of new services, or the expansion of existing services. Tusla has also agreed to fast-track any applications received from providers to increase capacity in the area.

I would like to encourage providers to consider expansion given apparent demand in the area and the fact that demand may continue to increase with the introduction last month of the National Childcare Scheme and other measures being taken by Government.

It will not be a comfort to the parents affected in this case, but capacity in the sector has doubled in the last 5 years, and continues to rise. My Department is actively seeking to increase capacity even further, through a range of measures including its annual capital funding scheme. In 2019, I provided €5.9m towards the creation of new places within the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector. I hope to announce details for a new 2020 capital scheme in the coming weeks.

Childminders are also an option that parents may consider and Childminding Ireland is available to provide information to parents on potential childminding places. My Department has recently been consulting on a Draft Childminding Action Plan. Once the plan is finalised, reforms will commence that should see more childminders being available to offer places and to deliver Government schemes.

Domestic Violence

Questions (63)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

63. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the appeals process arising from the decision made following the submission of expressions of interest by Galway city, county and the islands for the development of a comprehensive domestic violence outreach service; the status of the appeals process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51482/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

In 2019, I was pleased to be in a position to provide Tusla, the Child and Family Agency with €1.5 million in additional funding for the provision of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.

This funding allowed 12 additional domestic violence outreach workers to be employed in areas of need in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Galway and Wicklow.

Following an extensive needs analysis project by Tusla, carried out with local stakeholders, areas of County Galway were identified as requiring access to additional services. The allocation of outreach workers in Galway was prioritised in 2019.

Tusla conducted a commissioning process to identify service providers that would lead on service provision in County Galway. This was completed in September 2019.

I understand there were several expressions of interest from service providers in Galway. Not all parties were successful in the application process. Following the completion of the process, an appeal was made by an organisation seeking a review of the decision making process.

Tusla has advised me that the appeal has been referred to a senior official at Service Director level, and will be examined accordingly. The outcome of the appeal will be communicated to the organisation concerned in the coming weeks.

Tusla is committed to using all available resources in the most efficient, fair, proportionate and sustainable way in order to improve outcomes for service users. Tusla’s Commissioning Strategy was developed to support Tusla and its partners to deliver on this important objective.

It is important that Tusla and all funded service providers work together to ensure that the best possible service is provided to those who experience domestic violence, and who require their help.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Questions (64)

James Browne

Question:

64. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to provide additional refuge places in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51101/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am pleased that Ireland ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) on the 8 March, 2019 - International Women's Day.

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).

Since taking up office, in 2016, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I have prioritised the development of these services. This has been reflected in the level of additional funding provided to Tusla in this area, which has increased from €22.1 million in 2017 to €25.3 million in 2019.

Tusla currently funds 155 family units of domestic violence accommodation. A family unit accommodates 1 adult and up to 3 children.

Additional funding this year has allowed for the opening of a new refuge later this month in South Dublin, providing 5 family units of emergency refuge accommodation. A newly refurbished refuge is also scheduled to open in Galway in January 2020 and will provide an additional 3 family units of emergency refuge accommodation.

With regard to the future provision of additional refuge spaces, it should be noted that the responsibility for capital investment in new refuges falls under the remit of a number of Government bodies. Tusla is in contact with funded organisations in relation to proposed new developments, with plans underway in a number of areas for additional refuge spaces. Future developments will be informed by Tusla’s review of emergency refuge accommodation nationwide, which will be completed in early 2020, as well as the identified needs of service users throughout the country.

Child Protection Services Provision

Questions (65)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

65. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which she remains satisfied that adequate counselling, support and rescue services remain available through her Department to meet the requirements of at-risk children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51481/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Tusla ensures counselling services are available through the provision of funding of over €6m to 250 voluntary organisations at national, regional and local level. These organisations offer a variety of counselling and support services including marriage and relationship counselling and child and adolescent counselling. Tusla also funds peer support programmes for children and, very importantly, bereavement counselling. Many of these counselling services are offered through Family Resource Centres.

Tusla provides a range of support services to families in their parenting role, and where more serious risks to children are identified. In the main these are provided by family resource centres and by a range of funded organisations, such as Barnardos. These organisations work with families when problems are first identified, and also work with children and families assessed as needing a higher level of intervention. Tusla child protection services work in partnership with support services to ensure the most appropriate type of help is in place, depending on the individual circumstances of each child.

In the first half of 2019, Tusla spend over €2m on private therapists to provide therapeutic services to children in care and at risk where they were not able to access a suitable public service.

It is important that I stress that if a child appears to be at risk of harm or neglect, Tusla should be notified as soon as possible. If there is an immediate danger, An Garda Síochána should be contacted without delay. The Gardaí have specific powers under Section 12 of the Child Care Act to remove a child from a situation of danger, and under Section 13 of that same Act to deliver the child into the custody of Tusla. Tusla will at that point carry out an assessment to determine the child's needs. This may in some cases include applying for an Emergency Care Order. In all cases, a plan will be put in place to ensure that the child is safe from harm and their care needs are met.

Childcare Services

Questions (66)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

66. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way in which she plans to ensure the national childcare scheme will benefit parents in view of the fact there is no onus on childcare providers to take part in the scheme and the introduction of a ratio of carers to school-age children is set to increase the cost of running the facility, which will be passed on to the parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51545/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Childcare Scheme opened on November 20th. It is being opened on a phased basis, with the online application system now available and a postal application system available from early 2020. The NCS streamlines the existing targeted schemes and is more accessible for both parents and service providers. I am delighted that there has been a very high volume of applications since its opening. As of the 9th December over 12,000 applications have been submitted, relating to over 17,000 children.

The Deputy is correct in saying that there is no onus on childcare providers to partake in the NCS. However, supports were provided earlier this year to encourage providers to sign up to the Scheme. These supports included various training and information resources, the NCS transition Support Payment, and the NCS Capital Grant. I am delighted that 3645 services across the country contracted to deliver the NCS. Their details are available on the NCS website.

With regard to the school-age-childcare ratios, these ratios were introduced with the best interest of children in mind and they have been widely welcomed by child advocates. My Department does not expect to see an increase in fees for school-age-childcare or an overall reduction in places as a result of the regulations.

Data from a sample of 400 school-age childcare services, indicates an average adult-child ratio for school age childcare of 1:9, well within the 1:12 ratio required.

Other data provided by childcare providers across 29 areas, shows that only 16% of services were operating above the 1:12 ratio.

Based on the same data from providers, it is estimated we will see an increase of approximately 2,000 school age childcare places.

Through the National Childcare Scheme and a range of other measures, I am committed to changing Ireland’s childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world to one of the very best. Good progress has been made and the commitments are in place to continue this journey.

Departmental Budgets

Questions (67)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

67. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason an unused amount of €60 million was returned to the Exchequer in 2018 as reported by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51551/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Deputy is referring the Department's 2017 financial allocation.

In 2017, the Department was voted €1.3 billion by Dáil Éireann under the Appropriation Act 2017, which also provides that unspent sums are surrendered to the Exchequer under the deferred surrender arrangements established by section 91 of the Finance Act 2004.

The majority of the unspent monies related to the Early Learning and School Age Childcare allocations.

Numbers enrolling under the ECCE scheme were lower than originally planned for. In 2017, changes were made to the scheme, including a three point entry system, and provision was made for a potential 100% take-up rate. The actual take-up rate was only 94%. The shortfall in ECCE enrolments also led to a lower than anticipated engagement in AIM programme by pre-school providers and parents.

In addition to this, a further saving arose on the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and Community Education Training Supports (CETS) programmes due to lower than expected uptake during 2017.

As the Early Learning and School Age Childcare programme year commences each September and can often have fluid movement of children between schemes, it is often very late in the financial year before my Department can fully determine what, if any, savings might arise. This then affects the ability of the Department to identify any other area of the Vote that might benefit from a "virement" (i.e. movement of funding to another subhead or purpose). This is further complicated as any virement involved would only be for once-off funding and would therefore not be available for use in an area that required it in the subsequent financial year.

Childcare Services Data

Questions (68)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

68. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of families and children signed up to the new national childcare scheme; the number of families and children that will remain on legacy schemes; the reason lower income families will not have a choice of scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51105/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Childcare Scheme opened on November 20th for online applications. I am delighted that there has been a very high volume of applications. As of the 9th December over 12,000 applications have been submitted, relating to over 17,000 children and thousands of awards have issued to parents. Parents must bring this award to their childcare provider and once their provider has registered the details, payments will begin to flow.

As of 5th December, the following numbers of children had been approved for the legacy schemes which will remain available until children age out or parents are no longer eligible:-

CCSP 38,555

ASCC 80

CETS 1,198

CEC 732

The National Childcare Scheme is designed to improve the accessibility and affordability of quality childcare for families. By replacing the legacy schemes, the Scheme will increase the number of families who can avail of subsidised childcare, and remove many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing support programmes, whereby a parent had to be in receipt of certain Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive targeted supports.

In this way, the NCS aims to combat the poverty traps which may exist within the existing schemes, and to appropriately incentivise employment and education or training for parents, a policy objective that is known to benefit child and family outcomes.

Leaving the current targeted schemes open indefinitely to new applications would undermine these important policy objectives and would create a considerable administrative overhead for providers.

It would also undermine the significant work done to build a system which greatly improves the governance and compliance associated with the use of Exchequer funds.

Notwithstanding this, I have committed to ensuring that no one loses out in the transition to the new scheme through the “saver” arrangements. This means that persons registered on the CCSP or TEC schemes before they close, and who retain their eligibility, will be able to remain on them indefinitely.

New applications for CCSP closed on 15th November, and applications to the TEC schemes will close from 14th February 2020. Parents using the saver arrangement can move over to the NCS at any point. The Parent Information line can help parents to understand which scheme will serve their family better.

I would finally note that my Department will be continually monitoring the scheme and will examine any adjustments which might be required.

Legislative Process

Questions (69)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

69. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019; the timeline for the progression of the Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51553/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019 was published on 8 August 2019 and completed Third (Committee) Stage in Dáil Éireann on 23 October.

The Bill addresses significant inadequacies in the current system of Guardian ad litem (GAL) provision which is ad hoc, unregulated and in urgent need of reform. Appointment of GALs is uneven, with huge variation in rates of appointment across the country and there is no system for commissioning legal representation for GALs. This Bill will ensure that all children in child care proceedings have their voice heard and the Court gives full consideration as to what is in their best interests. It also gives me the statutory basis to put in place a high quality and sustainable GAL national service within my Department.

I am pleased to note that the Bill has been broadly welcomed. I am currently seeking advice from the Attorney General's office on a number of Opposition amendments that were passed or proposed at Committee stage and am considering some of the concerns raised by Deputies and stakeholders. I am committed to considering how these concerns can be addressed and plan to bring the Bill through Report Stage early in the New Year. I have already put in place a Programme Team to establish the national service within my Department and have secured funding of €2.5 million for 2020 to allow for the opening of the office in January 2021.

Child and Family Agency Data

Questions (70)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

70. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures Tusla and its homeless liaison officer are taking to ensure the necessary supports are in place for homeless families with newborn babies; if there is a waiting list with Tusla for family support workers for homeless families; if so, the number of persons waiting; the length of time they have been waiting; the measures being taken to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51106/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is committed to supporting children, parents and communities in dealing with the impact of homelessness on their lives. The short and long term effects of homelessness on children are well documented. While Tusla does not have a direct role in the provision of housing or accommodation for homeless families, a range of services, from prevention and early intervention through to child welfare and protection, are provided.

Tusla works in partnership with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) and is a key partner on several interagency groups. Bilateral meetings between the DRHE and Tusla take place monthly. Tusla supports ‘one-stop-shop’ assessment centres being led by the DRHE. Tusla staff participate as required on issues involving child protection and welfare, educational welfare and Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (DSGBV) services. The Tusla Homelessness Liaison Officer plays a key role in coordinating this multi-agency response.

Tusla provides funding to Anew which provides residential support to women who are homeless and pregnant and supports to exit homelessness. In addition, I understand from Tusla that the Agency, working with the DRHE, has assisted in bringing about change whereby homeless families with new born babies are discharged into more stable accommodation hubs or private emergency accommodation for a minimum period of 6 weeks.

Services from Tusla are targeted to needs. A new born and their mother identified as needing support will be referred to the appropriate service such as Prevention Partnership and Family Support Services or community based agencies.

Tusla works in partnership with a number of Family Resource Centres (FRCs) to provide dedicated services for families experiencing homelessness. Tusla has also supported the evening service at the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, a service which includes a range of supports to homeless families such as high quality food and rooms for children to do homework supported by an educational tutor.

In addition, Tusla two family support workers in the Focus Ireland Family Homeless Action Team. Other family support workers on this team are funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Tusla endeavours to respond to the needs of homeless families at the earliest possible opportunity. The length of time a family waits for services varies depending on the unique family circumstances, the circumstances of the referral, and the best interests of the child. Waiting lists are addressed by constantly reviewing unallocated cases and prioritisation of allocation. Cases are prioritised by responding to the child at most risk. It is important to note that while all Family Support Practitioners may potentially have a role in working with homeless families their family support role is not solely dedicated to working with homeless families.