Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Questions (24)

Kathleen Funchion


24. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if funding allocated to women’s refuges as part of their response to Covid-19 will continue (details supplied). [31305/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

My question relates to domestic violence services. Will the funding allocated to women's refuges as part of their response to Covid-19 continue?

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. In 2020, my Department provided funding of €25.3 million for Tusla's core domestic violence services, supporting 60 organisations in various parts of the country. The Department is also providing additional supports to Tusla to allow these services to cope with the additional complications arising from Covid-19. Some €800,000 has been provided to these services. I anticipate that by the end of the year €1.2 million will have been allocated to these services specifically in respect of Covid.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Tusla has actively engaged with all services to support a continuity of service and prioritised domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the pandemic. We are all very much aware that this pandemic presents particular risks for the victims of domestic and sexual violence and can make it much more difficult for them to access supports. Emergency refuge accommodation provides a safe haven for those experiencing a threat to their safety, which is why Tusla has worked with refuges to identify and secure additional accommodation places where needs have arisen. Tusla has supported the sector with additional staff, personal protective equipment, PPE, and ICT resources in order that the services can remain open to everybody who needs them.

In the budget, I prioritised resourcing for Tusla so that it can meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. I secured an additional €61 million for Tusla this year, giving it an annual budget of €878 million. I have engaged significantly with representatives of the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence sector in recent weeks, and will continue to do so to hear their experiences of the pandemic and what my Department and Tusla can do to support them more. In my engagement with Tusla on its business plan for next year, the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is foremost in my mind.

I welcome that. Unfortunately, there has always been the issue of domestic violence but, as we will all have seen, it has been one of the very negative highlights of Covid-19. While men are affected too, it primarily affects women. Children have been sneaking out to cars to try to make phone calls, and that is in cases where people may have felt able to reach out. For so long, so many women have been in a difficult place and have been unable to reach out.

The basis of my question was that the increase in funding is welcome. The refuge I deal with most often is Amber women's refuge in Kilkenny, which covers both counties Carlow and Kilkenny. I have always thought it has a high workload covering two full counties. The refuge welcomed the additional funding but there is a fear that it may be withdrawn. I accept that everything changed again yesterday with the announcement of the new restrictions but I hope the money will be ring-fenced.

We want to look at the Covid funding and, in light of the changed circumstances and reintroduction of lockdown, I will engage with Tusla on the Covid element over the next six weeks. It is important that, Covid aside, we have a significant increase in investment in Tusla and, in my engagement with the chair, Pat Rabbitte, and the CEO, Bernard Gloster, I outlined that I wanted to see domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, services broadly prioritised, Covid aside, in that spending. I am aware that they have had some increases but it has been a slow increase over the years. The Deputy touched on the fact that the pandemic has highlighted what we describe in the programme for Government as an epidemic of domestic violence that has always been taking place in this society. I also saw, including in my own community, communities rallying around the local refuge through fundraising and I hope we can build on that.

Most of the points have been covered but I will stress that some of the most important services they offer is counselling. One does not just physically need a safe place; one also emotionally and mentally needs an safe place. Many times, people will go back to a negative relationship if they do not have the support.

On the play therapy services that are often offered for children, play therapy is often underrated. It is an excellent service for children for many reasons but particularly in this situation. My experience of refuges is that they are always struggling for funding. The counselling budget is often separate from the Tusla money. If there is additional money there, I ask that they look at providing services like counselling and play therapy, which give a more holistic approach. Is there a possibility we could get a breakdown of the additional money going to Tusla and which services it is going to? Is some going to school completion or domestic violence and so on? I do not expect the Minister to answer that now.

The majority of the Covid money was for practical things like personal protective equipment, PPE, ICT services, extra computers so people could work at home and to enable them bring somebody in if a staff member was out sick with Covid or something like that.

On the new funding for next year, that will be in the Tusla plan and once that is drafted I am sure we will get questions on it. I think I have four questions today out of the top 20 on domestic violence. The Deputy's colleague is asking a question on domestic violence. It is good that we are having a much broader conversation about the issue. We are talking about the pressure the services have been under and it is worth noting that two new refuges opened in 2020, one in Galway and one in south Dublin. It is eight spaces so it is not a huge amount. Deputy Browne and some others will be talking about the wider issue of refuges later in this session.