Maternity Leave

Questions (608)

Robert Troy

Question:

608. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the reason the extension to maternity leave is not being introduced until April 2021 as opposed to January 2021. [38565/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

To support parents of children born during the strict lockdown measures, the Government intends to extend parent's leave from two weeks to five weeks for each parent of all children born or adopted on or after 1 November 2019. The Government also intends to extend the period in which parent's leave can be taken up until that child turns two or, in the case of an adoption, two years after the adoption placement date of the child. This extension will apply to parents who may have already availed of their existing entitlements.

Heads of a Bill to effect these changes are currently being drafted in my Department and I hope to bring these to Government shortly.

The extension of parent's benefit is a matter for the Minister for Social Protection and I understand that it will take time for the relevant IT system changes to be made and that it will be April 2021 before the necessary updates can take place. However, it may be possible for parent's leave to be taken in advance of these changes and the benefit claimed retrospectively, once the legislation has been enacted, and I will ensure that parents are fully informed of their entitlements in this regard.

The extension to parent's leave and benefit follows a number of advancements in family leaves in recent years, including the introduction of parents leave and benefit in 2019 and the extension of unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks in September this year for a child under 12 years.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (609)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

609. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the options available to a family (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38681/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a programme of supports to enable children with a disability to access and fully participate in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. AIM supports children with disabilities to attend mainstream pre-school where they can learn and socialise with their peers. It includes 7 levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted. It is administered by Pobal on behalf of my Department. The degree of support provided depends on the needs of the child in the context of the pre-school setting they are attending.A pre-school provider, in partnership with a parent, can apply for AIM Level 7 additional capitation. Where the Better Start AIM Early Years Specialist considers that a Level 7 support is critical to a child's participation in the pre-school setting, they approve the additional capitation which can be used to reduce the adult to child ratio in the pre-school room or can be used to buy in additional assistance. In relation to the child referred to in the Deputy's question, Pobal has advised that AIM Level 7 Support was granted for this child on 12/10/2020. The service provider has engaged with Pobal via the ‘Notification of Change’ process to advise of the difficulties in recruiting a person to fill the AIM-funded role. Although the Department funds AIM supports, any recruitment process is carried out by the preschool provider. Neither the Department nor Pobal has any role in the recruitment of staff for preschool services.

Where parents need further information on options available to them for their child's early learning and care needs, they are encouraged to engage with their local County Childcare Committee (CCC) for advice on how best proceed. The CCC may be able to provide information on other settings in the area that may have capacity for the child to attend. The CCC may also be able to provide assistance to the pre-school service in filling the staff vacancy they have. Cork County Childcare Committee can be reached at: 022 23880 or by email at: info@corkchildcare.ie

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (610)

Carol Nolan

Question:

610. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the details of contracts of €25,000 or more than have been awarded by his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37792/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Five contracts of €25,000 or more have been found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date and are listed in the table below. The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation and the National Disability Authority have informed my Department that they were awarded in this manner due to time constraint and their expertise.

Name of Company

Details of the contract

Full value of Contract (excl. VAT)

2019

KaG Building Contractors Ltd

Forensic Archeology support

51,213

N McCullagh

Forensic Archeologist

83,787

2020

D Purcell

MBH support in finalising report

29,600

The Provost, Fellows Foundation Scholars, and the other members of Board, of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin (TCD)

Joint Research project and the development of design guidance on improving the quality of life and pandemic resilience in existing long-term residential care settings.

30,000

Compass Informatics

Mobile phone application to collect data necessary to evaluate the quality of service provided to people with disabilities on public transport. An app is already in development which currently does part of this service. This contract is to further develop the app to meet our needs.

30,100

I have referred the question to the Ombudsman for Children's Office, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, Oberstown Children Detention Campus, the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and asked them to provide the information sought directly to the Deputy.

Education Welfare Service

Questions (611)

Mark Ward

Question:

611. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the provisions in place to allow a person (details supplied) to attend school in order that they can become fully integrated in the community while waiting to be assigned a Personal Public Service Number, PPSN; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37811/20]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency has responsibility for Educational Welfare Services including the promotion of school attendance, participation and retention.

The Tusla Education Support Service (TESS) has a role in assisting parents or guardians source a school place where a child cannot access one, however it cannot compel a school to make a place available for a child. TESS engage proactively with the parent to signpost possible schools or other educational options that may be available and thereafter to advice & support on the application and appeal process.

A PPSN is not a requirement for enrolling in a school and is not specified anywhere in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, nor in the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act, 2018. TESS is aware of children currently enrolled in school without PPSNs.

TESS is available to offer advice and assistance with this process. The local Educational Welfare Officer (EWO), can be contacted to advice and assist the family/guardians source a school place for the child.

Contact details for the EWO in that area will be furnished to the Deputy.

Legislative Measures

Questions (612)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

612. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when the adoption, information and tracing Bill will be published. [37832/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am committed to developing legislation that will help deliver much needed access to information for adopted people. It is important to acknowledge that this process will take some time, as there are complex and sensitive issues at play, involving the balancing of rights and interests of both parties. I am, however, committed to advancing fresh proposals next year.

I am very much aware that this is a subject of fundamental importance to very many adopted people. I have engaged with representative groups on this issue and will continue to engage widely in order to help achieve consensus towards a legislative solution.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Question No. 614 answered with Question No. 599.

Questions (613)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

613. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when the redress scheme for the survivors of mother and baby homes will be put in place. [37834/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters submitted its final report to me on the 30th October 2020. I had signalled that there would be a short time interval between receipt of the report and the separate arrangements for its publication. A number of relevant procedural issues are being expedited to ensure I can seek the approval of Government to publish the report as soon as possible.

The conclusions on all matters regarding the treatment of former residents of Mother and Baby Homes, and related institutions contained in the report must be taken into consideration in determining the appropriate State response. We owe it to all those who have so courageously shared their experiences with the Commission to avoid pre-empting the Commission's findings and conclusions on the matters referred to it for investigation.

Once Government approves publication of the final report, I will be in a position to engage with stakeholders in relation to the report, its findings and recommendations, and the next steps to be taken. Our duty to the women and children who passed through these institutions, and to their families, is to ensure that their lived experiences are shared, acknowledged and understood.

Question No. 614 answered with Question No. 599.

Legislative Process

Questions (615)

Carol Nolan

Question:

615. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the details of all applications made by his Department to the Oireachtas Business Committee to waive pre-legislative scrutiny of primary and secondary legislation sponsored or initiated by his Department from 1 January 2017 to date; the outcomes of such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37889/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

An application to waive pre-legislative scrutiny was made to the Oireachtas Business Committee in respect of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020. The waiver was sought and granted on the basis that the legislation was to be enacted to ensure it did not impact on the timeline for the Commission to complete and submit its final report by 30 October 2020.

In addition, an application for waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny was sought by the then Minister for Justice and Equality from the Oireachtas Business Committee in July 2018 in respect of the 38th Amendment of the Constitution (Women in the Home) Bill 2018. Responsibility for this Bill has now been transferred to my Department. The request was not granted by the Oireachtas Business Committee and pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill was undertaken by the Committee on Justice and Equality. The Committee's report was published on 6 December 2018.

Departmental Staff

Questions (616)

Patrick Costello

Question:

616. Deputy Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the grade at which the chief data protection officer in his Department is employed. [37924/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Data Protection Officer role in my Department is carried out by an Assistant Principal Officer.

Asylum Seekers

Questions (617)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

617. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied); if he will intervene to prevent the child and their family from being moved, in the middle of a school term, from a school in which they have established networks and support to the other side of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38013/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

It is the policy of my Department's International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) to provide the most appropriate accommodation avaialable for a person or family. Where a family, as in this case, is residing in temporary accommodation the IPAS will look to provide suitable accommodation in a fully supported dedicated accommodation centre as soon as possible, in this instance in own door accommodation.

I believe that the move has now been resolved to the family’s satisfaction.

Tribunals of Inquiry

Questions (618)

John McGuinness

Question:

618. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of tribunals, inquiries or investigations being undertaken currently by his Department; the number that are in the process of being set up; the number in which the terms of reference are not complete or not agreed; the cost of all to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38035/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department is currently collating the information requested and a reply will issue directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (619)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

619. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the supports available for parents to pay childcare fees during a period of self-isolation (details supplied). [38122/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Where there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 in an Early Learning and Care (ELC) or School Age Childcare (SAC) setting and an individual is thought to have been in the setting during the infectious period, public health will conduct a risk assessment and advise the service as to what action, if any, is required. Such actions may include exclusion of staff or children from a play-pod, a room or the whole service, depending on the individual circumstances of the case.

Services are not required to take any action in relation to closing their service (partially or in full) unless and until public health officials have contacted them.

ELC and SAC services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. Service providers are contracted by my Department to provide early learning and care at subsidised rates to parents and guardians. When a service is directed to close by public health due to Covid , the subvention continues to be paid for the period of closure.

With regard to parental fees, each childcare provider is responsible for their own fees policy, and this will be set out in the contract between the parent or guardian and the childcare provider for the provision of childcare services.

Parents or guardians who find themselves with reduced income due to their child being unable to attend childcare services for a period of time should contact the Department of Social Protection to determine if supports are available to them.

Childcare Qualifications

Questions (620)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

620. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of childminder learner fund grants awarded to childminders; the number of applications his Department has received; and the breakdown of the funding provided for 2018, 2019 and 2020. [38127/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Learner Fund bursary for childminders was introduced in 2019 as part of the overall Learner Fund. The bursary is for childminders who achieve a level 5 or level 6 major award in early childhood care and education recognised on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) and who register with Tusla. Childminders who are registered with Tusla can also avail of the Learner Fund graduate bursary for level 7 and 8 graduate-level awards in early learning and care.

The graduate and childminder Level 5/6 bursaries operate simultaneously and are funded from the same budget. In 2018 a total of €412,500 was spent on the Learner Fund graduate bursary. In 2019 a total of €368,250 was spent on the overall Learner Fund bursary programme which included both the graduate and childminder Level 5/6 bursaries. In 2020, a total of €390,000 was allocated to the overall Learner Fund bursary programme and also included both the graduate and childminder Level 5/6 bursaries.

The 2019 round of the Learner Fund saw bursaries awarded to 481 applicants for completion of relevant degrees (who may include both centre-based practitioners and childminders), and 10 Tusla-registered childminders for completion of Level 5/6 awards. The data currently available does not distinguish whether a grantee of the Learner Fund graduate bursary is a childminder or a practitioner in centre-based provision. The 2020 round of the Learner Fund bursary has recently closed and awards will be announced shortly.

The number of childminders availing of the Learner Fund is expected to remain very low until regulation is extended to all childminders and bespoke training and qualifications are developed for childminders. Currently there are 77 Tusla-registered childminders. In line with commitments in First 5 and the Programme for Government, a Childminding Action Plan is currently being finalised, with a view to publication in the near future. The Childminding Action Plan will seek to extend the scope of regulation and supports for childminders, accelerate access to subsidies for childminders through the National Childcare Scheme, and develop bespoke training for childminders.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (621)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

621. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will outline, in the aftermath of the mother and baby homes legislation, the information that will be handed to Tusla; the information that will be kept by his Department; the records that will be sealed for 30 years; the personal information that will be available to persons who were in mother and baby homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38168/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020 provides for the deposit of the database and associated records with Tusla, in addition to transferring a copy of this data and the entire archive of records from the Commission to me as the prescribed Minister.

Section 2 (1) of the Act governs the deposit of certain records of the Commission with the Child and Family Agency.

It states that notwithstanding subsection (2) of section 43 of the Act of 2004, the Commission shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, deposit with the Agency the database and all related records.

This refers to the database compiled by the Commission during the course of its investigation which is a digital record of the mothers and children who spent time in 15 of the 18 institutions which were under investigation. The Commission is of the opinion, and Government concurs, that this is an invaluable tool for Tusla now, and whatever statutory body will be charged with information and tracing services into the future. The legislation also outlines the current restrictions placed on Tusla for the use of the database in delivering its services.

Section 4 of the Act governs the deposit of copies of certain records with Minister.

It provides that the Commission shall make a copy of the database and a copy of all related records which will be deposited with Tusla, and shall deposit those copies with me as the prescribed Minister.

Section 5 of the Act prescribes for the deposit of evidence and documents in accordance with section 43 of Act of 2004. This pertains to the entire archive of records created in he course of the Commission's work. For the avoidance of doubt, it provides for the obligation under subsection (2) of section 43 of the Act of 2004 to deposit with the specified Minister all evidence received by, and documents created by or for, the Commission. My Department will develop and publish guidance to assist those who wish to seek access to personal information that may be contained in these records when the records are transferred.

I have also committed to examining the wider issues related to enhancing access to personal information in the archives of institutional records. This will be progressed in partnership with the Oireachtas, the Attorney General, the Data Protection Commissioners Office and relevant stakeholders.

Child Protection

Questions (622)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

622. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the action he is taking to prevent parental alienation in order to protect children from the coercion and psychological damage involved and to raise awareness of the problem and potential mental health impacts of parental alienation; the further steps he will take to provide support to children and families affected by the impacts of parental alienation (details supplied); and if he has spoken or plans to speak with the Minister for Health to discuss the way in which to minimise the impact of parental alienation on the health of children. [38211/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Under the Child Care Act 1991, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is the statutory body with responsibility to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. Tusla assesses all child welfare and protection concerns that are reported to it.

The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures. These include awareness raising, providing for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain categories of persons and improving safeguarding arrangements in organisations providing services to children. The Act operates alongside the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017, which sets out how all reasonable concerns about a child should be reported to Tusla. The Act recognises that a child’s welfare includes their emotional welfare while the Guidance sets out definitions of abuse, including emotional abuse, and signs for its recognition.

Referrals to Tusla regarding the possible harm to a child from a parent are assessed in line with Tusla’s policies, procedures and best practice. Tusla has advised that its child protection and welfare assessment considers any past harm and any future danger to a child as a result of complicating factors in a child's environment. These factors include any parental behaviour that is deemed to have a negative impact on a child resulting in them being seriously harmed, including the behaviours that would indicate emotional abuse. Tusla also considers any strengths and existing safety present for the child in the context of the harm and then works collaboratively with parents, professionals and others to create effective safety for the child into the future.

However, parental alienation is a very challenging and complex issue. It generally arises in situations of extreme inter-parental conflict, which can result in children withdrawing from one parent without the other parent deliberately directing them to do so, but as a response to the conflict. Mediation can sometimes offer parents an opportunity to work through issues arising.

Tusla social work staff are supported in their professional and evidence informed assessments by access to an online evidence informed toolkit that provides detailed up-to-date research and recommended interventions on key areas such as attachment, critical analysis and thinking, child development, the impact of abuse, separation and loss and parenting capacity. Tusla also provides all staff with access to an entire research centre https://www.tusla.ie/research/ with relevant current research and publications relevant to child protection and welfare practice. In addition to regular professional supervision, this ensures staff are supported in maintaining their expertise in an ongoing and supportive learning environment.

Tusla works collaboratively with child and adult mental health services, the Courts and other therapeutic services in respect of any relevant matters referred to it, including in relation to necessary interventions to support the safety and wellbeing of a child.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill. The Family Court Bill will be a key element in the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. The Department of Justice has recently established the Family Justice Oversight Group. This Group will agree a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system, in parallel with the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure, as envisaged by the forthcoming Family Court Bill. My Department is represented on the Oversight Group.

Child Protection

Question No. 624 answered with Question No. 603.

Questions (623)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

623. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth further Parliamentary Question No. 556 of 10 November 2020, if it is being suggested that his Department has no responsibility for or interest in tackling or protecting children from parental alienation and that he has no views on the issue. [38212/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

A core function of my department relates to supporting and protecting children. This is done through a robust policy, legislative, sectoral and service framework that is both mutually reinforcing and responsive to the needs of vulnerable children and their families.

Under the Child Care Act 1991, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is the statutory body with responsibility to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. Tusla assesses all child welfare and protection concerns that are reported to it.

The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures. These include awareness raising, providing for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain categories of persons and improving safeguarding arrangements in organisations providing services to children. The Act operates alongside the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017, which sets out how all reasonable concerns about a child should be reported to Tusla. The Act recognises that a child’s welfare includes their emotional welfare while the Guidance sets out definitions of abuse, including emotional abuse, and signs for its recognition.

Referrals to Tusla regarding the possible harm to a child from a parent are assessed in line with Tusla’s policies, procedures and best practice. Tusla has advised that its child protection and welfare assessment considers any past harm and any future danger to a child as a result of complicating factors in a child's environment. These factors include any parental behaviour that is deemed to have a negative impact on a child resulting in them being seriously harmed, including the behaviours that would indicate emotional abuse. Tusla also considers any strengths and existing safety present for the child in the context of the harm and then works collaboratively with parents, professionals and others to create effective safety for the child into the future.

However, parental alienation is a very challenging and complex issue. It generally arises in situations of extreme inter-parental conflict, which can result in children withdrawing from one parent without the other parent deliberately directing them to do so, but as a response to the conflict. Mediation can sometimes offer parents an opportunity to work through issues arising.

Tusla social work staff are supported in their professional and evidence informed assessments by access to an online evidence informed toolkit that provides detailed up-to-date research and recommended interventions on key areas such as attachment, critical analysis and thinking, child development, the impact of abuse, separation and loss and parenting capacity. Tusla also provides all staff with access to an entire research centre https://www.tusla.ie/research/ with relevant current research and publications relevant to child protection and welfare practice. In addition to regular professional supervision, this ensures staff are supported in maintaining their expertise in an ongoing and supportive learning environment.

Tusla works collaboratively with child and adult mental health services, the Courts and other therapeutic services in respect of any relevant matters referred to it, including in relation to necessary interventions to support the safety and wellbeing of a child.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill. The Family Court Bill will be a key element in the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. The Department of Justice has recently established the Family Justice Oversight Group. This Group will agree a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system, in parallel with the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure, as envisaged by the forthcoming Family Court Bill.

My Department will continue to support this important work and to integrate our responses so that the range of policies, services and supports for our vulnerable children and their families are both delivered and further developed.

Question No. 624 answered with Question No. 603.