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Friday, 3 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 21-40

Domestic Violence

Questions (21, 22)

Brendan Smith

Question:

21. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the progress to date in reviewing the provision nationwide of emergency accommodation for victims of domestic abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59432/21]

View answer

Mark Ward

Question:

22. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the supports being put in place in each county to support victims of domestic violence on a long-term basis; if his Department will review the need for a dedicated refuge in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59013/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 22 together.

The response to Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) is a cross Departmental and multi-agency issue. Overall policy is coordinated by the Department of Justice. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of DSGBV under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.

Capital funding for approved housing bodies, including services that provide refuge accommodation for victims of DSGBV, is provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Tusla’s ‘Review of the Provision of Accommodation for Victims of Domestic Violence’ assesses the current and requisite distribution of safe emergency accommodation. It has examined the current level of refuge provision, evidence of demand for services and unmet need, and analysis of proximity to refuge by local communities.

The Review has been completed and is undergoing the final edit for publication. Tusla is expected to publish the Review shortly. I am not yet in a position to confirm if funding for refuges for victims of DSGBV will be provided for the establishment of a dedicated refuge in each county.

In 2021, I allocated €30m to Tusla specifically to support DSGBV services throughout the country. This included €2m for necessary supports to service providers arising from Covid-19.

In Budget 2022, Tusla has been allocated an additional €41 million over the 2021 allocation. I have directed Tusla to use part of these additional resources to maintain supports for DSGBV services and address the recommendations arising from Tusla’s Accommodation Review of refuge provision.

My Department will be guided by the recommendations of the Review. I expect that the implementation process for the Review will identify priority areas where there is greatest urgency in achieving safe accommodation for victims of DSGBV. This process will also guide the consideration for refuge spaces over the longer term, to include whether one is needed in every county but more importantly to ensure there is adequate geographical coverage of service to support victims.

Implementation will require collaboration from a range of statutory and other bodies. My Department continues to engage with Tusla, Non-Government Organisations that play a key role in this area, and other relevant Government Departments and Agencies, particularly the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Justice, to progress work in this area.

It is important that the needs of those who experience domestic violence are met in the most appropriate way possible.

Child and Family Agency

Question No. 24 answered orally.

Questions (23)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

23. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if Tusla in County Louth can be contacted over the weekend; if so, the phone number to contact them; and if not, the working hours. [59440/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Louth/Meath Social Work Department is available on weekdays all year round and can be contacted on 046 909 5560. The office is closed at weekends and on bank holidays. When closed any emergency child protection matters are dealt with by the National Out of Hours Service which is available 24/7, 365 days of the year.  

The Out of Hours service is managed by Tusla staff. The service ensures the safety and welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection outside normal office hours. Social workers are available in emergency situations in Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow and Cork.  

In other areas, including County Louth, there are social workers available on the phone, to assist An Garda Síochána in making decisions regarding actions for children who may be at risk. The service will link the child into the local social work department for immediate follow up on the next working day. 

The Out of Hours Service operates an emergency child protection line for professionals (available to Gardai, hospitals etc.). Out of hours support is provided to Tusla foster carers on the national fostering support line at 1890 800 511. For reports under the Child Care Act mandated reporters can access the out of hours service on 0818776315.  

While Tusla does not provide a 24/7 phone line to the general public, where a child protection emergency arises out of hours, members of the public should contact An Garda Siochána.

Question No. 24 answered orally.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (25)

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

25. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on an additional 10-15 youth workers, social care workers and family support workers for Ballymun as stated in the Ballymun - a Brighter Future report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59443/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The allocation of staff is a matter for Tusla and other service providers in the Ballymun area.

However, I can confirm that Tusla are familiar with the report Ballymun – A Brighter Future, and are engaging in a number of initiatives to improve outcomes for children and young people in the Ballymun area. This work is conducted through the Tusla funded Child and Family Network and the Children and young People’s Service Committee.

At this time of increasing need, Tusla’s work with its partner agencies is key to service delivery in Dublin North City, as is its strong working relationships with the community and voluntary sector.

More broadly, because the Dublin North City area covers Dublin 1, 3, 7, 9 and 11, it is not possible to assign specific Tusla resources exclusively to the Ballymun area. Additionally, the nature of the work in Dublin North City, as in many areas, is complex and the level of turnover in social workers is a matter of concern.

To address these issues, Tusla are operating local initiatives in respect of retention and recruitment, and are actively working to fill vacancies in the area. In particular, Tusla are expanding their Social Work teams with Social Care Workers/Leaders where appropriate and are looking at expanding roles for staff with other qualifications. 

At the same time, a business case for additional posts in the area in 2022, which is based on an analysis of available data, is under consideration. 

Tusla remain committed to providing a quality service to children and families in the Ballymun area; will allocate resources available based on need and will continue to engage proactively with their partners to secure the best outcomes for children and young people.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (26)

Richard Bruton

Question:

26. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he recognises the potential of underused public assets to assist in meeting unmet needs for care in early childhood. [59434/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Programme for Government commits to increasing the range of after-school services in schools or community hubs.

Already data from the Annual Early Years Sector Profile shows that a very large majority of these services, and early learning and childcare (ELC) services, operate from community facilities at present – with 17% of services operating from community facilities, 1.3% from Family Resource Centres and 3.8% from parish halls.

In addition, Government policy, including the National Action Plan for School-Age Childcare and First 5 recognises that the use of school facilities that have suitable environments for ELC and school-age childcare (SAC) should be maximised where demand exists and where it can be facilitated by the relevant school authority.

Already, 14.2% of all ELC and SAC services in Ireland operate from school facilities.

The Department of Education has advised that the use of school facilities lie with the relevant school authority in consultation with the property owner and having regard to the needs of the school, staff and students.

The Department of Education policy is to encourage the use of school facilities, where possible, for community, training and education-related activities, including ELC and SAC.

To assist schools in considering applications for use of their facilities, the Department of Education in consultation with representatives of schools has drafted guidelines on the use of school property outside of school hours, which is available here:

www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/guidelines-on-the-use-of-school-buildings-outside-of-school-hours.pdf.

These guidelines are not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive but are provided to assist schools in considering applications for the use of their facilities.

In line with First 5, the Department of Education plans to conduct a survey of a representative sample of schools on the use of school facilities for early learning and care and school age childcare services.

The results of this survey, due to be available in Quarter 1 2022, will be used to inform a review of the guidelines on the use of school buildings outside of school hours.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (27)

Joe Flaherty

Question:

27. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the progress made under First 5, the whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59457/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

First 5: a Whole-of-Government for Babies, Young Children and their Families (2019-2028) was published in November 2018.  The strategy focuses on the period of early childhood and takes a joined-up, cross-government approach to supporting babies, young children and their families during their early years. The Programme for Government negotiated in 2020 reaffirmed commitment to First 5 implementation. 

The Strategy sets out four goals, nine objectives, five building blocks and over 160 actions to realise the First 5 vision.  It identifies the First 5 big steps including access to a broader range of options for parents to balance working and caring; a new model of parenting support; new developments in child health; reform of the Early Learning and Care system; and a package of measures to tackle early childhood poverty. 

The Phase 1 Implementation Plan, published in May 2019, covers the first three years of the ten year strategy and identifies key milestones for each action across 2019, 2020 and 2021.  An Implementation Office, supported by an Inter Departmental Group, monitors progress and produces an Annual Implementation Report. 

The implementation structures of the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures framework, including the Advisory Council, provide further support and oversight for implementation. The measurability of the actions committed to, the oversight structures, and the transparent approach to monitoring are described by the Advisory Council as ‘a model for other strategies’.

The Annual Implementation Report for 2019 monitored progress on all 305 milestones for 2019, illustrating that 69% of milestones were met by the end of 2019.  By the end of 2020, 90% of 2019 milestones were met.

The Annual Implementation Report for 2020 is currently being finalised and when published will show continuing and significant progress being made on 2020 milestones, notwithstanding the significant impact of Covid-19 during that year and since.

Major examples of progress include:

* the extension of Parent’s Leave and Benefit to five weeks for each parent

* the extension of unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks for each parent, along with an increase to 12 in the age of eligible child for whom this leave can be taken

* development and publication of healthy eating guidelines and a children’s food pyramid for 1-5 year-old

* significant progress on a range major reform initiatives in Early Learning and Care related to funding, childminding, workforce development and the operating model

Clearly the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on progress in 2020 given the significant requirement of the civil and public service to respond to the public health emergency and put in place alternative arrangements across many of the major action areas in the strategy including early learning and childcare services, education and, most obviously, health services. 

Despite this, there are many examples of good progress that have been achieved across Government to realise the vision set out in First 5.  The 2020 Annual Implementation Report will be published later this year and outline a full account of year two of implementation. 

Traveller Accommodation

Questions (28)

Joan Collins

Question:

28. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing issues regarding the lack of water and adequate sanitation at a site (details supplied) in County Mayo at which families have been waiting 21 years for the issue to be addressed; the steps his Department will take to ensure that the budget allocated to Traveller accommodation in the area will be utilised to resolve this health and safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57469/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) provides a framework for action on Traveller and Roma issues.

NTRIS encompasses action on themes such as cultural identity, employment, education, health and accommodation.  I chair the NTRIS Steering Committee, however, Departments have responsibility for delivering actions under their areas of responsibility.

My Department has no responsibility for housing maters or the Traveller Accommodation budget.  The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage provides both capital and current funding to support the provision of Traveller specific accommodation through local housing authorities.   Consequently, I am not in a position to provide the information sought by the Deputy in relation to this specific site.

Childcare Services

Questions (29, 83)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

29. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to reduce the high childcare fees imposed on parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59479/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

83. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he is taking to address high childcare costs. [59331/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 83 together.

The Programme for Government commits to introducing measures to substantially reduce the cost of Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) to parents. I have said previously that affordability of ELC and SAC for parents is a key priority, which we need to achieve alongside our continuing work to improve quality, sustainability and accessibility.

My Department is investing €638 million this year in the sector, with affordability for parents a key policy objective. As part of Budget 2022, I was pleased to announce that Government investment in ELC and SAC next year will reach €716 million.

My Department currently operates two major initiatives that support parents with the cost of ELC and SAC – the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).

The universal ECCE programme provides two years of free pre-school for 15 hours per week, with more than 100,000 children benefiting each year.

The National Childcare Scheme provides universal and income-assessed subsidies to parents.  

A universal subsidy for children up to three is available for up to 45 hours per week. 

An income-assessed subsidy is available for children of all ages for up to 45 hours per week, the level of which is determined by the family’s income. 

The NCS is designed to be highly inclusive and to meet the needs of those families who need it the most. The NCS is based on the principle of progressive universalism and has regard to the best interests of children.

Following Budget 2022, two significant reforms will be introduced to the operation of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). It is intended that these reforms will make it possible for significantly more families to benefit from the NCS.

The first change is the discontinuation of the practice of deducting hours spent in ECCE or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours from Spring 2022. With this change, parents will be able to avail of all NCS subsidised hours regardless of time spent in school or ECCE.  

The second reform relates to the universal subsidy. This will be made available to all families with children up to the age of 15 from September 2022. Parents do not have to undergo an assessment to avail of this subsidy. The universal subsidy provides €0.50 cent per hour towards the cost of a registered place up to a maximum of 45 hours a week, which totals €1,170 per annum.

Furthermore, from September 2022, a major new Core Funding stream will be introduced. Under Core Funding providers will be supported in meeting their operating costs, including increased costs related to improved quality measures, in return for a commitment that fees to parents will not increase.  The commitment not to increase fees will ensure that the full affordability benefits of the ECCE programme and the NCS are felt by parents.

 €69 million is being made available for Core Funding next year, equivalent to €207 million in a full year.  This is an estimated increase of 16% in the total annual income to the sector.

In advance of the introduction of Core Funding, a Transition Fund will be available to providers, also contingent on an agreement not to increase fees from September 2021 levels.  This fund will operate between May and August 2022 between the end of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (April 2022) and the introduction of Core Funding (September 2022).

This package marks the beginning of an important and transformative multi-annual investment programme.  It achieves significant progress on the commitment to increase spending on ELC and SAC and will deliver substantial improvements in affordability, quality, inclusion and sustainability.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (30)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

30. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the engagement he has had with the relevant stakeholders to address the issue around recruitment of psychologists in Cork city and county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59359/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to inform the Deputy that my officials have asked Tusla to respond to you directly on this matter as the assignment of staff is a function of the Board and CEO.

Cúram agus Oideachas na Luath-Óige

Questions (31)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

31. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Leanaí, Comhionannais, Míchumais, Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige an bhfuil i gceist aige blaiseadh den Ghaeilge a chur ar fáil do gach páiste mar chuid den Scéim Cúraim agus Oideachais Luath-Óige, ECCE; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [56741/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Is rud an-luachmhar é tacaíocht a thabhairt do sholáthar seirbhísí trí Ghaeilge do leanaí óga. Is féidir le seirbhísí fhoghlaim agus chúram na luathóige páirt thábhachtach a bheith acu anseo, go háirithe i gcur chun cinn na Gaeilge mar theanga bheo.

D’aontaigh mo Roinn sraith chuimsitheach gníomhartha faoin bPlean Gníomhaíochta Cúig Bliana don Ghaeilge 2018-2022 leis an Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meáin.  Dearadh na gníomhartha seo lena dhearbhú cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá suíomhanna Fhoghlaim agus Chúram na Luath-Óige (ELC) chun forbairt agus athbheochan na Gaeilge a spreagadh.  Is í aidhm na gníomhartha seo ná cur leis na bearta, na tacaíochta agus na comhpháirtíochta atá ann faoi láthair i réimse fhoghlaim agus chúram na luathóige lán-Ghaeilge, agus feabhas sa bhreis a chur ar na tacaíochtaí agus na seirbhísí seo.

Tá mo Roinn i mbun próisis earcaíochta ar Chomhordaitheoir Tacaíochta Gaeilge faoi láthair. Beidh an duine seo freagrach as an obair a chomhordú chun tacú le forbairt agus úsáid na Gaeilge i suíomhanna ELC lán-Ghaeilge lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht. Stiúrfaidh an Comhordaitheoir seo an earcaíocht do phost eile le haghaidh speisialtóra luathbhlianta Gaeilge in 2022. 

Sheol mo Roinn Na Chéad 5, Straitéis Uile-Rialtais do Naíonáin, Leanaí Óga agus a dTeaghlaigh in 2018.  Tá dhá ghníomh sa straitéis atá dírithe go háirithe ar thacaíocht a thabhairt d’fhorbairt na Gaeilge laistigh d’earnáil fhoghlaim agus chúram na luathóige.  Tá sé i gceist leis na gníomhartha seo a chinntiú go mbíonn fáil ag leanaí sa Ghaeltacht ar sheirbhísí luathfhoghlama lán-Ghaeilge, agus córais a fhorbairt chun tacaíochtaí Gaeilge a chur ar fáil do sheirbhísí ina bhfuil sciar mór de na leanaí ag foghlaim trí mheán na Gaeilge.

D’fhorbair mo Roinn an tionscnamh “An Leabharlann Bheag” chun málaí leabhar a chur ar fáil do gach seirbhís, in éineacht leis an Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail agus an Ghníomhaireacht Bainistíochta Rialtais Áitiúil.  Tá mé díreach tar éis an dara céim den tionscnamh seo a fhógairt. Tá leabhar Gaeilge i ngach mála agus is féidir an leabhar seo a úsáid chun blaiseadh den Ghaeilge a thabhairt do na leanaí sna suíomhanna ELC agus SAC a fheidhmíonn trí Bhéarla. Tá mála leabhar ar leith ar fáil do naíonraí, agus leabhair Gaeilge amháin ann. 

Tá mé fós tiomanta don Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo san earnáil ELC agus SAC.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (32)

John Lahart

Question:

32. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to prioritise supports for older and vulnerable survivors within the mother and baby Institutions' payment scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59458/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme will provide financial payments and an enhanced medical card to defined groups in acknowledgement of suffering experienced while resident in a Mother and Baby or County Home Institution.

I fully appreciate the urgency in respect of older and vulnerable survivors who will be seeking to avail of this Scheme. I have given my commitment that I will work hard to get this scheme available to people as soon as possible and my Department is currently engaged in the significant work necessary to do this, including drafting the required legislation. I have confirmed with my Cabinet colleagues that I intend to seek priority drafting of the Bill when bringing the General Scheme to Government for approval.

Once the scheme is established, it is very much the intention that elderly survivors and potentially other vulnerable people will be prioritised.

Legislative Measures

Questions (33)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

33. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the specific measures that will be undertaken to address the situation of persons who have found themselves subject to an illegal or false birth registration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59449/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

In January 2021, I established an Interdepartmental Group to consider issues arising in relation to the Saint Patrick’s Guild cases following publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. The purpose of the Interdepartmental Group was to develop a set of integrated proposals to address the issues arising for those affected by illegal birth registrations, across a range of areas including, in particular, birth registration, identity, parentage and inheritance.  These proposals are, in turn, reflected in Part 7 of the General Scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill that was published on 11 May last. 

I recently concluded a consultation process with the relevant individuals. The purpose of this consultation was to ensure that the legislative proposals adequately take account of the issues facing them. The consultation was highly productive, with a range of themes emerging from this process helping to inform the drafting of the Birth Information and Tracing legislation. This vitally important draft legislation will, when enacted, provide access to birth certificates and birth information for adoptees, persons whose births were illegally registered and other persons who have questions in relation to their origins. 

The proposed legislation will also address access to records containing birth and early life information, provide a statutory basis for tracing services, and provide for safeguarding of relevant records. The General Scheme takes account of the specific issues facing people who are the subject of an illegal birth registration in relation to their birth registration and identity documents. It also addresses the issue of recognition of parentage in respect of the persons who raised them.   

The General Scheme of the Bill was published in May and the report of the pre-legislative scrutiny process is currently awaited. I am looking forward to receiving the report and, subject to the timing of this, I intend to seek Government approval to publish the Bill and introduce it into the Oireachtas this term.

In March 2021, I asked the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection to consider the challenges which arise in relation to the issue of illegal birth registrations and to propose an appropriate course of action. I have now received this report from the Special Rapporteur entitled "Proposals for a state response to illegal birth registrations in Ireland". My officials and I are actively considering the contents of the report in advance of bringing it to government and publishing it. I intend to engage with individuals affected by illegal birth registrations in relation to the report in due course.

Childcare Services

Questions (34)

Colm Burke

Question:

34. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the progress of extending the national childcare scheme to older age groups of children and young people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59201/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is a national scheme of financial support for parents towards the cost of quality early learning and childcare. The NCS is structured around the two core subsidies:

- A universal subsidy for children from age 24 weeks until eligible for the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. The universal subsidy is not means-tested and is available to all qualifying families of any income level.

- An income-assessed subsidy for children from age 24 weeks to 15 years. The level of subsidy payable is determined by the family’s reckonable income (i.e. gross income minus tax, PRSI and other deductibles, and minus any applicable multiple child discount) and age of the child.

As announced in Budget 2022, reforms will be introduced to the operation of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).

The universal subsidy will be made available to all families with children up to the age of 15 from September 2022. Parents do not have to undergo an assessment to avail of this subsidy.

The universal subsidy provides €0.50 cent per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place up to a maximum of 45 hours a week, which totals to €1,170 per annum.

It is intended that this reform will make it possible for significantly more families to apply to the NCS. It is estimated an additional 40,000 children may benefit from the extension of the universal subsidy.

Domestic Violence

Questions (35)

Brendan Smith

Question:

35. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if a refuge centre for victims of domestic abuse will be established in counties Cavan and Monaghan in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59431/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The response to Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) is a cross Departmental and multi-agency issue. Overall policy is coordinated by the Department of Justice. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of DSGBV under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. Capital funding for approved housing bodies, including services that provide refuge accommodation for victims of DSGBV, is provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

I am informed by Tusla that support for victims of Domestic, Sexual, and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV) in Counties Cavan and Monaghan is available through the services of Tearmann, which is based in Monaghan and funded by Tusla. Tearmann also provides outreach services in both counties. While there is no purpose-built refuge facility in these locations at present, women can avail of emergency domestic violence accommodation in Counties Louth and Meath, where there are three refuges supported by Tusla. I am advised by Tusla that it has had some engagement with various local stakeholders about potential future refuge developments in these counties.

Tusla’s ‘Review of the Provision of Accommodation for Victims of Domestic Violence’ assesses the current and requisite distribution of safe emergency accommodation and has examined the current level of refuge provision, evidence of demand for services and unmet need, and analysis of proximity to refuge by local communities. The Review has been completed and is undergoing the final edit for publication. 

My Department will be guided by the recommendations of the Review. I expect that the implementation process for the Review will identify priority areas where there is greatest urgency in achieving safe accommodation for victims of DSGBV. I am not yet in a position to confirm if a refuge for victims of DSGBV will be established in County Cavan.

Childcare Services

Questions (36)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

36. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the expected timeframe for the publication of the report into the review of the national childcare scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59478/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The 12 month review of the National Childcare Scheme, as required under Section 26 of the Childcare Support Act 2018, commenced earlier this year. It is an independent assessment of the implementation and impacts of NCS during its first year of operation and will provide key data and information to support the future development of the NCS. 

The review has been completed. A Memorandum for Information for Government was submitted on 30 November 2021.  

The findings of the review were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 1 December 2021 as required by the Act. The findings were also published on my Departments website on 1 December 2021.   

The review was undertaken to provide a basis for my Department to consider how effectively the NCS is operating and whether it delivered on its objectives within the first year.  

The review provided an opportunity for my Department and I to consider how the NCS meets its policy objectives; of improved children's outcomes, parental engagement in work or study and reduced child poverty, and support those most in need in the best evidence informed manner. 

A series of key actions have been identified on foot of this review, which will inform the further development of the Scheme. Most recently in Budget 2022 reforms to the NCS were introduced to extend the universal subsidy to children up to the age of 15 from September 2022; and to remove the practice of deducting hours spent in pre-school or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours from Spring 2022.

Adoption Services

Questions (37)

Holly Cairns

Question:

37. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his response to a recommendation in a report by an adoptee organisation (details supplied). [59329/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I am aware of the Adoptee Voices report published by Aitheantas in July this year, and have given careful consideration to this report, in the context of wider engagement with adoption stakeholders. I have also met with Aitheantas a number of times during 2020 and 2021 as part of my engagement with adoption stakeholders.

With regard to the recommendations concerning a review of historic adoptions, I am very conscious that every record on adoption represents the lives of a number of individuals. There are major ethical issues at play where the reality, identity and family and legal relationships that people have lived their whole lives may be fundamentally impacted. I am also conscious that, in some cases, records may simply not exist anymore.

From listening to those most centrally affected, I believe that what is important as an immediate priority is access to birth certificates and birth and early life information for adoptees. The Deputy will be aware that the Birth Information and Tracing legislation is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. If enacted, this legislation will, for the first time, enshrine in law the clear right of access to birth certificates, and other birth and early life information.

The legislation will provide the necessary legal framework for a strong and supportive information and tracing service.  It will ensure that any individual with a question about their origins is empowered to access their own records and is supported with regard to any related needs.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (38)

Thomas Gould

Question:

38. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the role his Department has played in developing supports and services for children affected by the Covid-19 restrictions. [59422/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department has actively developed supports for children affected by the Covid-19 restrictions

across a range of service provisions including:

-Child welfare and protection;

-Supports for parents;

-Early learning and Care and School Age Childcare;

-International Protection and Integration;

- Children’s Detention;

- Adoption;

-Youth Services;              

- Participation and Consultation.

Child Welfare and Protection

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the statutory body with responsibility to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department has worked closely with Tusla in order to ensure the prioritisation and continuity of key frontline services to support at-risk children and families.

Tusla prioritised and has maintained a focus throughout the pandemic on three essential services in this regard, namely:

- Child Protection

- Children in Care

- Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence services

My Department has remained engaged with Tusla colleagues to maintain the provision of these services with due regard to all Covid-19 related restrictions, social distancing and other requirements, securing additional funding of €8m in 2020 to meet additional cost pressures arising from the response to Covid-19.

The Deputy may already be aware that the CEO of Tusla has provided detailed updates to the Oireachtas Committee on the actions taken by Tusla to support vulnerable children and families during the pandemic. 

Additional Tusla supports

Importantly, Tusla has continued to adapt services and develop innovative practice as the Agency works with partners to sustain, enhance and coordinate the family support that is needed during the pandemic. The Prevention, Partnership and Family Support Service has been working with partners to ensure services are easily accessible and integrated at the front line in the community for children, young people and families. In particular, the Child and Family Support Networks have been working to ensure that there is “no wrong door” for families seeking help, by directing them to appropriate support in their community.

Examples of the supports that have been delivered include:

- Supporting local food provision and coordinating food packs;

- Funding and coordinating local education support responses for vulnerable children and young people;

- Identifying families that may be in need of support that are not previously known to services; and

- Continuing support through online platforms, including Meitheal provision, through phone contact.

Targeted preventative support has been maintained with vulnerable families such as those living in International Protection Accommodation Service accommodation, families experiencing domestic violence and minority communities. Tusla, in conjunction with partner agencies, continues to ensure that supports are available to vulnerable families during this time.  

Children and Young People’s Services Committees

Children and Young People’s Services Committees (CYPSC) are co-funded by my Department, Tusla and the Department of Health (Healthy Ireland) to ensure effective inter-agency co-ordination and collaboration in achieving the best outcomes for children and young people in their local area. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 27 CYPSCs around the country have been very proactive in coordinating supports for children and young people, their families and communities.

CYPSCs have diverted a significant amount of their mainstream funding from my Department and under the Healthy Ireland initiative to coordinate and deliver supports with local partners in their communities. 

Covid-19 supports coordinated by CYPSCs and delivered in communities include:

- Signposting/information events for parents on Covid-19;

- Activity/play packs;

- Food pack distribution;   

- Youth supports;

- Digital divide supports;

- Mental health supports; and

- Responses for families and children impacted by the rise in domestic violence since the pandemic emerged.

‘Supporting Children’ initiative

As part of the Government response to Covid-19, in April 2020, my Department launched a range of supports for parents and children to support them during a challenging time. This included a new online gov.ie resource for parents, entitled ‘Parents Centre’, which brought together high quality information and online resources for parents into one portal. Parents Centre provided links to a wide variety of material including around learning, parenting and supports that were available online and across Ireland.

In parallel, my Department developed “Supporting Children”, a campaign and online information platform designed to acknowledge the potential harms of the current public health crisis and to draw attention to the robust network of supports which exist for those in need across areas including Parenting and Family Support; Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence; and Child Protection and Welfare. It also encourages all of us to look out for vulnerable children and young people and highlights many significant adaptions of services across Ireland to Covid-19.

Supporting Children was developed following an exercise undertaken in the context of the pandemic to determine the many significant step-up actions being delivered by services across Ireland to meet the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families. It concluded that there was a need for a public information campaign promoting existing services and urging all citizens to be aware of those who may be more vulnerable due to public health restrictions. The Department continued to update Supporting Children and Parents Centre throughout 2020, and the Supporting Children campaign was re-launched in early 2021 in the context of increased restrictions. Finally, the decision was taken recently to merge the Supporting Children and Parents Centre information platforms, to offer a single, permanent, unified public information platform with information on services and supports for children, young people and families: Supporting Children and Parents. 

Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare

Multiple Covid-19 support packages have been developed in response to evolving circumstances to support the early learning and childcare (ELC) sector. The objective of these support packages has been to:

- Support ELC providers’ sustainability to enable services return to normal, once restrictions were lifted;

- Ensure that ELC could reopen after temporary closure periods and remain open, particularly for children of essential workers and vulnerable children, even at very low levels of occupancy;

- Ensure that ELC services could operate safely for children, families and staff;

- Support ELC providers to retain (and upskill) their staff, particularly during periods of closures and restricted access;

- Ensure increased ELC delivery costs associated with public health requirements, and lower demand / occupancy, were not passed on to parents;

- Ensure parents were not charged when not using ELC services during periods of closures and restricted access;

- Ensure continuity of learning experiences to children during periods of closures and restricted access through the provision of remote supports.

In addition, there was an extensive range of resources provided:

- Public health resources to assist services to reopen and operate safely;

- Continuing Professional Development resources for practitioners to upskill;

- Resources to prepare children for the transition back to services following periods of closures/restricted access and to ensure children's continued access to learning opportunities at home during these times. 

International Protection Accommodation and the Irish Refugee Protection Programme

The Department developed a Strategic Framework for Engagement on Child and Family Issues in the context of school closures and social distancing requirements put in place during the Covid-19 crisis. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) and Child and Family Welfare Team has developed this framework to support families living in our centres. In preparing the framework, outreach has taken place with key stakeholders including centre managers, Tusla, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Rural and Community Development, the HSE, the Children’s Rights Alliance, One Family and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We continue to work closely with these and other partners. The framework encompasses three broad themes under which actions were rolled out:

- Child and family welfare;

- Identifying education requirements; and

- The general provision of activities for children.

Additionally, the Irish Refugee Protection Programme has worked with Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) and Resettlement Officers to ensure that children continued to have access to learning during school closures.  Resettlement Officers liaised with newly settled families to ensure that families were supported while schools were closed. Home visits took place. EROCs were supported with additional IT equipment where required to enable online learning. 

Oberstown Children Detention Campus

My Department has maintained close contact with the authorities at the Oberstown Children Detention Campus since the outbreak of Covid-19. The Campus has in place a series of measures designed to ensure the health and wellbeing of all children in detention. This includes a vaccination programme and a range of safety protocols aimed at minimising the risk of transmission of the virus on the Campus.

Adoption

In September 2020, I used my powers under the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 to designate the Adoption Authority of Ireland for the purposes of holding remote meetings and holding remote hearings. This helped to ensure that the adoption process could proceed, where it was in the best interests of the child to do so.

Youth services

In recognition of the vital role played by youth work in providing support to young people, funding levels were maintained throughout the Covid-19 period. My Department has also engaged with the sector to develop sector specific guidance which was updated at each point there was a change to the Covid-19 measures at Government and NPHET level.

A sum in excess of €1.3m was allocated to youth services to mitigate Covid-19 and its impact in 2020. 

- An ICT investment grant of €1m was made available to support the improvement of ICT infrastructure within youth services and youth clubs to facilitate the remote provision of youth programmes and youth services.

- Early in my tenure, my Department made available a fund of €338,000 for a small capital grant scheme. The scheme allowed over 1,500 funded youth services and clubs to meet minor costs incurred as a result of Covid-19 response measures.

Additionally, a Covid-19 Minor Grant Scheme for Youth Services and Youth Clubs was announced in June 2021 making €1.4 million in funding available to frontline youth services and clubs nationally to support them as Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed in line with Government guidelines. The re-engagement and support of volunteers who are the backbone of youth services nationally was a key focus in providing these additional funds in 2021. The one-off grants were aimed at supporting services to open as fully as is possible in line with the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions. 

In September 2021, funding of up to €1m was made available for distribution between the national youth organisations to defray additional Covid-19 costs, the costs of re-engaging volunteers in universal services, and a contribution towards funding gaps emerging as services re-open in line with Government guidelines. For those national youth organisations that work with youth services and clubs (e.g. Foroige, Youth Work Ireland) the funding could also be used in their drive to re-open local universal services fully.  

Participation and consultation

In the summer of 2020, my Department, working with the Department of Health and the youth sector, collaborated with SpunOut.ie to undertake an online survey of young people’s experiences of Covid-19.

The consultation asked young people about what has been working well for them and the challenges in maintaining their wellbeing during Covid-19. Young people were given a chance to provide feedback on what could be useful in improving their mental health and wellbeing over the coming months.

58% of reported feelings about the future were negative, including anxiety, pessimism, fear and sadness; a figure that was higher amongst marginalised groups. 37% of young people expressed optimism, this was higher for those who engaged with youth groups/clubs/services. Young people reported missing friends, health problems, isolation, loss of social life and work among the impacts of Covid-19.

The publication of the report was a commitment in the Government Roadmap, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021, Plan for Living with Covid-19. A youth friendly version has also been developed in video format. 

The findings of the report were shared with relevant Government officials in order to inform the Government’s response.   

Child and Family Agency

Questions (39)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

39. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the amount allocated to Tusla in County Louth in 2019, 2020 and 2021; the amount allocated to Tusla nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59441/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I do not have the information sought by the Deputy with regard to funding allocated to Tusla in County Louth for the years in question. Funding is not allocated to Tusla on a county-by-county basis.

I was pleased to announce in Budget 2022 that Tusla will be allocated €899m for 2022, which is an increase of €41m over the amount allocated in Budget 2021 (€858m). Tusla was allocated €817m under Budget 2020 and €786m under Budget 2019. 

I recently issued my Performance Statement to Tusla outlining the overall parameters of Tusla's financial resources, and signalling my priorities for the coming year in accordance with section 44 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. In response to this, Tusla will prepare its annual Business Plan for 2022 in accordance with section 46 of the Act. This outlines the proposed activities for the year and the details of the proposed allocation of total financial resources.

Health Services

Questions (40)

Violet-Anne Wynne

Question:

40. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if consideration will be given to decentralising CEIS services to rural parts of County Clare to honour the commitments made in Sláintecare to provide access to community-based supports. [59229/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that I am not in a position to comment on these matters which are more appropriate for the attention of my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Health.

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