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Friday, 3 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 41-60

Direct Provision System

Questions (41)

Bríd Smith

Question:

41. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of direct provision centres that have been closed since the publication of the White Paper for Ending Direct Provision. [59475/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

As the Deputy will appreciate from statements I have made from the outset of our reform programme for Ending Direct Provision, in order to meet our legal obligations to provide accommodation and other support services for protection applicants as we transition to the new system, existing accommodation centres will continue to operate in the short to medium term; as such my Department currently utilises a mixture of state owned, commercial and temporary emergency accommodation centres.

It is our legal and moral obligation to provide accommodation to international protection applicants, who continue to arrive here, while their claim is being determined.

My Department is progressing a detailed implementation plan for the new system detailed in the White Paper to End Direct Provision and is working closely with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Housing Agency and the Local Authorities on developing the new Accommodation Model and wrap-around services for residents. Significant work has already been undertaken since the publication of the White Paper, the full detail of which I believe is outlined to the Deputy in the replies to her Parliamentary Questions No 12 and No 19 today. 

Departmental Funding

Questions (42, 73)

Steven Matthews

Question:

42. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will consider a specific source of funding for local authorities to help fund integration projects and initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59239/21]

View answer

Joe Flaherty

Question:

73. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the strategy for the way his Department funds integration projects; the funding that has been made available in 2021 and 2022 in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59456/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 73 together.

I can confirm that my Department supports integration projects, including by local authorities, through a number of funding streams.

Local authorities involved in the resettlement and integration of programme refugee families through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme receive funding by way of grants from my Department. Funding is for resettlement support teams comprising a resettlement support worker with social care and integration experience, and an Arabic-speaking intercultural support worker as well as for, inter alia, after-school programmes, programmes for teenagers, volunteer training and youth club activities.  In 2021, the Department expects to have paid €1.623m to local authorities for resettlement activities by the end of the year. In 2022, in addition to ongoing funding to local authorities, the Department expects to enter into new contracts valued at approximately €750,000 with three further local authorities.

In addition,  the Communities Integration Fund supports communities across Ireland to play a greater role in promoting the integration of all legally resident migrants and their children. In 2021, following a competitive open call, 111 local community-based organisations nationwide were selected to receive grant funding totaling €497,772 under the Communities Integration Fund.  The maximum amount granted per project was €5,000. Organisations eligible to apply included local community groups, sports clubs, faith-based groups, arts groups, formal and informal schools and theatrical and cultural organisations. Applicant organisations were required to operate on a not-for-profit basis. 

Under the National Integration Fund 2020, a total of €2.2 million has been made available over a three year period to support 18 integration projects nationwide. These projects aim to increase mutual understanding between local communities and migrants; combat racism and xenophobia; promote the integration of vulnerable or socially-excluded immigrants and encourage the involvement of migrants in sport, volunteering and cultural activities.

I also intend to explore, in 2022, the introduction of a pilot scheme for integration funding specifically for local authorities but this is at the very early stages of planning at present so I cannot provide any further detail at this time.

Child and Family Agency

Question No. 44 answered orally.

Questions (43)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

43. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of social workers employed by Tusla in County Louth; the general working hours of same; and the locations in which they operate. [59439/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my officials have asked Tusla to respond directly to you on this matter.

Question No. 44 answered orally.

Disability Services

Questions (45)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

45. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to ensure that iCare in Buncrana and an organisation (details supplied) in County Donegal receive the necessary allocation of core funding as requested to allow same to continue to provide a vital service to large numbers of children and young adults with special needs and their families. [58569/21]

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.

International Protection

Questions (46)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

46. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of Ireland’s acceptance of refugees from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59442/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Ireland has, to date, offered over 500 Letters of Waiver in lieu of visas to enable those wishing to leave Afghanistan to exit the country. To date, 353 Afghans have arrived in Ireland. The current International Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) priority is to ensure the integration of new arrivals and to link these with accommodation and services.  It remains open to considering further admissions as resources allow.

Childcare Services

Questions (47)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

47. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the additional funding provided in the estimates of his Department for the childcare sector for 2022; the improvements that will arise as a result of this funding in terms of affordability for parents and working conditions and salary for staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58581/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Budget 2022 introduces a ground-breaking package of measures for the early learning and childcare sector - designed to deliver quality for children, affordability for parents, stability for providers, and support employers to improve pay and conditions for staff.

In Budget 2022 I have secured an additional €78m in early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) funding, bringing the total investment in the sector to €716m next year.  

The €716 million investment in ELC and SAC includes €69 million for a new Core Funding stream for providers in 2022, equivalent to €207 million over a full year - this will ensure sustainability of services and support the introduction of an Employment Regulation Order (ERO) to determine minimum rates of pay for workers as well as conditions of employment.

In return for this funding, there will be a commitment from providers not to increase parental fees, meaning the full affordability effects of the NCS and the universal ECCE Pre-school Programme will be felt by parents.

In advance of the introduction of the Core Funding Stream, a Transition Fund, of up to €37m, 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).

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.

Currently, where both parents in a household are in work or study, eligible families can receive a subsidy for up to 45 hours (enhanced hours) per week and, for households where a parent is not in work or study they can receive up to 20 hours (standard hours) per week of subsidy.  Where a child is in pre-school, ECCE or school these hours are currently subtracted from their entitlement to NCS subsidised hours.

The discontinuation of the practice of deducting hours spent in ECCE or school from the entitlement to NCS subsidised hours will allow parents to avail of all these hours regardless of time spent in school or ECCE.  

It is anticipated that this will have the most significant impact on children in socio-economically disadvantaged communities and, on services with high concentrations of families from socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

This change will require adjustments to secondary legislation and to the scheme operating system. This work is expected to be completed in spring 2022 and the change will then be implemented.

The second change is that 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 €1,170 per annum. It is estimated an additional 40,000 children may benefit from the extension of the universal subsidy.

Work on a new Workforce Development Plan nears completion, with the final report due imminently. Additional funding has been secured in the Budget 2022 allocation to finance initial actions from the Workforce Development Plan in 2022, which will aim to support the achievement of qualification targets for the workforce, establish role profiles and a career framework for the profession, and set out plans to develop a national system of Continuing Professional Development.

The strengthening of a career framework and clear career pathways should complement the efforts underway to improve pay and conditions of employment in the sector.

A process to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions in the sector and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee (JLC) began last December. The JLC Establishment Order came into effect at the beginning of July 2021.

The JLC will provide an opportunity for unions and employer representatives to work together to determine wages and working conditions for ELC and SAC.  The Labour Court has now appointed all members of the JLC and it is expected the committee will commence its work in the coming weeks.

As announced in Budget 2022 an ERO agreed by the JLC will be supported by the Department through the new Core Funding scheme.

Assisted Decision-Making

Questions (48)

Pauline Tully

Question:

48. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the timeframe for full commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and the commencement of operations of the Decision Support Service is June 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59378/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Government made a commitment in the Programme for Government to commencing the 2015 Act, recognising the importance of the much needed reform that it represents. We are working towards a date of June 2022 for full commencement of the Act, and the operationalisation of the Decision Support Service by July 2022.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (the 2015 Act) changes the existing law on capacity from the status approach of the wardship system to a flexible functional approach, whereby capacity is assessed on an issue and time-specific basis. It will abolish the wards of court system for adults by repealing the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871.  Adults currently in wardship will transition to the new decision-making support arrangements on a phased basis over 3 years from the date of commencement.

Work is actively taking place on an Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill. These amendments will streamline processes, in the interests of those using its provisions. They will also strengthen the safeguards included in the 2015 Act.

A high-level Steering Group, chaired by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is working towards full operationalisation of the Decision Support Service on foot of commencement of the Act. The Steering Group comprises senior officials from relevant Departments and agencies.  

Child and Family Agency

Questions (49)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Question:

49. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of parents in 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021 that were referred by Tusla for psychiatric assessment in County Louth. [59438/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Deputy is referring to an operational matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I have therefore referred the matter to Tusla, and asked that a direct response be provided to the Deputy.

Childcare Services

Questions (50)

Denis Naughten

Question:

50. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he is taking to support the childcare sector to keep their doors open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [57450/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic a range of financial and other supports have been available to the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) to support them to remain operational and providing services to children. 

Since August 2020, registered ELC and SAC employers have been eligible to access the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) without having to demonstrate the 30% reduction in turnover required of other employers.  EWSS has been a key component of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.  It is an economy-wide scheme that operates across all sectors. The special arrangement for registered ELC and SAC services to be exempted from the turnover test has made substantial financial supports available to the sector since August 2020.

For over a year, between October 2020 and November 2021, the EWSS has been paid at enhanced rates. This amounts to an investment of €34 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 80% staff costs and 50% operating costs. 

The EWSS is due to revert to standard rates between December 2021 and February 2022.  This amounts to an investment of €22 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 50% staff costs and 38% operating costs.

For March and April 2022 a new flat rate for the EWSS (€100) will apply.  This amounts to an investment of €11 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 25% staff costs and 11% operating costs. 

With the additional cost of play-pods and other public health measures estimated to be €12 million per month, the EWSS at enhanced and standard rates exceeds what is required by the sector to adhere to public health guidance. The EWSS at flat rates is just marginally below the cost of play-pods. 

My Department also oversees a Case Management process through which support can be provided to ELC and SAC services experiencing difficulties. Pobal co-ordinate the overall case management process with the City and County Childcare Committees (CCC) administering on-the-ground case management assistance. This includes specialised advice and support appropriate to individual circumstances.

Financial supports may also be accessed through the Case Management process are available for services presenting with sustainability issues following a financial assessment by Pobal.  The COVID-19 Impact Support funding strand is available to both Community and Private services.  The CCC is the first point of contact for any service in difficulty and seeking support.

Information on service closures and new services registered is collated by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate who maintain the register of services. Each year there are services that close and new services open. Current data shows that the number of closures and the numbers of new services are down slightly when compared with the same period last year.  Overall, there is no significant variation in the number of services operating in 2021 when compared with 2020.

Looking ahead to 2022, as I announced on Budget Day, a Transition Fund will be available for providers in the sector following the cessation of EWSS from May 2022 until the introduction of the new Core Funding in September 2022.  €37 million has been allocated for this fund. 

From September 2022, a new Core Funding stream will operate.  €69 million has been allocated to this funding stream in 2022, equivalent to €207 million full year costs.  Core Funding constitutes a significant and strategic new approach to funding the sector in the longer term to support quality, affordability, inclusion and sustainability.

Bullying of Children

Questions (51)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

51. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the strategies in place to help support young persons in dealing with bullying and harassment across all platforms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59453/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The issue of bullying and harassment is the subject of attention from a range of areas and Government Departments. My colleagues the Minister for Education and Minister for Justice would, for instance, have a lead role in aspects relating to schools and criminal harassment respectively.

As regards funding provided to youth services through my Department, this supports a range of universal and targeted programmes for young people designed to meet the range of needs faced by young people as they progress to adulthood. In the targeted space, these programmes are informed by local area needs assessments carried out by our Governance partners in these programmes, the Education and Training Boards. The more universal funding provided aims to support all young people in contact with these youth organisations across a broad spectrum of areas and would include elements of leadership, civic responsibility and other activity designed to improve the individual and collective agency of young people. My Department's funding also supports a national youth information service and on-line / in person assistance for young people through organisations such as Spun Out. Funding has also been provided through the Dormant Account Funding process to support an on-line safety initiative through Foroige.

International Protection

Questions (52)

Brian Leddin

Question:

52. Deputy Brian Leddin asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the supports that are made available to refugees arriving in Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme; if he expects the Programme to fulfil our commitment to accepting Mediterranean refugees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59332/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) provides a number of supports for Refugees arriving in Ireland.

This begins with resettlement in the community. The integration of refugees is supported through the provision of access to mainstream State services. My Department funds local resettlement support teams by way of grants to local authorities. Each support teams consist of a resettlement support worker with social care and integration experience, and an Arabic-speaking Intercultural Support Worker.    

Programme refugees are generally accommodated in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs) for a period of approximately 6 to 12 months. This allows for initial orientation and assessment for access to services such as health and social welfare. Adults are provided with English language lessons and children attend primary school in the EROC and local secondary schools. 

This period of time provides refugees with an opportunity to acclimatise in cultural terms, as well as to recover from trauma associated with their journey to that point. It also provides refugees with an opportunity to access necessary basic services in advance of their resettlement within the wider community.

In our existing refugee resettlement programme, the State provides integration services directly. Community sponsorship is an alternative resettlement stream. Up to October of this year the Community Sponsorship model have now settled 77 individuals into different rural and urban communities and there are currently 34 new Community Sponsorship groups in development across Ireland. 

The IRPP will continue to fulfill its commitment to accept programme refugees, particularly from Syria.  IRPP also accepted 12 families as part of a relocation initiative following the fire in Moria Camp, Greece.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (53)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

53. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if SAC and ELC services will be supplied with antigen tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58932/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department is currently working with the HSE to finalise an antigen testing programme for early learning and childcare services.  Department and HSE officials most recently met on 30 November and on 1 December.  The antigen testing scheme will be launched in the coming weeks. 

The antigen testing programme for early learning and childcare services will be similar to the antigen testing programme which has recently been rolled out for close contacts in primary schools.

Departmental Funding

Questions (54)

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

54. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the way his Department provides financial support to LGBTI organisations; the moneys that have been made available in 2021 and 2022 for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59444/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

In line with the commitments in the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019 - 2022, my Department continues work on mapping of LGBTI+ community services. Last month, I announced 42 LGBTI+ related projects around the country that will receive funding of €1.5 million under the 2021 LGBTI+ Communities Services Fund.

The fund comprises two schemes – one dealing with community services, and the other with visibility and inclusion. This funding has been made available to support LGBTI+ projects through grant funding of between €21,250 - €85,000 per successful Scheme A project, and €4,250 - €8,500 per successful Scheme B project.

The Programme is an important element in achieving the overall objective of the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy, and in supporting the Government’s objective to build a fairer and more inclusive country in which to live.  

This year’s programme follows the successful LGBTI+ funding call in 2020. The continuation of the scheme will further improve access to services for LGBTI+ people, regardless of their age or where in the country they live. The support of these organisations is more important than ever at a time when many LGBTI+ people are experiencing feelings of isolation and disconnection. Moreover, positive visibility and increased non-stereotypical representation of LGBTI+ identities are vital to support long-term attitudinal change.

The funding allocation for LGBTI+ initiatives in 2022 is €1.025m.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (55)

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

55. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he has received the final report of the expert group examining the funding model for early years; if so, the main recommendations contained in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59445/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

First 5, a whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families commits to increasing investment in early learning and childcare to up to €1 billion by 2028. A new funding model will be a key vehicle to ensure that such significant additional investment delivers for children, families and the State.

An Expert Group was established in September 2019 to develop a new funding model for the sector. The Group was tasked with examining the current model of funding, its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services and considering how additional resourcing can best be structured in order to achieve these objectives. 

The Expert Group have met 21 times since late 2019. They have presented their report to me, and it is due to be submitted to Government shortly. Since the report is under consideration, it is not possible at present to share the full details of its recommendations but, subject to Government approval, it will be published in the coming weeks. In line with the Group's Terms of Reference, the recommendations will seek to further achieve policy objectives of quality, affordability, accessibility and contributing to addressing disadvantage through increased public funding and public management.

I have met with the Chair of the Group and was briefed on its progress, which allowed for the emerging recommendations of the Expert Group to significantly inform the developments being introduced in Budget 2022. Budget 2022 introduces a ground-breaking package of measures for the early learning and childcare sector - designed to deliver quality for children, affordability for parents, stability for providers, and support employers to improve pay and conditions for staff.  An additional €78m in ELC and SAC funding brings the total investment in the sector to €716m next year.

The increase in funding comprises three main parts. Firstly, changes to the NCS will, inter aliam extend the NCS universal subsidy to all children under 15, as recommended by the Expert Group.

Secondly, the introduction of a new Core Funding stream in September 2022 will support providers cover increased operating costs linked to quality improvement measures. This core funding stream will be worth €69 million to providers in 2022 and approximately €207 million in a full year from 2023 on.

Thirdly, a one-off transition fund of up to €37 million will operate from May to August 2022, to support providers in the period leading up to the new core funding stream.

These new development measures announced in Budget 2022 begin the implementation of the Expert Group’s recommendations. The full implementation of the Expert Group’s recommendations is likely to be a multi-annual process, with funding becoming available on an incremental basis.

The development of the new funding model has been supported by a significant programme of research. The research partner of the Expert Group has produced a series of working papers examining Ireland’s approach to this sector in an international context including papers on reducing costs to parents and mechanisms to control fees. The Group has also engaged in an extensive and detailed stakeholder consultation process. 

Material relating to the work of the Expert Group, including reports from consultation and engagement, meeting documentation and research papers are available on a dedicated website, www.first5fundingmodel.ie.

Childcare Services

Questions (56)

Dara Calleary

Question:

56. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the supports provided to the early years sector over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic; the persons or bodies the State expects to support the sector into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59455/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, my Department has been and continues to be committed to ensuring that investment in the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) sector is maintained and that services remain sustainable.  

A list of ELC and SAC supports available from 12 March 2020 is as follows:

- continuation of DCEDIY subsidy schemes on an ex-gratia basis from 12 March – 6 April.

- Temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (TWSCS) operated from 6 April – 28 June.

- Reopening Funding Package was announced in June 2020, which included a Reopening Support Payment for DCEDIY funded service providers opening between 29 June and early September 2020. Also, the COVID-19 Capital Grant contributed towards capital costs associated with the reopening of ELC and SAC services.

- Economy wide support, Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), became available in August 2020.

- Sustainability Fund was made available on 24 August.

- On foot of the measures announced at the end of 2020, my Department put in place a newly designed COVID-19 operating support payment (COSP) for 1 February – 5 March 2021. A new strand of the COVID-19 Sustainability Fund was also put in place for this period.

- Extension of Covid-19 Operating Support Payment and Covid-19 strand of the Sustainability Fund to cover the period until 29 March when services could fully re-open, subject to public health guidance at that time.

- Extensive range of provider/practitioner public health resources/guidelines were provided to assist services to reopen and operate safely.

- Extensive range of CPD resources were provided for practitioners to engage in training during services closures.

- Extensive range of parent/child resources/ guidelines were provided to prepare for the transition back to ELC and SAC and to continue learning at home.

Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) 

The Deputy will be aware that employers in the ELC and SAC sector are currently eligible to access the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) without having to demonstrate the 30% reduction in turnover required of other employers.

EWSS has been a key component of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. It is an economy-wide scheme that operates across all sectors. The special arrangement for registered ELC and SAC services to be exempted from the turnover test has made substantial financial supports available to the sector since August 2020.

For over a year, between October 2020 and November 2021, the EWSS has been paid at enhanced rates. This amounts to an investment of €34 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 80% staff costs and 50% operating costs.

The EWSS is due to revert to standard rates between December 2021 and February 2022.  This amounts to an investment of €22 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 50% staff costs and 38% operating costs.

For March and April 2022 a new flat rate for the EWSS (€100) will apply. This amounts to an investment of €11 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 25% staff costs and 11% operating costs.

With the additional cost of play-pods and other public health measures estimated to be €12 million per month, the EWSS at enhanced and standard rates exceeds what is required by the sector to adhere to public health guidance. The EWSS at flat rates is just marginally below the cost of play-pods.

Sustainability Funding

Sustainability Funding also continues to be available to providers where there are sustainability difficulties.  The Covid-19 Impact Support funding strand is available for both community and private services for eligible ELC and SAC services that require further financial assistance in addition to current support measures available.

Transition and Core Funding

As I announced on Budget Day, a Transition Fund will be available for providers in the sector following the cessation of EWSS from May 2022 until the introduction of the new Core Funding in September 2022.  €37 million has been allocated for this fund.

From September 2022, a new Core Funding stream will operate.  €69 million has been allocated to this funding stream in 2022, equivalent to €207 million full year costs and constitutes a significant and strategic new approach to funding the sector in the longer term.

City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs)

The 30 City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs) funded by my Department have continued to provide supports to the ELC and SAC sector throughout the course of the pandemic.  The CCCs are usually the first point of contact for ELC and SAC service providers - they provide information, support and advice on a broad range of Covid-19-related and many other issues.

As an extension of this support, in February 2021 my Department established a national Covid-19 out of hours helpline which is hosted by the CCCs.  The purpose of this helpline is to provide weekend support to ELC and SAC providers who have a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 in their service. 

National Voluntary Childcare Organisations

My Department also provides funding to seven National Voluntary Childcare Organisations who provide support to and represent 4,500 ELC and SAC providers.  These organisations have also continued to support the sector throughout the pandemic.

Pay and Working Conditions

Looking to the future, I am conscious of the need for improvement in pay and working conditions for practitioners in ELC and SAC services. The level of pay they receive does not reflect the value of the work they do for children, for families and for the wider society and economy.

The Deputy will be aware that the State is not the employer and does not determine pay rates. However, last December I began a process to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions in the sector and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee (JLC), which will provide an opportunity for unions and employer representatives to work together to determine wages. As a result of this process, an Establishment Order for a sectoral Joint Labour Committee was signed in June, and the Committee is now in the process of being formed.

 In addition, I will publish a Workforce Development Plan for the sector later this month, which will include important actions to strengthen career pathways and support recruitment.

New Funding Model

An Expert Group has been convened by the Department to develop a new funding model for ELC and SAC. The Expert Group is tasked with examining the current model of funding, its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services and considering how additional resourcing can be delivered for the sector to achieve these objectives, drawing on international practice in this area.

The Expert Group have met 21 times since late 2019. The group has presented a report to me, and it is due to be submitted to Government shortly. Since the report is under consideration, it is not possible at present to share the full details of its recommendations but, subject to Government approval, it will be published in the coming weeks.

Review of the operating model for ELC and SAC

Under 'First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families' my Department committed to completing a comprehensive review of the operating model for ELC and SAC in this country. 

The ELC and SAC sector in Ireland has grown substantially in the past decade - the objective of the review is to ensure that the operating model is fit for purpose to implement Departmental ELC and SAC policy relating to quality, affordability and access, to the scale and standards required in an evolving and expanding sector, with the citizens of Ireland at its heart as core beneficiaries.

I am pleased to report that this review is due to conclude shortly.  An independent external contractor has been engaged by my Department to undertake an analysis of the current landscape and consideration of options for a future operating model.  An Oversight Group, chaired by my Department, has also been established and is meeting regularly.

I look forward to bringing a report to Government on the matter in the coming weeks.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (57)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

57. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when his attention was drawn to a situation regarding a copying and pasting error in Tusla as reported in the media (details supplied); the action that has been taken by his Department to ensure that such errors do not occur in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58865/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

As the matter raised by the Deputy is an operational matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, I have referred the question to Tusla for direct response to the Deputy.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (58)

Seán Canney

Question:

58. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide assistance in the case of a person (details supplied). [59093/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Commission of Investigation received records relating to the period 1922 to 1998 from a number of Institutions and sources as part of its investigation.  On 28 February last, following the dissolution of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, my Department became the data controller for all the personal data contained in the records that transferred from the Commission.  

While I am not in a position to comment on the particular circumstances of the individual referred to, my officials will be in contact with the person directly to assist them.  

Where a person receives information and documentation in response to a Subject Access Request and considers that the information is incorrect, the person may wish to exercise their right to rectification under GDPR.  

Where a request for rectification is submitted by an individual, my Department will consider all practical options as may be appropriate in each particular case including, for example, appending the text of a data subject’s comments to the record.  

Each request by a data subject to exercise their right to rectification of personal data will be considered on a case by case basis.  

I continue to be committed to vindicating the rights of each data subject in respect of their personal data. I am mindful that individuals may be receiving information from the archive for the first time and the Social worker employed in my Department is available to assist individuals.  

My officials are also available to assist individuals with exercising their rights and a dedicated helpline is available to provide information to individuals. Relevant details are available on my Department’s website.

Departmental Schemes

Questions (59)

Holly Cairns

Question:

59. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he is taking to provide play and recreation facilities for all children and young people with a particular emphasis on children and young people experiencing poverty. [59330/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department operates the Play and Recreation Capital grant scheme, which provides funding, via Local Authorities, to support the development of new recreation facilities for children and young people, and for the refurbishment of existing play and recreation facilities and incorporation of natural play elements.

Under this scheme, Local Authorities can apply for the refurbishment of existing playgrounds or development of a new playground.  This year, applications were received from all 31 Local Authorities for 52 projects and a total of €450,000 was awarded by my Department. Criteria for the scheme are developed in partnership with the Local Authority Play and Recreation Network.

One of the key criteria that is measured and scored during this process is Accessibility & Inclusivity ensuring access/inclusivity to the play equipment for all children.

This year, my Department rolled out a Summer of Play campaign, to promote the fundamental importance of play and to promote play opportunities for children and young people across the country, with this year’s theme being Playful Communities.

The campaign included a capital grant programme to enhance outdoor provision in early learning and care and school age childcare services.  There were 3,689 approved applications with a total spend of €4,597,500. Most of these services provide the free, two year, preschool scheme that is accessed by 3,4 and 5 year olds before they start school.  

My Department also allocated €87k to Local Authorities for National Play Day 2021 which took place in July of this year as part of The Summer Of Play campaign. Applications were received from 29 Local Authorities for this funding and numerous approved applications entailed play packs being purchased and targeted for disbursement to a number of harder to reach children, including traveller children, children with additional needs, children residing in women's refuge centres and children residing in direct provision centres.

A grant was also offered to support new and existing Parent and Toddler groups. Support included guidance on settings up Parent and Toddler Groups.  Applications were approved for a total of €177,651.  These initiatives are mostly universal in approach, benefiting all children, but particularly those experiencing poverty or disadvantage. 

Childcare Services

Questions (60)

Richard Bruton

Question:

60. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he envisages an enlarged role for county childcare committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59433/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) were assigned by the National Childcare Strategy (2000) as the key local component in the development of a co-ordinated approach to quality childcare.  There are 30 CCCs, located nation-wide, who are funded by my Department to provide support and guidance to local early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) service providers and to parents.  CCCs act as the local agent of my Department in the coordination and delivery of the national early education and childcare programmes and the implementation of Government policy at a local level, and in facilitating and supporting the development of quality, accessible ELC and SAC services for the overall benefit of children and their parents.

In 'First Five, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families', my Department committed to completing a comprehensive review of the operating model for ELC and SAC in this country.  This includes, amongst other organisations, the 30 CCCs.  

The ELC and SAC sector in Ireland has grown substantially in the past decade. The review's objective is to ensure that the operating model is fit for purpose to implement Departmental childcare policy relating to quality, affordability and access, to the scale and standards required in an evolving and expanding sector, with the citizens of Ireland at its heart as core beneficiaries.  

I am pleased to report that this review is due to conclude shortly.  An independent external contractor has been engaged by my Department to undertake an analysis of the current landscape and consideration of options for a future operating model.  This has involved significant stakeholder engagement, including with the 30 CCCs.  An Oversight Group, chaired by my Department, has also been established and is meeting regularly.

I look forward to bringing a report to Government on the matter in the coming weeks.

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