Priority Questions

Child and Family Agency Funding

Robert Troy

Ceist:

1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide an update on the financial position of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency; if he will need to bring forward a Supplementary Estimate for the agency this year; the extent to which the budgetary position is impacting on the provision of services by the agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36076/14]

My question relates to the up-to-date financial position of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Does the Minister consider that he will need to bring forward a Supplementary Estimate for the agency this year? Can he give an update as to the extent to which the budgetary position is impacting on the services provided by the agency?

The financial allocation for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in 2014 which was its first year of operation, was set at €609 million. This is comprised of €602 million in current funding and €7 million in capital funding. The overall level of funding available to the agency, which is significant by any measurement, is designed to ensure that the agency can provide a comprehensive and integrated service to children and families who require support. In budget 2014, an additional sum of €6.7 million was made available to support the agency's reform of the child welfare and protection services. The level of expenditure to date by the agency amounts to €428.2 million.

Notwithstanding the additional resources provided and the prioritisation of these services by the Government, it is acknowledged that delivering the range of service required of the agency within this budget is challenging as a result of demographic and social factors. This has been reflected most recently in a report prepared by the agency entitled "Measuring the Pressure" which shows that during the first three months of the year, Tusla provided a social work service to 19,990 children and that 11,093 referrals of child welfare and protection were made to child protection social work teams. The report also shows that following preliminary inquiry, about half of these referrals were deemed to need an initial social work assessment.

These increases have given rise to strong demand for foster care and private residential care over the period. Operational reforms are ongoing to achieve the most effective utilisation of existing resources. In addition, the agency has been working to bring added controls in the area of legal services and continues to develop its approach to commissioning. My officials continue to review data on activity levels and performance on an ongoing basis as part of the performance management function of the Department. Specifically, my officials closely monitor the cash position of the agency and are working with the agency to determine an evidence-based full year cash requirement. No final determination has yet been reached in this regard. In the event that supplementary funding is required to meet the running costs of the agency in 2014, the matter will be discussed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as part of the ongoing budgetary discussions.

When he left the HSE behind, the Minister had hoped that he might be leaving behind Supplementary Estimates but it is clear that there is a major problem in this agency which has only been in operation for less than 12 months. Gordon Jeyes, who is chief executive of the agency, has spoken about how we need to have a realistic debate about the money provided and a need to spell out what services will be delivered for that money. Those comments were made a week before we learned that more than 9,000 cases of abuse, neglect or welfare concerns for children at risk are waiting to be allocated a social worker.

Does the Deputy have a question for the Minister?

There is a crisis in the provision of front-line services in an agency that is only in its infancy. This simply is not tenable and is not good enough. I want the Minister to tell us what level of additional supplementary budget will be brought forward to this agency this year because Mr. Jeyes has said that the agency will need a further €45 million simply to stand still next year.

The Deputy has raised the issue of the number of children who are waiting for further social work intervention. They have been categorised into different groups of low priority and high priority. There is no question or doubt that the agency is under pressure. However, we are employing more social workers. Over 100 social workers have been recruited and another 90 are in process. I share the Deputy's concern around the needs of children in this area but I would point out that major advances and progress have been made. This is an area that the Government has taken very seriously. It is the first Government to have a specific Department and Minister for children and a child and family agency with a very clearly defined role relating to the well-being of children.

I am glad the Minister shares my concerns but he is the Minister at the helm of that Department and can act on those concerns. There are 160 vacant posts across the Child and Family Agency, which is operating at 70% of its staffing levels. This is in its first year so there is no point clapping ourselves on the back that we have formed a new agency if that agency will not do the job it is tasked with doing. What is being done about the €25 million that has been spent on legal fees by the agency? Can one imagine the difference that €25 million would make in the provision of front-line services? In terms of the budget provision for the remainder of this year, will a Supplementary Estimate be brought forward to ensure that front-line services are not compromised? In terms of the 2015 budget, will the Minister be able to secure from his colleagues around the Cabinet table the additional resources that Mr. Jeyes, who is at the helm of this organisation, said he will need just to stand still next year?

To be clear around these figures, approximately one third of 9,473 cases awaiting a dedicated social worker are deemed to be high priority. They comprise the following: a child subject to care proceedings, where there is an ongoing child protection concern; a child with non-approved foster carers; a child in care for less than six months; and a child in an non-stable placement. All these children have been in contact with and have been contacted by social workers and the duty social worker is always available. All emergencies are dealt with so there is never a case of any child who is at serious risk and who needs to be removed from a home being left in that home or situation. I want to assure people of that.

The legal fees are an issue that Deputy Troy's Government presided over and set.

Come on. The Government has been in office for four years. This is a new agency that was established under this Administration.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. If the truth hurts so much, perhaps he would be as well to leave the Chamber.

No, I will not leave the Chamber.

Deputy Troy's Government established the HSE and this legal process.

The Minister was going to abolish it. That is why he is here now. Why is he in this Department?

It has left the inheritance for the people with which we are all very familiar. To come in here and demand that a new agency, that has inherited all these problems from his Government, should solve them all within a year of being established is preposterous, and Deputy Troy knows it.

We were not given a proper budget to start with.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

2. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will advise Dáil Éireann of the terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes and similar institutions that was to have been presented to the Members of Dáil Éireann by 30 June 2014, in advance of the summer recess; if he will explain the inordinate delay in the preparation and presentation of the said terms of reference; the reason he and his Department have not facilitated continued contact with opposing party spokespersons over the summer recess, as committed to by his predecessor and Department officials; the reason requests to resume these engagements have not been acceded to; if he will advise when the commission of investigation will get under way and the timeframe for completion of its work and reporting on its findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35990/14]

I seek to establish the current status of the terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes and similar institutions. What institutions will be included? What is the timeframe for the commission to present its report? I am anxious to ensure a number of specific areas of address are included in the terms of reference.

I thank the Deputy for his question, and I have met with him on the issue. The Government is committed to establishing an effective commission of investigation into matters relating to mother and baby homes. Considerable progress has been achieved in this important task, including the publication of the interdepartmental group’s report and the announcement that Judge Yvonne Murphy will chair the independent statutory investigation.

Discussions are ongoing with the Attorney General and colleagues across Government on the terms of reference with a view to finalising our deliberations in early course. In parallel with this work, my Department is advancing the legislative and logistical arrangements required to establish the commission.

Given the breadth and scale of the issues involved and our experience of previous statutory inquiries, the importance of providing the commission with precise terms of reference should not be underestimated. The tasks to be undertaken and the appropriate range of methodologies to be utilised must be defined to ensure the commission is set up on a sound footing. The Deputies across the House are also very concerned about this. It is a complex undertaking and, as I explained in some detail to the House on 16 July, it is right to take the necessary time for drafting to ensure the commission can deliver on public expectations in a realistic and timely manner. To do otherwise would not be in the best interests of the mothers and children who were in these institutions nor would it serve the wider public interest.

In light of the significant progress achieved since 11 June, when this House passed a motion to establish a statutory investigation, I cannot accept the Deputy’s claim of an inordinate delay. Establishing an investigation which is capable of addressing these important matters effectively and in a sensitive and timely manner must be our primary concern. It is my intention to bring a memorandum to Government as quickly as possible setting out the proposed terms of reference and to return to the Houses with a draft order to establish the commission.

My predecessors and I have indicated the desire to achieve the widest possible consensus in this investigation. I acknowledge Deputy Ó Caoláin's constructive contributions to date in this regard. Given the complexity I referred to, my plan is for further engagement with Opposition spokespersons and other stakeholders as matters progress in the coming weeks to update them on the emerging issues and seek their further views. Such an inclusive approach will assist the Government in establishing an effective inquiry and I am confident that we can conclude this important process in a timely manner. My office will be in contact with the Deputy and others to make the necessary arrangements in order that we can all get the outcome we desire.

It is not timely and I do not underestimate the challenges involved. The Minister spoke of legislative and logistical challenges. Could he spell out exactly what these are in terms of the delay in the publication of the terms of reference? What years are to be covered from 1925 onwards? What institutions will be included? Will it include the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam and similar institutions, the Bethany Home and the Magdalen laundries? Will the Minister indicate clearly, in this first opportunity after the summer recess, exactly where this preparatory work is? Will it include address of the adoption practices, infant mortality rates, medical experimentation on children, burial of children in unmarked graves and many other issues we have highlighted to the Minister and his predecessors? This was not only a failure of religious institutions but of the State. We must also recognise that because of the societal pressures it was also a failure of communities and families. Since we last met, before the recess, what efforts have been employed to secure and protect all records? Have they been gathered and placed in a safe repository?

The Deputy will be well aware, as we all are, of the cost and duration of previous tribunals. We do not intend to put people through a long process of years before they get the answers they require and resolution they seek. My officials are consulting the Office of the Attorney General on draft wording. The challenge is to draft terms of reference that are inclusive enough to provide an understanding of the relevant issues but also precise enough to allow the commission to complete its work in a timely and cost-effective way. Our approach must have regard to the experience gained in conducting similar investigations, including directions on appropriate methodology for specific strands of the investigation. As well as working closely with officials, my predecessor, Deputy Charles Flanagan, met representatives of a number of key advocacy groups and church leaders, including the Adoption Rights Alliance, First Mothers Group, Bethany Survivors Group, Cúnamh, Adoption Loss and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I have also recently met Archbishop Michael Jackson of the Church of Ireland.

The timeframe for these questions does not allow for the searching that needs to take place here. The Minister has not answered the questions I asked about the legislative and logistical challenges he outlined in his initial response. What are we talking about here in real terms? The records are very important and of great concern. Have efforts been made to gather these and place them in safe custody? What is the position on the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry? Will it include the address of the various mother and baby homes, not only the Tuam institution and others, but also the Bethany Home and the Magdalen laundries? What practices will be addressed regarding the years that are to be focused on? Will the Minister clarify exactly which years are to be addressed in the investigation? We had a direct engagement with his predecessors, Deputies Frances Fitzgerald and Charles Flanagan, on these matters. There was an agreement. We made it very clear that we were available, willing and eager to engage throughout the summer recess and I made a number of requests for an opportunity to secure updates from the Minister and his Secretary General over the period, which have yet to be accommodated. It is anything but satisfactory.

I hope, in the interests of all concerned, that we will continue to co-operate to expedite this as quickly as possible and also to ensure the terms of reference are as comprehensive as possible. Many groups which have an interest are involved, and their interests must be represented. The Deputy has asked me to give specifics, but that would be to pre-empt the Department's work, which will come to a conclusion in the coming weeks. I ask the Deputy to keep his mind open. We will meet him again to discuss it, as we will with other members of the Opposition and other groups which have made representations.

Youth Services Provision

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

3. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide the necessary number of social workers for services for children and youth. [36155/14]

I congratulate the Minister and wish him well in his new Ministry. There is a major task ahead, as illustrated by our questions today. I welcome the fact that 100 social workers are to be recruited.

I thank the Deputy for his question and his wishes of goodwill. At the end of August 2014, there were 1,387.89 whole time equivalent social workers employed at the Child and Family Agency. Staffing vacancies arise for various reasons including retirements, resignations, career breaks, maternity leave and other unpaid leave. A system of risk analysis is in place in each area to ensure that staffing numbers do not fall to an unsafe level and gaps identified through this process are addressed with the additional resources of temporary staff as required. All identified vacancies are the subject of a recruitment process to ensure their filling at the earliest opportunity.

The latest figures available to my Department show 106 social workers have been recruited since the agency was established on 1 January 2014 with a further additional 148 posts currently on offer to candidates or at various stages of recruitment. The agency, as part of its workforce planning strategy, is progressing a number of targeted recruitment initiatives designed to alleviate service pressures. These include the development of a pilot maternity leave cover scheme for social workers, whereby maternity related vacancies can be filled by way of a 12 month temporary contract. Some 30 temporary posts have been put in place across the agency to date under this scheme.

The agency is also developing a one year induction programme which will be targeted at graduate social workers. It is my intention that the agency will progress and build on these recruitment initiatives over the remaining three months of 2014 and throughout 2015 in response to identified need.

Recent statistics from the Child and Family Agency are alarming. Some 3,250 high priority cases identified over the summer are awaiting a response. Some 4,700 cases were deemed to be of medium priority while 1,500 were listed as low priority. The number of children at risk received by social services increased by 98% over the past seven years, from 21,000 to 41,600 in 2013. This gives cause for great concern and needs to be addressed. Budget and staffing levels do not reflect the increased demand and services are coming under severe pressure on a weekly basis. Early intervention is essential to avoid problems escalating through neglect. If there is no intervention, children will naturally end up in care. I ask the Minister to use his office to intervene in this situation immediately, and to give direction and a working plan to address these matters at an early stage.

The figures mentioned by the Deputy are accurate. There are 3,000 cases which are considered high priority. It is important to note that each of these cases has been reviewed by a social worker and have been triaged. They await the allocation of a full-time social worker. We have issues with recruitment. The issue is not a lack of funding, but rather difficulties in filling some posts. Social work care is not unlike many other aspects of the health service with which the Deputy will be familiar. There are sometimes difficulties in getting doctors to work in particular hospitals or geographic locations. The same can be said of social workers. Some areas are very difficult and the work has an impact on people. That is why there is continuous staff turnover. The funding is in place. The recruitment process is ongoing and has been successful insofar as to date more than 100 social workers have been recruited and are in place. In my reply I referred to a figure of 90 but I understand more than 100 recruitments are currently in process. The matter is being dealt with aggressively.

Front-line services are struggling to deal with the heavy case loads. Resources are scarce. HIQA estimated that some social work teams are operating at 70% of their intended staffing levels and that was having a serious negative effect on the delivery of social services. The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, recently pointed out that she had raised concerns about how continued resource shortages would affect the sector. She has reasons to have concerns as the Child and Family Agency has serious legacy debts and is likely to run more than €20 million over budget by the end of the year. Can the Minister make overtures to the Minister for Finance or obtain the necessary funding in the forthcoming budget? It is needed at an early stage.

There is no question that we face challenges from a financial point of view. There will always be demand and we need to ensure that the way we are delivering care and services is done in an efficient manner. As is the case in other areas, sometimes social workers are being tasked with other work of a more clerical nature from which they could be freed in order to address the area in which they are skilled. We are examining that and the appropriateness of the roles to try to improve the situation from the point of view of the child.

Areas such as the historic legacy of legal issues are now being addressed by Mr. Gordon Jeyes. The bill will reduce considerably. One firm had not submitted a bill of almost €1 million for nearly four years. It is very difficult to predict with certainty where one is going when such situations arise. I thank Deputy Fleming for the opportunity today to send a message out that we will have to consider, in consultation with the Attorney General, some other arrangement. We demand prompt payment by Government Departments, but there should equally be some onus on those presenting bills to do so in a reasonable and timely fashion. I do not consider the presentation of a bill four years late to be timely and reasonable.

Youth Services

Robert Troy

Ceist:

4. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when funding will be provided to the Attic Youth Café in County Longford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36077/14]

I do not usually raise individual constituency matters during Priority Questions but the Attic Youth Café in County Longford is a particularly serious issue. It has been repeatedly promised funding by previous Ministers, the Taoiseach and a local Deputy, yet this youth organisation, which works across the social divide, finds itself in extreme financial trouble. The Minister's officials met with the organisation in the past number of weeks and I ask him for an update on the situation.

This is a very important service for the young people of Longford. It is an issue Deputy James Bannon has brought to my attention repeatedly since I became Minister. I raised the matter with my Department last week.

In 2013, €1.5 million in capital funding was made available to my Department for a youth café scheme. Pobal assisted my Department to administer this scheme. In all, 95 applications with proposals were received and some 30 proposals for new youth café facilities around the country were approved for funding. These projects are now working with Pobal to develop their projects to the next stage of development. An application for funding was received in respect of the Attic Youth Café, however the application was deemed ineligible for the scheme.

Representations on behalf of the project have been received in my Department. Meetings with the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and officials were held in January and in May this year. Officials of my Department and Pobal met the project representatives on 11 September 2014. Officials are now undertaking a full examination of all aspects of this case, including information and documentation provided at the meeting. The outcome of this examination will be communicated to the project in the coming weeks. Pending the outcome of this examination my Department is not in a position to determine what steps, if any, may be available to the proposers to advance the project.

My Department does not have available to it a new capital fund for the development of youth cafés in 2014. It is acknowledged that youth cafés offer young people a safe, alcohol-free and drug-free space for recreation, non-formal learning and youth activities. I wish to record my support for these cafés because many younger people are not terribly interested in sport, even though we would encourage it and they need a safe outlet and a safe place in which to socialise.

I had hoped the Minister might enlighten us further. I am aware that Deputy Bannon was involved and he led them to the mess in which they find themselves by promising them in March 2013 that they would get a grant of €100,000. He facilitated a meeting with the then Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, who confirmed at the meeting that they were eligible in 2013. He brought the Taoiseach to visit the youth café. The Taoiseach is very good at making promises when he is in a constituency and he promised that funding would be available. What is happening in this case is indicative of how this Government treats rural Ireland, with the back of its hand. I refer to the level of funding per person for youth projects received by Longford, which is €29.14, whereas our near neighbours in Westmeath, another part of my constituency, have received €146.88.

Is there a mechanism in place? The youth café works across the social divide. The Minister has alluded to the work of youth cafés in the prevention of drug and alcohol use. The Attic Youth Café is working with the midlands drugs task force and with Foróige. It is involved in providing courses for those who have dropped out of school. What funding will be available from the youth guarantee scheme? What level of funding did the Minister's Department receive from the youth guarantee scheme to support children and youth who find themselves out of employment and who need some support? The Attic Youth Café is a flagship project that could give the people of Longford that much needed support.

My Department has supported the development of 100 youth cafés over the period 2011 to 2013. The development of youth café facilities will continue to be advanced should further capital funding become available in future years. Longford youth services receives annual funding from my Department under the special projects for youth scheme. Funding of €74,651 has been allocated to Longford youth services in 2014 to support the provision of services to young people in the locality. My Department spends nearly €50 million on youth services annually.

I asked about Longford and the Attic Youth Café in particular. There is a very great disparity of funding between counties and it is not fair. What is noticeable is that the disparity seems to penalise weaker, smaller counties, as in this case. I asked about the youth guarantee funding which comes from Europe. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established to deal with children and youth affairs. What is the Department's budget to support children who need support? Can funding can be made available to make this flagship project happen? As the Minister has rightly said, it is a magnificent project which works across the social divide. Based on the 2011 CSO figures, in excess of 50% of our youth population in Longford participate in the project.

Some of the Deputy's questions relate to specific information which I do not have to hand. I will obtain the information and revert to the Deputy.

Youth Services Provision

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

5. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide adequate funding to the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service to enable the organisation maintain and develop its extensive network of youth facilities in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35758/14]

I ask the Minister if he will provide adequate funding to the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service to enable the organisation to maintain and develop its extensive network of youth facilities in the county.

My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country, including those from disadvantaged communities. The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to 380,000 young people and involve approximately 1,400 youth work staff in 477 projects and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country. In 2014, funding of €49.78 million has been provided to my Department for these schemes. I take this opportunity to thank and encourage the phenomenal volunteerism which exists in this country, which is essential to the success of projects and without which the funding would be less effective. I thank all the volunteers working in these agencies and in the sporting organisations.

Kerry Diocesan Youth Service provides a wide range of services for children, young people and their families throughout County Kerry. Kerry Diocesan Youth Service receives funding from a number of statutory bodies, including the Health Service Executive, for these services. My Department provides funding to Kerry Diocesan Youth Service for youth services under the special projects for youth scheme which supports projects targeting young people who are disadvantaged, including young Travellers and young people who are out of school and at risk of drug or substance abuse or homelessness. Funding is also provided for a youth information centre in Tralee. In 2014, funding of €429,285 has been allocated to Kerry Diocesan Youth Service for these youth services. I am also aware that my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, provides funding to Kerry Diocesan Youth Service through the community programmes unit of the Irish Youth Justice Service, for the operation of Garda youth diversion projects in the county. The question of additional funding to my Department to support the provision of youth services is a matter for consideration in the context of the annual Estimates and budgetary processes and having regard to the resources available to the Government.

Kerry Diocesan Youth Service is a model organisation and an example of what can be done in dealing with youth in areas with significant social problems and where well-supervised recreational facilities are needed. Over the past 25 years, Kerry Diocesan Youth Service has built an extensive network of facilities and social services. The organisation has its headquarters in Killarney and offices in Tralee, Listowel, Castleisland and youth cafés in towns and villages throughout the county. It provides an essential mobile service which goes out to the remote areas and the little villages in all corners of the county.

I welcome the Minister's announcements about funding but the special projects for youth funding and youth information grants have been gradually reduced over the past five or six years with a reduction of 30%. These are core grants and I ask the Minister if he could escalate these grants and perhaps reconsider how they are applied.

I concur with the Deputy's comments about the service provided by Kerry Diocesan Youth Service through its invaluable work. All these groups are tremendous value for money from the point of view of a return to the taxpayer.

It is not just about putting a price on the services they deliver, which can be done, but it is about putting a value on the work they do and the impact they have on the development of children and youth. They have our absolute support. Notwithstanding the fact that the public finances are improving, we still have a fragile economy and we have to make sure the recovery is not endangered in any way. The latitude, therefore, for spending additional sums is limited and my Department is in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as we approach the annual Estimates and all these points are being made. We are striving as best we can to ensure no further reduction to service.

Due to the financial shortfall, KDYS has experienced job losses over the past few years, in particular, and the organisation is trying to maintain services, protect, in particular, core services and create new programmes as they emerge. Current State funding is restricting progress and future development. The cuts are destabilising and they undermine the positive plans KDYS has to advance its programmes. It has expanded strong services relating to recreational activities. It is a model organisation and it needs to protect and enhance these structures. I very much welcome the Minister's response but adequate funding will have to be provided for this organisation. We must recognise the great work these people are carrying out in these demanding times for the youth of our country.

I refer to a breakdown of where the money is going: Killarney & South Kerry Youth Project, €55,183; Listowel-North Kerry Youth Project, €81,576; Sliabh Luachra-Castleisland Youth Project, €74,651; Tralee Youth Development Project, €173,394; and Tralee and Killarney youth information centres, €107,481. We fund a range of services. The youth service grant scheme is in receipt of almost €10 million in 2014 while €14.5 million has been allocated for special youth projects, €18.3 million for rounds 1 and 2 of the Young People's Facilities and Service Fund, €1 million for the local youth clubs grant scheme, €1.234 million for youth information centres, €1.1 million for local drugs task force projects and €630,000 for Gaisce, the President's Award and so on. The commitment of the Department to this area is clear. We greatly value the work these organisations do and we strive in every way we can to support them.