Priority Questions

Family Resource Centres

Anne Rabbitte


40. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether family resource centres are provided with adequate funding and supports to carry out their responsibilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7351/17]

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge what has happened over the past number of days. I will not dwell on it but it is important for people to understand that these questions were tabled in advance of the programmes and revelations of the past number of days. I hope the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will get the opportunity to come before us to make a statement and answer whatever questions we need to ask. Does the Minister believe family resource centres are provided with adequate funding and supports to carry out their responsibilities?

I very much value the role that family resource centres play in providing support to vulnerable children and families. Tusla provides a significant level of financial support to family resource centres across the country to assist them in their work with vulnerable children and families. Tusla provides funding to some 109 communities through the family and community services resource centre programme. This typically covers the employment of two to three members of staff and some overhead costs. In 2016, Tusla provided €13.5 million in core funding under the programme. In addition, Tusla provided funding of €595,000 to family resource centres for counselling services under the agency's counselling grants scheme. In December 2016, in recognition of the valuable work that the family resource centres do, Tusla provided additional once-off funding of €1.422 million to centres. This additional funding, which was in the form of minor capital assistance, allowed for the upgrade of equipment and other remedial works at centres.

Family resource centres are supported by two regional support agencies, which are funded by Tusla under the family and community services resource centre programme. These support agencies play a key role in promoting good practice providing technical support, advice and training to family resource centres.

Tusla also provides funding under the programme to the family resource centre national forum. The forum operates as a network for all family resource centres. It provides networking and training opportunities as well as information and support. Tusla plans to build on the strengths of the programme in the years ahead as it continues to deliver on its mandate for community-based early intervention, prevention and family support. Tusla is currently finalising details of the funding to be allocated to family resource centres in 2017 and will be confirming funding levels for individual centres shortly.

After listening to the Minister's reply, one would nearly believe that Tusla is whiter than white with the amount of funding it gives to family resource centres. It is not the first time I have put down this question but rather the second. The reason I put down this question is because family resource centres are stretched to capacity. By and large, most family resource centres have approximately two key workers. The Minister is right. Funding covers salaries and a bit of capital. Most centres do not have a development worker. They provide valuable resources to families in need, particularly in respect of counselling services for children.

An example is Gort family resource centre, where they are helping with the undocumented. They need three times the amount of staff to deal with what is being presented. They are carrying out the role of the community welfare officer also. When is the Minister going to allocate funding to support the development workers that are required on the ground and to deliver a good service and support to Tusla?

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for those qualifying questions. Tusla is currently finalising details of the funding to be allocated to family resource centres in 2017. As the Deputy knows, I was able to increase the overall budget for Tusla for 2017. It will confirm funding levels for individual centres shortly. I understand the various issues raised by the Deputy in terms of the difficulties and the levels of funding. Tusla is looking at that and is engaging with the Family Resource Centre National Forum, which represents the views of all the family resource centres nationally. It also meets with individual family resource centres on an annual basis to discuss governance, funding and service issues. Tusla recognises the benefits that additional funding can bring to family resource centres. In my 2017 statement to Tusla, I emphasised the importance of prevention and early intervention in enhancing outcomes for families and children as one of my key priorities.

I welcome what the Minister has said. Support for the family resource centres has to be front and centre of what we are looking for from Tusla. From 2011 up to the previous budget, the centres endured a huge number of cuts. That has impacted on the service they deliver at a local level, which affects every family that requests their support, be it from the very young to the most vulnerable and the aged. They provide an outstanding service. I witness it myself in Loughrea family support centre, where the additional capitation means that they can now look forward to moving into a new centre and can cut down on the fundraising they were continuously doing. It is amazing how the little bit of funding directed in that way can support the family resource centres, the development workers and the extra capitation. Many families can benefit from that quality of care.

I have no doubt that Tusla will be aware of and listening to the comments that the Deputy is raising, as I am myself, in terms of the ways in which the supports and resources that are being provided to the family resource centres can be used in the most effective manner. The Deputy has suggested that there are certain ways in which additional resources should be targeted in order to increase the efficiency of the family resource centres that work in conjunction with their own communities and, no doubt, with a number of volunteers. As I said earlier, Tusla recognises the benefits that additional funding can bring to family resource centres, as I do myself. It is Tusla's intention to review the funding and resource allocation model as it applies to family resource centres. The review will take account of significant resource pressures experienced by family resource centres up and down the country.

Early Childhood Care and Education Programmes

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


41. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the sustainability of zero to three years services in the community setting in view of changes in regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7091/17]

There are many people watching and I believe we could have had a very different session. I wish to express my dismay and concern about revelations regarding Tusla. I hope that we have the opportunity to discuss this later with the Minister and the CEO of Tusla.

My question relates to services for those aged zero to three years. I have raised this with the Minister. There are obviously a number of issues that have arisen recently around changes in regulations, capitation and the rest of it. These have created particular difficulties for the sustainability of services for those aged zero to three years.

I acknowledge the Deputy's initial comments. I am very willing and happy to participate in any of the decisions that the business committee is now engaged in. With regard to the parliamentary question, I am aware that providing care for children below the age of three results in higher costs to services than caring for older children. This is as a result of the legally required adult-child ratio, which is as low as 1:3 in the case of the youngest children.

Some services providing this care have been impacted by the full implementation of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016, which requires that all staff should hold a minimum FETAC level 5 qualification when working directly with children. In several cases, services have been utilising staff working on community employment, CE, schemes to count towards their required ratios. Under the regulations, this will only be allowed when the individual in question has the necessary qualification.

In order to assist the services in addressing this challenge, I recently announced that €1 million of additional funding will be made available to child care providers who have been facilitating the training of community employment scheme workers to ensure that regulatory changes do not impact on service delivery or the availability of childcare places.

In preparation for the implementation of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016, which the Deputy's question refers to, child care committees Ireland were commissioned by my Department to investigate the impact of new child care regulations on community childcare providers.

This research indicated that the vast majority of services would not face financial hardship as a result of changes required under the regulations. However, it did find that some services had come to rely on community employment scheme workers and I determined that these services should be provided additional funding to enable them to recruit and retain qualified staff to work alongside their CE scheme participants.

I acknowledge the Minister's response, but I do not believe that that €1 million is going to cut it. I attended a meeting yesterday in Cork. It was entitled "perfect storm". I believe it was aptly named because it was about the combination of the changes in regulation, the new child care scheme and the pressures on the community sector generally. It related specifically to 13 services in and around Cork city and 349 children attending those. As the Minister will be aware, I am on the board of management of one of those as a non-executive director. It is an issue of very particular concern. They believe that those 13 services in Cork city will all be closed by September 2018. This is obviously not just about Cork, it is a nationwide issue. The Minister is aware of the benefits of this in terms of early intervention. Clearly, there is a need for a recognition of how we fund these services for the complex additional needs that many children attending these services have. For example, in Cork, 26% of the children attending those community services have an additional need and 24% are awaiting diagnosis. There needs to be a financial recognition of that additional need.

As Deputy Ó Laoghaire is well aware, we have had these discussions extensively with regard to concerns that he has raised about centres in his own constituency. We have been attentive to those and I have been specifically concerned about the centres he has raised. I know that resources are required. The Deputy questioned that €1 million figure. However, we did set aside a significant sum of money in order to ensure that the concerns the Deputy raises are going to be addressed. As a result, I have made available with that money up to €2,000 for services to assist with the recruitment process or to provide expert support in HR management. I will make sufficient additional money available to each service after analysis of their individual financial situation to ensure that they can fully meet the cost of these staff until September 2017. After this time, these services should be in a position to fund these places through their own income, but this will be kept under review. No service will be forced to close.

To an extent, that last point is the crux of the matter.

It is possible for the Department to provide additional funding for these settings to take on additional staff. However, maintaining them through their own income either involves cutting some services or increasing fees. These are services that service disadvantaged areas. If there is not going to be a commitment to an additional long-term funding for additional places, it will not be sustainable for those settings to maintain those staff and settings. They will focus on ECCE and ACS schemes. Some of the services for those aged zero to three years will lose out. Will the Minister introduce sustainability measures for the long term to ensure that services will remain open? Will she take into account the additional need per child for increased payments? Will she meet with myself and the other Deputies from my constituency to discuss the specific issue that was raised at that meeting yesterday?

I will answer the Deputy's last question first. I would be happy to hold a meeting such as the one he requests. Second, with regard to funding for sustainability measures in a long-term capacity, the answer is "yes". The setting aside of €1 million for budget 2017 indicates the initial commitment and the ways in which my Department and I, in the discussions, try to support the services to ensure they do not have to close and that they can maintain the commitment to communities, particularly communities of disadvantage. There is no question that we do not have that commitment. However, the commitment to sustainability comes in the establishment of the affordable child care scheme and my intention is to ensure, in budget 2018, that we get more moneys into that sustainable child care scheme, always with a focus on other communities where people with disadvantage live.

Foster Care Supports

Anne Rabbitte


42. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to widespread reports that a large number of those children leaving foster care here on their 18th birthday do not receive aftercare support plans; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7352/17]

This is a question I have asked previously and it is to do with the widespread reports that a large number of children leaving foster care on their 18th birthday do not receive aftercare support plans. I ask the Minister to make a statement on that.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte. I am happy to reply to her question again, with perhaps some additional information.

Under Tusla's current national leaving and aftercare policy, young people leaving care are expected to have an aftercare plan. Tusla has informed me that from January up to the end of September 2016, 467 young persons in care turned 18 years of age. Of these, 457 young people were eligible for aftercare supports and 412 are availing of the aftercare supports. There were a total of 1,841 young people aged 18 to 22 years in receipt of aftercare supports from Tusla at the end of the third quarter in 2016, and 82% of these young people had an aftercare plan in place.

Tusla is putting in place revisions to its operational national leaving and aftercare policy to bring it into line with the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015. Once the amendments to the 1991 Act are commenced there will be a statutory obligation on Tusla to have an aftercare plan prior to the young person leaving care. Those who have left care before the changes and who do not have an aftercare plan can, under these amendments, obtain an aftercare plan from Tusla up to their 21st birthday. Tusla is identifying gaps in the aftercare service nationally and has indicated that this will require an expansion in aftercare management and workers. Tusla is currently finalising arrangements for the publication of its 2017 business plan, which sets out the priorities for these important services in 2017. Its 2017 budget, as Deputy Rabbitte knows, was increased by €37 million, bringing its funding to over €700 million in Exchequer funding, and this included additional funding to support service delivery to implement legislation.

I heard everything the Minister said, including the figures and so on, but I am meeting the people on the ground. I attended the Empowering People in Care, EPIC, conference before Christmas and the main point from it was the lack of access to aftercare plans and the lack of continuity with social care workers. That they did not have that was their biggest concern.

I met with a provider last week who looks after children in residential care to whom I put the question of aftercare, and I did not get a positive response. He told me of the 18 year old who is literally left at the front door with black bags. That is not what I call an aftercare plan and whether it is Tusla, or whatever organisation is responsible, we need more than statistics. I need to hear that as does the Minister. The social care workers must tell us that their aftercare plans are working but that is not what I am hearing.

As Deputy Rabbitte knows, I always appreciate hearing her examples and about the conversations she is having as it is important for me, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to hear that as I feed into, in terms of my priorities, what Tusla is doing, particularly with regard to aftercare which, as I indicated to the Deputy earlier, it is reviewing.

Statistics are important but as the Deputy said, they are not everything. I will make some additional comments in response to the questions the Deputy raised. I refer to young persons who are eligible but perhaps not availing of supports. Young persons who are eligible for aftercare supports may choose not to avail of them. I accept that is not Deputy Rabbitte's example but there are instances where that is the case. However, Tusla maintains contact with the young person where that is possible. The young person may have disengaged with Tusla as they return to the wider family for support or for their own reasons but Tusla keeps the door open for contact and will help in terms of the immediate and longer term support for the young person that can be provided by the State. There are supports also that are provided by Tusla without an aftercare plan.

I thank the Minister. The reason I continue to harp on about this issue is because for the 233 children in full-time residential care, the only people who are responsible for them and charged with their governance - effectively their parents - are this Government. I continue to ask the question because we have a duty of care to those young people who sometimes do not have a voice, do not know how to access the proper services or might be misguided because they think they know it all at 17 or 18 years of age when in fact they do not. It is not just me conveying what I am experiencing. Focus Ireland, in its submission to Tusla, stated that one of the problems was the lack of continuity among social care workers, that relationships had not been built and that young people below the age of 16 or 18 years are not governed by having the aftercare plan. I raise this issue with the Minister on a regular basis for the simple reason that we are the parents governing these children.

I accept and acknowledge the responsibilities of which Deputy Rabbitte speaks. It is correct that she should do so. What I have been indicating is an awareness of what the Deputy is saying while at the same time giving a commitment, as the Deputy has done, to ensure that the aftercare provisions are improved on and that any young person who wants to engage in aftercare as they age out of care has the possibility of doing that. In terms of the numbers, I have indicated to the Deputy that most of them do have that at this stage. However, Tusla is aware that there are gaps in the aftercare service nationally and it is revising its policy on aftercare and carrying out a number of consultations in that regard. It has also mapped the availability of aftercare staff nationally and identified a number of areas that could benefit from additional aftercare sources. Its business plan commits to the completion of aftercare policy and supporting documents by the second quarter of 2017. It is currently recruiting social care staff, including recent graduates, who will allow Tusla to fill the gaps in its services. In those ways it is, under my direction, following an effort to prioritise and increase the capacity of provision of aftercare plans.

Child and Family Agency Data

Jan O'Sullivan


43. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of children that have been brought to the attention of the child welfare and protection services and have not yet been allocated a social worker; if targets for reduction in these cases in 2016 have been reached; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7016/17]

Like other Deputies, I want to express my concern that, unfortunately, we cannot ask the questions we should be asking today. We need time to raise the issues, particularly from the perspective of spokespersons on children and youth affairs. The fact that incorrect information was in the system in An Garda Síochána long after it had become apparent that it was not true and that that data could have come from what was the Health Service Executive, HSE, at the time but is now Tusla's responsibility is something on which we all want to ask questions and need to ask questions on behalf of the public.

The question I tabled is on the number of unallocated cases that have not been assigned a social worker and are under the child and welfare protection services. The target for the end of 2016 was for a 60% reduction in the number of open cases. My question is to find out if that target has been reached.

I acknowledge Deputy O'Sullivan's concerns.

Of course, I understand them. As I said, I am willing to engage should that be the decision of the Business Committee.

On the question the Deputy has put before me, as she is aware, I have placed a high priority on addressing the number of children who are without an allocated social worker. I secured additional funding for this purpose in 2017 and Tusla is now in its second year of a three-year plan to ensure a social worker is allocated to all children and young people who need one. In its 2017 business plan it identified additional funding of €2 million for the recruitment of more than 120 social workers to further reduce the number of unallocated cases.

The number of cases without an allocated social worker stood at 6,718 at the end of 2015. The figure at the end of 2016 was 5,413, representing a reduction of 19%, or 1,305, over the course of 2016. Cases to be allocated to a social worker include children known to Tusla whose social worker is no longer available to them, as well as children waiting to be allocated for the first time. All unallocated cases are assessed and prioritised according to risk. It will continue to be challenging to address the problem of unallocated cases, but we made good progress during 2016 and Tusla will continue to prioritise the issue in 2017.

I have provided Tusla with the necessary financial resources to tackle the problem. I secured additional funding of €37 million in 2017, bringing its overall allocation to more than €700 million.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A key challenge to achieve our objectives will be the recruitment of sufficient social workers and other professional and supporting staff. Tusla is engaged in a major recruitment of social workers, social care workers and business support staff for this purpose. It is important to emphasise that, as Tusla's three-year plan to address unallocated cases continues, all urgent cases are dealt with immediately and prioritised, as required. These children do not simply go on a waiting list. My Department will continue to closely monitor progress in this regard. I attach a high priority to tackling this matter and will continue to engage directly with the Tusla board and senior management team over the course of the year to review progress.

I suspect that my next question is the one the Minister was just about to answer. The target figure was 60%, but what has actually been reached is 19%, which clearly is totally inadequate for the children who have had no social worker allocated to them, despite the fact they are at risk. Why is this the case? The Minister has just said extra funding was allocated, but I believe there is a problem with recruitment. We were told Tusla expected to reach its target by the end of 2016, but it is clear that the target has not been reached.

I wish to ask about the 24-hour service. There is a very limited service available. There is an on-call social worker whose number is available to the Garda and a very limited number of other agencies but not to all those involved in child welfare services. There is no opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting between a social worker and a child at risk.

In the context of the issues I mentioned at the very start, including closing cases when there is no longer perceived to be a risk, this point must be reached at some stage, but we really need to know how come in a case in the public arena of which we are aware incorrect data were still on the Garda system a year or so after it had been identified that they were not correct.

I thank the Deputy. I concur that her ability to do maths is good and accept what she said. Although there was a significant reduction of 19% in the number of unallocated cases in 2016, that does not mean the target was reached. It was a self-imposed target, but I am aware that it was not reached. Additional funding of €4.2 million has been allocated for the recruitment of almost 70 social workers and to deal with legislative issues related to Children First, adoption and aftercare services. The target for the number of social workers at the end of 2017 is 1,675 whole-time equivalents, an increase of more than 200 on the number at the end of 2016. As the Deputy is aware, this is a key issue in dealing with unallocated cases. The target is still ambitious. Tusla is in the second year of a three-year plan.

On the 24-hour service, I am aware of the issue, as is Tusla. We hope that in time we will be able to improve it and move beyond the current arrangements.

I will pursue the other issue I raised as to how a case is closed. Is there a sign-off? Is there a management system in place, whereby it is stated a case is closed and information on it should not be in any arena? The Minister obviously knows that I am speaking about Sergeant McCabe. There should be a system in place, whereby Tusla ticks boxes to state an issue has been fully dealt with.

What I will say in response to the Deputy's question is that there are systems now in place. As she is aware, I have requested a full review of the systems and processes of Tusla in connection with the issues which she has raised because I also have those concerns. We will scope the terms of reference. It is my intention that this piece of work will be done as quickly as possible.

Child Care Services Staff

Anne Rabbitte


44. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on reports that Ireland's child care sector is becoming financially unviable, particularly with regard to working conditions and pay for staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7353/17]

What are the Minister's views on the report that Ireland's child care sector is becoming financially unviable, particularly with regard to the working conditions and pay for staff? She has covered some of it already, but I ask her to expand on what she said in reply to Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Staff in the child care sector have a critical role to play in delivering high-quality child care services and deserve to be valued and respected for the important role they play with children. Because child care costs for parents in Ireland are among the highest in the OECD, we need to address the issues of affordability and quality at the same time. The Department is not an employer of child care workers, but it is a significant funder of child care services. I am very conscious that there is an issue with the pay and conditions of workers in the sector and the Department is engaging with the early years sector to explore how it can be addressed in the short, medium and long term.

The programme for Government commits to carrying out an independent review of the cost of providing quality child care, which probably has more to do with what will happen in the medium term. This commitment aligns closely with work on the design and development of a new single affordable child care scheme and we are progressing this work in that context. The review will feed into future policy development, including on levels of payments to services.

I am pleased that the previous two budgets delivered a 35% increase each year in funding for child care services. We need to continue to invest and I will argue for more resources in 2018. To go some way towards addressing cost pressures faced by providers in the sector, I have secured €10 million to enable them to be paid for non-contact time, when they will have no children present and will be able to pay staff to concentrate on the administrative workload. The services can decide how to use the payment when it is received. That is to happen in the short term.

I thank the Minister. It is welcome that she has said she will argue for more funds. All of the child care providers and staff watching will be delighted to hear this. Representatives of Early Childhood Ireland, ECI, appeared before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs at its most recent meeting, as did Ms Marion Quinn from the Association of Childhood Professionals, ACP, and representatives of the city and county child care committees. ECI and the ACP stated they would have preferred if the review had been carried out before we went down the route of the affordable child care scheme. As someone who is committed and true to her word, the Minister has delivered on the objective of providing affordable child care, but people are still looking for the findings of the review. What exactly is its status? When can we expect to hear the results? Will they feed into the Minister's budgetary recommendations later this year?

I will take the Deputy's last question, on whether it would feed into the negotiations for budget 2018. The answer is "Absolutely". I am happy to come back with an exact, or almost exact, deadline for when we expect to have it but I need to check with officials first. The terms of the review are being worked on. I appreciate that the child care sector will be looking for them but its own research will feed into the review and is guiding us now in the decisions we make on how to use the money I got in budget 2017.

We anticipate that this will come and will give us more evidence than we have now to enable us to have strong negotiations for budget 2018.

I compliment the child care providers of programmes like the ECCE and the ACP because they feed into the picture with valuable information. There are concerns among community providers and private providers over the sums provided by Early Childhood Ireland. They show that private providers have to pay commercial rates and this makes them different from community providers, who in turn are concerned over wages. Up to the end of last year they had CE workers to help with their ratios. We talk about universal care and affordability but different providers are quite diverse in their concerns. One has concerns over the ECCE worker and the other over commercial rates.

I am very aware of those issues, which the organisations in question have also brought to my attention. There is a diversity of cost bases, depending on where they are located, and we must address these and take them into account in our review of costs. The review will provide us with better evidence than we have at the moment. That will enable us to make the case more strongly for increased resources and to take account of the diversity in the cost of providing services.

I agree that concerns around the pay and conditions of the child care workforce are real, and evidence for these is backed up by the reported difficulties. These concerns have been discussed in the early years forum, where many organisations have raised them. I am delighted that steps are being taken towards the unionisation of the early years sector and I and officials from the Department met ICTU on this subject. We agreed to continue to engage.

It should also include au pairs.