Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 3

Other Questions

Foster Care Provision

Anne Rabbitte


41. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to address the fact that numerous evaluations by HIQA have found that many foster care services have consistent and serious failings; and to set out the steps she is taking to ensure these failings are addressed. [50218/17]

Deputy Rabbitte is working overtime.

I am asking a broad range of questions this afternoon. Given that numerous HIQA evaluations have found consistent and serious failings in many foster care services, I ask the Minister to set out the steps she is taking to ensure such failings are addressed. I am asking this question on the back of last week's publication by HIQA of its second Cork report, which is based on the findings of the first Cork report.

I welcome HIQA's important work on foster care services and the report prepared by the Oireachtas joint committee. I will respond to the joint committee by the end of the year. In Ireland, 92% of children living in care are in foster care placements, which is an enviable situation. This compares favourably to foster care services overseas. The most recent figures for England show that 74% of children in care were in foster placements. The figure in Northern Ireland is 80% for children who have been in care for at least 12 months. The vast majority of foster placements are stable and loving long-term arrangements in which children are nurtured and supported. By the end of last year, HIQA had inspected all foster care services. It findings show that, in general, children in foster care are safe, happy and in good health and are attending school. For 2017, HIQA has focused in more detail on specific standards, such as the checks and balances that foster care committees and senior managers should have in place to support safe and effective services. Children's experience of the service was not assessed during 2017.

This year's inspections show delays in completing formal assessments of relative carers and the lack of regular reviews of all foster carers. The need for Garda vetting for children over the age of 16 and young adults in the household has also been highlighted. There are weaknesses in how some foster care committees are informed about complaints and allegations against foster carers. I am pleased to note that HIQA has accepted Tusla’s action plans with regard to the inspection reports. I am monitoring the improvements that are being made.

The clear themes coming through are the need for better oversight, the recruitment of staff, the replenishment and broadening of foster care panels, improved supports and the supervision of foster carers. I am asking Tusla to provide me with a national strategy for the recruitment of foster carers as part of its 2018 business plan and to build on and improve the assessment of and support for foster carers. I have secured additional funding of over €40 million for Tusla to ensure the business plan can be achieved.

It is welcome to hear that the Minister is looking for a national strategy in the business plan for 2018 because when the report on the situation in Cork came out the other day, it made for very worrying reading. It found that a number of key recommendations made in the previous report had still not been addressed, least of all the recommendation on Garda vetting. It also found that a number of families who were fostering children in care had not been subjected to Garda vetting. That is a huge issue. We have to drill deep to find out why Garda vetting is still an issue, despite being the most fundamental part of any of the reports presented, including the Tusla and HIQA reports. In this day and age, Garda vetting should not be an issue in cases where children are in care. We need to find out why this has repeatedly been an issue. I am concerned that a number of the four key recommendations made in the Cork report had still not been addressed. We have to find out why they were not addressed, when they will be addressed and who is going to be held accountable. What role does the Minister's Department play in all of this? The fact is there is now a second report.

HIQA sends its reports directly to me and my Department. To respond to the Deputy's last query and issue, as she says, there was an inspection of foster care services in Cork in February and a follow-up inspection at the end of August. The follow-up inspection took place before many of the actions recommended were due to be completed, as shown in Tusla's action plan as accepted by HIQA. Therefore, the findings were to be expected as many of the actions recommended were still under way. For example, the rolling out of a new process to manage concerns and allegations involving foster carers had been recommended as an action, but it could not be commented on in the report because no new reports had been received since the new policy came into effect in July. The inspection report indicates that progress is being made and in line with the expected progress shown in the action plan. HIQA noted that some actions had been completed, but it was concerned that their completion was not timely or of good quality. I will seek to have Tusla confirm to me that the position has improved following the most recent inspection.

On Garda vetting, I accept that it is an issue, although not across the board. As the Deputy is aware, one of the things I have been doing in the context of the wider approach taken by Tusla is working with An Garda Síochána. We have been looking very closely at the issue and had several meetings to discuss the ways in which interagency co-operation can be improved.

As the Minister is aware, the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs carried out a scope of works in respect of foster care services. One of the recommendations made by the committee was that the powers afforded to HIQA be extended to include powers of enforcement. Earlier today representatives of HIQA were before the committee to discuss the Oberstown Children Detention Campus. While HIQA has a monitoring role, it needs to have an implementation role. There is no point in producing reports unless it has good oversight, implementation and enforcement powers. I would welcome the Minister's commentary in that regard.

I am aware of the joint committee's recommendations. There are some details in the report, including those relating to the cost of Tusla's provision of private foster care, on which I hope to obtain more information before responding to the recommendations overall. I am happy to say some of that work with Tusla is in hand. It ties in with the recommendations of the committee. My officials will be writing to the CEO of Tusla to seek its formal response to the report which will be incorporated into my reply on the committee's recommendations which I hope to give as soon as possible.

The Deputy raised the issue of expanding the role of HIQA to include enforcement and regulation. My Department wrote to HIQA following its presentation to the joint committee about the issues raised. As the Deputy is aware, HIQA is largely involved with developing standards and inspecting services, but it has indicated that it would like to be given a role in regulation. I am open to having that discussion with Tusla. I want to hear its views on how any proposed change could improve the lives of children in foster care. I am also open to having discussions with HIQA on future revisions to foster care standards.

Family Resource Centres

John Curran


42. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to fast-track a review of the service provision of family resource centres by Tusla to provide centres with only two members of staff an opportunity to secure additional funding and work with a base of three staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50214/17]

Will the Minister fast-track a review of the service provision of family resource centres by Tusla to allow centres with only two members of staff an opportunity to secure additional funding and work from a base of three staff?

Family resource centres play a really important role in communities across the country. I am personally convinced by the work they do in identifying and providing the services most needed by their communities. It is for this reason that the Government has provided additional funding of almost €3 million for family resource centres in 2018. As part of this allocation, I am pleased to confirm that additional funding of €10,000 will be made available to each family resource centre. Tusla will have discussions with centres about service needs, funding and staffing resources.

On the operation of family resource centres, the Deputy will be aware that they are independent organisations which are managed by voluntary boards of management which represent the local community. The centres operate independently of Tusla. Each centre is responsible for the recruitment of employees and the terms and conditions under which they are employed. The Deputy may also be aware that last week Tusla announced once-off funding for small capital works of €2.12 million for the 109 existing family resource centres.

I am placing strong emphasis on the development of capacity within the family resource centre programme next year. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, allocates funding to 109 family resource centres. I have provided funding for Tusla to increase this number by 11, bringing to 120 the number of family resource rentres that will be operational next year. Family resource centres are critical to prevention and early intervention. Through their services and engagement, they can spot potential difficulties for children and families before they emerge as serious issues. They support families and in so doing make an invaluable contribution to keeping children safe and well.

I acknowledge the additional funding which the Minister has indicated will be made available next year. The question I am asking is slightly different in that historically we have had 109 family resource centres, approximately 45 of which work from a base of three core staff, while the remainder work with two. The problem is that the additional funding will not be sufficient to allow some of these family resource centres which operate in disadvantaged areas an opportunity to grow. Having met representatives of some of the family resource centres, while one-off grants are always welcome, it is very hard for centres to plan from one year to the next without a sustainable level of core funding. The challenge I am meeting is that a substantial number of centres which have only two core staff and which are operating in areas experiencing significant disadvantage cannot seem to obtain the additional funding required from Tusla to transition from a base of two staff to three. That is the challenge we are facing.

I am very pleased to engage with the Deputy on this issue. I understand and I am aware of the concerns about some family resource centres throughout the country. I have an absolute commitment to and an understanding of the incredible work done by family resource centres. Therefore, I was determined to ensure we would be able to invest more next year, as well as making more support available this year. As I have identified, we have recently done that. This commitment is demonstrated in providing more money for the centres, and for expanding their number throughout the country. As the Deputy can appreciate, I have also received many representations in that regard. I see this as the first step towards increasing the level of investment in family resource centres. I accept some of the points raised by the Deputy, but this is a significant first step and a demonstration of our commitment.

I thank the Minister. When she has time we may be able to visit Quarryvale family resource centre. Its grant for 2017 was €86,500. When the Minister was announcing additional funding on Friday last, she spoke about 11 new family resource centres and made available funding of €1.76 million for them, which is €160,000 per family resource centre and almost double what the Quarryvale family resource centre currently receives. The centre is very constrained. Too much of the time of development workers there is taken up with fundraising to keep essential services running. In an area of huge disadvantage, those workers now hear of new family resource centres that will be funded at twice the level of their centre. Therein lies the challenge. I acknowledge that the Minister is expanding the number of centres but some family resource centres that are working from the core base of two employees have huge issues in their areas. They do not just need an annual grant, their core funding must be significantly increased to allow them move from a two-person to three-person operations in order to meet the needs in their communities.

As regards Quarryvale family resource centre and as the Deputy is aware, the funding of €86,478 covers the salaries of a full-time co-ordinator, a part-time development worker and a part-time administrator. When Quarryvale entered the programme in 2005, its original budget was set at €39,777. Whether the same criteria are used to determine the annual funding of family resource centres depends on when the project entered the programme. The number of staff, location, size and catchment area of the centre and the deprivation index of the area are also taken into account. Quarryvale is in the lower funding bracket due to its only having two staff - as the Deputy identified - as well as the date on which it entered the programme. It is located in an area of high deprivation. The Deputy has raised these issues and I have asked that they be examined. I am investing money in the sector. I understand the concerns raised by the Deputy and I will ask Tusla to note them, particularly in the context of Quarryvale, for the future.

Early Years Strategy Publication

Denise Mitchell


43. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she will publish the national early years strategy; when it will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50171/17]

When will the Minister publish the national early years strategy and when will it be implemented?

Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the national policy framework for children and young people, contains a commitment to publish Ireland's first-ever national early years strategy. The ten-year cross-Government strategy will focus on the period of early childhood from birth to five and cover all aspects of children's lives. Given the importance of the first five years for childhood development and for development over the life course, the strategy is a priority for me. No other strategy offers the same potential to transform the lives of children and their families. It is, therefore, important that we get it right.

Drafting of the strategy is being advanced by my Department, which is drawing on substantial national and international research evidence and being informed by experts' views, including those of the expert advisory group on the early years strategy, bilateral meetings with other Departments and a range of stakeholder consultations, including one undertaken with children aged three to five. We also held a very valuable open policy debate which brought together over 80 experts from the fields of health, education, early childhood care and education, child protection, housing, community, social protection and social inclusion.

A draft strategy has been prepared and a process of redrafting is about to commence alongside further consultation with Departments and key stakeholders.

Efforts to progress the remaining work and finalise the strategy for publication have recently intensified with the assignment of an additional resource by my Department. When it is published as early as possible in 2018, my Department will outline a plan for implementation that will involve the close monitoring of progress on all actions within the agreed timeframes.

The national early years strategy presents us with a very important opportunity to identify what is in the best interests of every child from birth to six years of age. It includes a specific focus on early childhood care and education. I acknowledge the work that has been carried out by the Minister such as brainstorming sessions and policy debates with stakeholders to progress the strategy. However, while there have been various schemes and announcements regarding early years services, I fear that, although it is well-meaning, the strategy is disjointed. I would like it to be published as soon as possible. The Minister said that will be done in 2018 but this process has been ongoing for a long period and I hope she will be able to give a date for its publication and implementation.

I thank the Deputy. The first area she identified relates to whether we are being strategic. We do not yet have a strategy. As regards why it has been delayed, the commitment to publish the strategy coincided with a commitment to totally reform the early childhood care and education sector in Ireland. As the Deputy is aware, my Department has been engaged in many initiatives and a significant reform agenda at the same time as trying to progress the strategy. Examples of its work are the report on the future investment in child care, the early years regulations, the access and inclusion model, the action plan for school age child care, the expansion of the ECCE, early childhood care and education, scheme and more affordable child care measures in 2017. While I acknowledge there has been a delay, it has been contributed to by that significant reform.

The strategy, when published, needs to include an implementation plan. Over the years, we have all seen various well-meaning schemes whose clear goals have sometimes fallen flat. What plans does the Minister have to fund and prioritise the strategy?

I assure the Deputy that an implementation plan will be part of the strategy. We will draw on the learning we have gained from the experience and cross-Departmental work that has been carried out, in particular in the context of the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures national ten-year strategy whereby high-level officials gather every quarter under my chairmanship and have worked together to understand and ensure that implementation will be the focus once the report has been published. That will enable us to have the strategy and also a structure for its implementation. As part of that process there will, in the first instance, be an identification of the aspects of budgets within Departments that are already focused on ensuring that parts of the plan are resourced, as well as working together to be able to identify resource gaps that will have to be filled to ensure the plan is implemented.

Youth Services Funding

Brian Stanley


44. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason funding for an organisation (details supplied) in County Laois is lower than the national average. [50222/17]

I want to ask the Minister about funding for youth work at Laois youth work centre. The county has consistently received a very small slice of the cake in that regard. For example, in the current year it received €107,000 while Cavan received €333,000 - although I am not arguing for the Minister to take money off Cavan - and Wexford received €440,000.

Funding to staff-led youth services has generally been targeted at areas of disadvantage and not allocated in proportion to the youth population of a county. That has had an impact on Laois's funding relative to other counties.

Laois youth services received €86,803 in funding in 2017 under the special projects for youth scheme. Under the scheme, grant aid is made available in respect of out-of-school projects for disadvantaged young people. Priority is given to projects in the spheres of special youth work initiatives, young homeless people, young people at risk of substance abuse and young Travellers. In addition, funding has been provided to Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board under the local youth club grant scheme, youth capital funding scheme and the local youth club equipment scheme.

My Department also funds 31 national and major regional voluntary youth organisations. Foróige is funded through the scheme and provides a service to support 11 youth clubs in County Laois . Other clubs operating in County Laois that are affiliated to national organisations that receive funding from my Department include Macra na Feirme, Youth Work Ireland, the Irish Girl Guides, ECO-Unesco, the Order of Malta and Scouting Ireland.

In 2017 I allocated €57.4 million in current funding to support the provision of youth services. This was an increase of €5.5 million on the allocation for 2016. I have enhanced it by a further €1.5 million in 2018. I am committed to continuing to seek additional investment in youth services.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department is managing the most significant reform of youth services ever undertaken. Earlier this year I approved funding of €800,000 for the establishment of new youth projects and the augmentation of a small number of existing youth services to meet new challenges arising from population increases. Future development of and investment in youth services will be informed by the recently completed exercise which mapped youth service provision across the State.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is welcome that we have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is one of the more positive things that have happened in recent years. The Minister has mentioned that funding is allocated not necessarily in proportion to the size of the youth population but rather based on income and disadvantage. With respect, I point out to her in comparison to the other 25 counties County Laois has a low income figure per head of population. For a rural county we also have a huge concentration of foreign nationals. There are many children whose home language is not English or Irish and this creates a lot of difficulties. There is a high unemployment rate because the collapse of the construction industry hit County Laois severely. Very many people travel to work in Dublin in construction. There is a significant level of disadvantage in County Laois. Out of a population of 86,000, 11,500 people commute every day. Of the €57.4 million in current funding the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has allocated to support the provision of youth services, County Laois received just €86,000 which represents 0.15% of the total sum. According to the census, the youth population in the county is growing rapidly. Some 24.6% of the people living in the county are under 14 years of age and there has been a 26.3% increase in the youth population in the past ten years.

We need to hear from the Minister or we will not fit in everyone's questions.

I am aware, not just from the Deputy's question but also from my work, of the significant level of disadvantage in County Laois. As the Deputy says, there has been a certain amount of investment, particularly in the special projects for youth scheme. I have talked about other investment in County Laois, but we are focusing, in particular, on the special projects for youth scheme. The mapping exercise carried out by Pobal which shows how the social demographics have changed in a given area potentially offers an opportunity for more investment. I think some officials in County Laois are in conversation and having meetings with my Department, looking at how to support the best approach to accessing and making applications for grants and there is willingness to continue to support the officers concerned to ensure their grant applications will ultimately be successful.

Some of the electoral divisions in County Laois, including places such as Mountrath and Mountmellick and parts of Portlaoise and other towns, almost have the lowest income figures in the State per head of population. Twenty-eight grant applications were received for the €100,000 approved for the ETBs. The Department approved nine for targeted areas and the expansion of a further seven, but, as the Minister mentioned, County Laois was also unsuccessful in that regard. I am trying to point out to her that the local youth services, specifically Youth Work Laois, do tremendous work but that an awful lot of their time is spent in trying to access funding. I have been in and out of this issue, as have other public representatives. There is a huge stretch on the resources available to these services which are under huge pressure. I ask the Minister and her officials to look again at this issue. Towards the end of the year public bodies, including Departments, sometimes have a little money left in the kitty. The Minister will start off next year with a new budget. I ask her to look at County Laois, in particular, to ensure there is a fair divvying up.

Does the Minister have any money left in the kitty for County Laois?

I ask her not to forget south Kildare also.

I will check. I understand the points made by the Deputy.

I make them to the Minister genuinely.

There has been a new mapping exercise and a profiling that gives us additional information, acknowledging the level of disadvantage in County Laois. The Deputy has pointed to the fact that applications have been made. I am trying to indicate the support of my Department to ensure successful applications can be made in the future. A general amount of money is made available and we then have to go through processes to identify the best way to use it and for the Department to be assured that that will be the case. It is my understanding that later this week my Department, with the Centre for Effective Services, will provide two-day training for staff in all ETB areas in area profiling, the prioritising of needs and, on that basis, the amount of money one should seek. The Centre for Effective Services will provide a training workshop in that regard. I think staff from the Laois-Offaly ETB will attend.

Question No. 45 taken after Question No. 46.

Foster Care Supports

Martin Heydon


46. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to review the funding and allowances paid to foster parents as part of Tusla's increased funding in 2018 in order to take account of the role of foster parents and the additional duties and responsibilities they assume; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50221/17]

I take the opportunity to ask about the plans to review the allowances and funding paid to foster parents who carry out a very important role, given the increased funding of €40 million for Tusla in budget 2018. I am sure the Minister will agree that foster carers are a vital resource in the care system, in looking after almost 92% of the total number of children in care. At the end of July there were 5,801 children in foster care. I point to the extra resources needed to further support foster parents and the fact that we need to attract new foster parents.

I have no plans to change the rate of the foster care allowance at this time. However, my Department has begun an extensive review of the Child Care Act 1991 and will examine foster care arrangements as part of this review. It will have regard to income support measures available to foster families generally.

I acknowledge foster carers as the backbone of child care services. Foster care is the preferred option in Ireland for children who cannot live with their parents or guardians. Approximately 92% of children in care are looked after by foster carers. More than one quarter of these children are placed with relative foster carers.

The foster care allowance is currently €325 per week per child under 12 years of age and €352 per week per child aged 12 years and over. This payment was protected during recent economic hardships and is tax-free. It is paid in respect of the child and provided in order to allow foster carers to meet all of the child's daily living needs, including food, clothing, basic travel, education costs and hobbies and sports activities. The allowance is not considered as means for social welfare purposes.

Foster carers also receive a number of targeted supports to ensure they continue to function as a recognised and valued part of the alternative care system. Key elements of this support include a link social worker, access to training and support group meetings and the allocation of a social worker for each child in care. It is important that foster carers have access to specialist services to meet the child's identified needs. Respite care for children may be arranged if it is part of their care plan.

Pre-assessment and ongoing training are compulsory for foster carers in order to equip them with the skills and knowledge to provide high quality care. Recognising the specific dynamics and the personal nature of relative care, Tusla addresses the training needs of relatives who are foster carers separately. In addition, Tusla provides funding for the Irish Foster Care Association which offers a range of supports to carers, including advocacy, mediation, training and a telephone advice service.

I thank the Minister for her response. We need to review how foster parents are rewarded and recompensed for the work she has outlined, work which, we must acknowledge, saves the State an awful lot of money. When were the allowances last reviewed? From talking to foster parents who have been fostering for many years and do not remember a change in the rates, my sense is that they have not been reviewed for a very long time. The Minister has outlined foster carers' responsibilities and what the money is for: clothes, food, accommodation, classes and education. She has said it does not act as a payment in any way for foster parents. However, we need to recognise that the obligations placed on foster parents have increased, rightly so. Under Children First, they are now being asked to take on additional reporting obligations. There are extra responsibilities and they are taking on the role of a social worker.

Will the Minister comment on an anomaly that arises in regard to the rates of allowance for which foster carers are eligible? As she indicated, the rate is €325 per week for children aged under 12 and €352 for the over 12s. However, once a child reaches 18 years of age, the rate drops to €300. Given the high uptake of transition year, many students are not finishing second level by the time they turn 18. Moreover, it is probably much more expensive to care for an 18 year old than a 14 year old, but families are getting €52 less per week for an older child.

I do not know when the rates were last reviewed but I will find that out for the Deputy.

I understand it was not done recently.

If it is the case, as he suggests, that the rates have not been reviewed recently, it is even more important that this should be done in the context of the extensive review of the Child Care Act in which my Department is engaged. The points the Deputy has raised are timely and all of them circle around the extraordinary contribution foster carers make to the protection and care of children and to Irish society in general. All of these issues will be considered as part of the wider consultation associated with the review of the Child Care Act. I expect that consultation to include an examination of the rationale for an increase in allowance rates in the context of the increased costs facing foster carers and the additional supports they may require.

The concerns I am raising are compounded by the difficulties being experienced by foster parents in qualifying for the contributory pension. The problem here is that what they do is not seen as work. I understand this particular issue is outside the Minister's remit and may be more properly a matter for the Department of Social Protection. However, as Minister with ultimate responsibility for foster parents, I look forward to teasing out the matter with her in the future with a view to championing the cause of foster parents in this regard. While foster carers qualify for homemaker's credits until their foster children are 12, thereafter they are deemed to be not working and are being told they must get a part-time job. They are expected to do so while also caring for teenagers who are often very vulnerable. We must ensure the role of foster parent is recognised as a job that qualifies for credits and thereby allows them to qualify for a contributory pension.

Some 92% of the children in the care of the State, many of them requiring a great deal of support, are looked after on our behalf by foster carers. Those carers are deserving of adequate practical support, such as the retention of the higher-rate allowance and the mileage payment of 33 cent per mile after their foster child turns 18. In addition to this practical provision, there also must be an acknowledgment on the part of the State of the very important role foster parents perform and a clear statement of the desirability of ensuring they are adequately supported. That is vital if we are to continue to attract people into this vital role in the future.

The Deputy has made his points very well. As I said, they are timely in the context of the review being conducted within my Department. The Deputy referred in particular to the income supports that are provided to those who take on this important and special role on behalf of the State. As I set out in my reply, there are other forms of support in addition to income support that are part of the system and are also significant. These include regular home visits and telephone contact from an assigned fostering link worker and the allocation of a social worker to each child, who visits the child and maintains a link with his or her birth family. In addition, foster carers may apply for child benefit for each child in their care and there is a comprehensive training programme for carers at both the pre-approval and post-approval stage. Each child in foster care will have his or her own medical card. These additional supports illustrate the effort on the part of the State to acknowledge the extraordinary role carried out by foster carers.

We will now go back to Question No. 45, which is taken with Question No. 60. Deputy John Curran is deputising for Deputy Brendan Smith.

Childcare Services Funding

Brendan Smith


45. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the level of funding that will be provided in 2018 to assist in the upgrading of existing child care facilities and the provision of additional child care places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50185/17]

Brendan Smith


60. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the level of funding that will be provided in 2018 to assist in the upgrading of existing community and private child care facilities and the provision of additional child care places, both community and private; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50186/17]

My colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, apologises for his absence, which arises from his attendance at a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in the House of Commons. Will the Minister set out the level of funding that will be provided in 2018 to assist in the upgrading of existing child care facilities and enable the provision of additional child care places?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 60 together.

An allocation of €6.86 million was secured in budget 2018 for my Department's capital funding programme. As in 2017, this will be allocated to early years and school age child care capital projects. An official announcement on the specification of the capital programme for 2018 is due to be made in the coming week and will see the early years and school age capital programmes running concurrently. There also will be a continuation of the childminding development grant, CMDG.

Officials in my Department have listened to feedback from providers in developing the capital programme 2018. The result of this will be a programme that builds on previous successes while also ensuring an earlier, more efficient delivery than in 2017. Delivery this year was delayed by two factors, namely, the huge volume of applications from providers seeking to improve or expand their services and, second, the possibility of incorporating significant extra funding into the capital programme from savings made elsewhere in the Department. We have learned from the difficulties experienced by providers as a result of this delay.

Departmental officials have liaised with Pobal and with city and county child care committees, CCCs, in order to determine the focus, priorities and structure of the capital programme, with a specific view to opening applications early in 2018. This will allow for significantly earlier appraisal and notification processes than in previous years. It will also provide for sign-off on the commencement of capital works approved for funding early in the summer of 2018. This represents a significant improvement on the timeline achieved under this year's programme and will be of significant benefit to providers working hard to deliver quality affordable child care in Ireland.

As in previous years, I anticipate great demand for capital grant funding in 2018. The programme will assist in achieving providers' goals in terms of the improvement, maintenance and expansion of child care services, with a particular focus on where this is most needed. Following the announcement of the specifications of the programme in the coming days, child care providers should be encouraged to make contact with their local CCC to obtain guidance on capital applications and any other issues relating to their service.

The Minister indicated that next year's capital programme will be announced earlier in the year than was the case in 2017. The capital programme for this year was announced in July, at which point, the Minister indicated, there was an immediate draw-down of funds. This allocation covered hundreds of projects with the objective of creating 2,200 new child care places. Given that the funding was not announced until July, will the Minister indicate, as we approach year's end, whether all the funds have been drawn down and all the additional places created? How much earlier in the year can the 2018 programme be delivered?

Will the Minister indicate the global figure for capital projects in 2018? The allocation for 2017 was €8.4 million, which is virtually double the sum for the previous year. It is important to ensure projects are identified and funding earmarked earlier in the year so that the full allocation can be drawn down in that year.

The total capital budget allocation for 2016 and 2017 was increased during each programme's run, in response to the extraordinary levels of demand from providers. Those increases were achieved through moving funds that arose out of savings and underspends elsewhere in my Department. For 2017, the total allocation ended up being €12.4 million. While the current capital allocation for 2018 of €6.86 million is not as high as the final figure for this year, it represents a significant increase on 2017's original baseline allocation of €5 million.

On the question of when funding is announced, I have tried to learn from the past and am absolutely determined to ensure applications are received as soon as possible so that plans can be made, moneys spent and improvements achieved. On the amounts drawn down in 2017, I will get that information for the Deputy.

The Minister pointed out that the capital funding for next year is less than the outcome for 2017. Is she anticipating further savings within the Department that would allow the 2018 outturn to be greater than the initial allocation?

I will have my eye on that, which is all I can say for now.

We will now return to the next question in order, which is No. 47, taken with No. 51, in the name of Deputy Thomas Broughan.

Homeless Persons Supports

Thomas P. Broughan


47. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department is conducting an examination into the physical and mental health impacts on children experiencing homelessness; if not, her plans to do so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49915/17]

Thomas P. Broughan


51. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will report on the weekly actions she undertakes to mitigate the longer-term damaging impacts of homelessness on children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49916/17]

As the Minister is aware, there are now more than 3,200 children living in hotel rooms, family hubs, bed and breakfast accommodation, domestic violence refuges and other unsuitable and cramped accommodation. The Minister and her Government committed to ending the use of hotel rooms and that type of accommodation for accommodating families who are homeless by 1 July 2017. That deadline was missed. Although some families were moved into hubs, I believe 690 families are still in hotel rooms. Has the Minister carried out any studies in respect of the physical and mental health impacts of this on children? Is there any follow-up when, hopefully and at long last, they receive permanent accommodation? What weekly actions will the Minister take in order to protect and care for the welfare of those children? For example, has the Minister visited any of the hotels or hubs in question?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 51 together. I thank Deputy Broughan for the excellent questions. I believe the Deputy is aware that I am committed to helping children and families as part of the whole-of-Government response to the problem of homelessness. I believe that living in emergency accommodation such as hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation impacts negatively on the health of children and their families. Living in very confined spaces gives rise to a lot of stress. Children have no facilities to do their homework. Parents have spoken to me about the difficulty in toilet training toddlers. My Department has co-funded a study on food access and nutritional health among families living in hotel accommodation. It did not make for pleasant reading but it absolutely confirmed that this type of accommodation is not conducive to healthy children or healthy families.

We are trying to find a solution which, in the medium term, provides an environment where children and families can live in a less stressed, less cramped environment. This is why the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has accelerated the provision of family hubs. I have visited some of these myself, both purpose built and an existing building. Importantly, they provide space for children to play. The hubs also provide a better setting for supports such as homework clubs, meeting with support workers and activities that are organised for both children and parents.

They are not a long-term solution but, in my opinion and from what families have told me, the hubs are a big improvement on hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. There are currently 11 hubs in operation. Ten of these are in Dublin and one is in Limerick. Between them, they provide just over 300 units of family accommodation. Four new hubs will be delivered before the end of the year. These will provide more than 100 additional units of family accommodation in Dublin. Two further new hubs will be delivered in Limerick before the end of the year, providing 34 units of family accommodation. Early next year, there will be more than 55 further units of family accommodation in Dublin with the opening of two new hubs. In addition, there will be a 19 unit family hub opening in Cork early in the new year. There is a proposal in planning for a hub in Galway.

Through my Department, I have introduced free child care for the children of families experiencing homelessness. Some families are already eligible under existing schemes. I am happy to say that the families of an additional 154 children are availing of this measure, which also provides for a daily meal for the child. This was introduced as a direct response to a request from the homeless agencies to do this. It was a response to the needs of the child and also the needs of the parents. In addition, I asked Tusla to fund the provision of child support workers for one of the homeless agencies, which it has done. It has also appointed a homelessness liaison officer who works with all the other agencies and providers helping homeless families.

As we discussed earlier, Tusla also has responsibility for the school completion programme. This provides supports for children at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system. It does this through initiatives such as after-school supports, homework clubs, mentoring programmes, therapeutic interventions, and breakfast clubs. In response to the homeless crisis, all school completion programmes now engage with schools on an ongoing basis, not just at the start of the year, so that children who become homeless during the course of the year are provided with support through the school completion programme.

Tusla and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, at my request, are also supporting an initiative to support women who are pregnant and homeless or at risk of homelessness. Tusla is providing funding for the recruitment of support workers for this service. Our children and their families need permanent homes. That is the goal of the Government. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help these children and their families, both within my area of responsibility and also with colleagues in other Departments.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The Minister referred to a study on food access and nutrition. Will this report be published or will it be made available to Deputies? Earlier today, Members spoke about the accountability of Ministers and the accountability of this House. After the past three or four years of watching families who are homeless ending up in hotel rooms and in hubs, it seems to me that Ministers will be held accountable on this in future Dáileanna and maybe future tribunals. It is something to which the Minister needs to give daily attention. In my experience and from the reports I receive, families have warned us of longer-term physical and mental health impacts on children of living in accommodation without cooking facilities, without space for babies to crawl or learn to walk, with missed visits from public health nurses and so on. These heartbreaking stories bring home to us how inappropriate these locations are, especially the hotel room situation. Deputies get calls from desperate couples and mothers, who realise that their children are really suffering day in and day out because of these conditions.

With regard to family hubs, I am aware that the Minister has probably looked at the excellent study by Dr. Rory Hearne and Dr. Mary Murphy on the operation of family hubs for the housing of families who are homeless. The clear indication of the report is that three months is the very maximum period a family should be in a hub. It is a desperate situation for those families who are suffering.

I represent people who have been in this situation for two years plus. We need a very strong response from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The Deputy is absolutely correct that the Ministers should be, and are, held accountable. I appreciate the Deputy's questions. He has raised some of them with me previously.

On the question of researching and studying the mental health and well-being of the children, I agree with the issues identified by Deputy Broughan. It is not good for the mental health and well-being of young children to be in bed and breakfast accommodation and emergency accommodation. I have seen this myself also when I have gone around. My initial, and continued, response in the context of my Department was to find ways to mitigate the impact of the difficulties that children and young people experience in that regard. Early on, I identified some of those issues, having consulted with the agencies about what would help in that context. The Deputy is absolutely right that we did not meet the deadline that was originally set. As part of the process towards meeting the deadline, there was the establishment of family hubs. I have been in a couple of them and I have heard from the people who are there and say to me that the hubs are providing a very different way of ensuring supports for families ultimately to find secure accommodation and a housing solution for them. It is not just about the place. When I visited the Tallaght family hub, I was told that families no longer had the responsibility of the self-accommodation option as they were self-accommodating with supports to help them find their housing solutions.

There will be a final contribution from Deputy Broughan. There are 58 seconds remaining and the clock is ticking.

We are a few days in to the 16 day international campaign opposing violence against women and I note that two outstanding organisations in my constituency, Aoibhneas and Sonas, have both complained about aspects of the guidelines, particularly those from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, in respect of families who are fleeing domestic violence. These organisations feel that some of the guidelines are actually erecting barriers for mothers fleeing to safety with their children. Some people find at the end of their time in a refuge that there is absolutely no accommodation option but to return to the abusive home setting.

Tusla is part of the Minister's area of responsibility. What is the reason service providers are not linking into the homeless PASS management system, which is the interface between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in relation to this? Does the Minister's Department and Tusla have an input into the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government's guidelines?

Those are excellent questions and I will certainly investigate them. I do not know if I have specific answers, but my understanding, having asked, is that Tusla is working closely in particular with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive with specific reference to women who are pregnant or those who are at risk of or experiencing domestic violence. We have identified some potential solutions, but I will certainly raise the issues the Deputy has raised with me on Tusla and working with the homeless executive.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A.
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.