Other Questions

Adoption Legislation

Seán Sherlock


5. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017; and when it will commence. [9002/18]

What is the current status of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 and have all sections of the Act been commenced?

I am pleased to confirm that all sections of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 are now in force.  

The primary purpose of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 is to give effect to Article 42A of the Constitution in so far as it relates to adoption. In particular, the Act provides for the adoption of any child, regardless of the marital status of his or her parents. It also provides for the best interests of the child to be the paramount consideration in respect of any matter, application or proceedings under the Adoption Act 2010. The Act also provides for the views of the child to be ascertained by the Adoption Authority or a court and for those views to be given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.  

In 2017, I signed the commencement order to give effect to the provisions in the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017. All provisions of the Act other than section 24(1)(a) were commenced on 19 October 2017.  Section 24(1)(a) provides that before making an application for a child to be adopted because of parental failure, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, must be satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made to support the parents of the child in question. This provision came in to operation on 1 February 2018.

I regard the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 as important and progressive legislation. It makes adoption a realistic option for children of married parents, where appropriate. It allows the High Court to dispense with parental consent to adoption in certain circumstances and provides for the adoption of a child by civil partners and co-habiting couples. Importantly, the Act allows for the adoption of a child by his or her step-parent, without the previous requirement for the child's other parent to adopt his or her own child. This provision addresses a very unsatisfactory situation that prevailed under the earlier legislation.

 The legislation has been enacted and commenced. It is an important milestone and I am proud to have been the Minister to bring it through both Houses. I am very appreciative of my colleagues in this House and the Seanad who supported its commencement and implementation.

I thank the Minister for her clarity. Analysis of the Adoption (Amendment) Act was carried out following the adoption of the Act by the Houses in 2017. There have been calls for the introduction of semi-open adoptions. What is the Minister's perspective on semi-open adoptions, whereby birth families have ongoing contact with adoptive families and there would be contact between the adopted child and his or her birth family? Does the current Act allow for that, would it require further legislation or has the Minister given thought to the issue in light of the analysis that took place at a conference hosted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland in November and attended by the chairperson of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and other representative bodies which espoused that view?

I appreciate the Deputy's very important question. I attended the conference to which he referred. His specific question regards a more open approach to the adoption process, that being either semi or fully open. These issues have been on my mind and in my heart since beginning work on the Adoption (Amendment) Act and, in particular, as we have been working on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2017. Many of these issues were raised in the context of the Adoption (Amendment) Act but we had to refer most questions regarding the openness of our process to be considered and dealt with in so far as possible in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. These are complicated issues upon which to move. I believe that the process should be as open as possible and, as Minister, I have pushed that view as far as I can. We are currently working on amendments to the Bill that will be brought forward on Committee Stage. It has been a challenging process.

I again thank the Minister. We must challenge our institutionalised thinking regarding how adoptions work and the relationships that follow therefrom, which are quite structured. I appreciate that the Minister is giving some thought to the issue. I am unclear as to whether there will be a move on this issue on Committee Stage of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. Does the Minister intend to legislate for this issue in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill?

There are a couple of key areas in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill that deal with trying to make our law regarding contact and protection of rights between the adoptee and the birth parents as open as possible. We continue to work on a couple of challenging areas, although we may have progressed them as far as is possible without meeting the barrier of constitutional requirements.

That is the first point. I hope it is clear enough.

I wish to comment on another issue relating to the Adoption (Amendment) Act raised by the Deputy. There is an outstanding issue, not relating to that Act but to the Children and Family Relationships Act. A section in the latter needs to be commenced in order to allow for both members of a same-sex partnership to be registered as parents of their child. That is being worked on in the Department of Health as we speak. The Minister for Health hopes to be in a position to lay the order before the Houses as early as possible this year. That remains outstanding. It relates to what we were doing with the Adoption (Amendment) Act but the provisions are in the Child and Family Relationships Act.

Affordable Childcare Scheme

Anne Rabbitte


6. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the considerable negative impact that the affordable child care scheme's proposed reduction of child care subsidy for parents who are not in full-time work or education will have on low-income families and lone-parent households. [8995/18]

Has the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs been drawn to the considerable negative impact of the proposed reduction in the affordable child care scheme subsidy on parents who are not in full-time work or education, those on low incomes or lone-parent households?

I assure the Deputy that the enhanced subsidy proposed under the affordable child care scheme will not be limited to parents in full-time work or education.

The Government policy on the new affordable child care scheme was informed by evidence with the best interests of children and families in mind. When introduced, the affordable child care scheme will represent a major landmark for all children and families in Ireland, especially lower-income families and lone parents. It will be available to all families and not just those working full-time or studying full-time. I will explain this further.

Support for labour market participation as a route out of poverty is central to assisting low-income families and lone-parent households. Consistent with this objective, participation in work, education or training by parents will determine the maximum number of hours of subsidy available under the new affordable child care scheme.

When parents are engaged in work, education or training, they will be eligible for what we call an enhanced subsidy of up to 40 hours per week. The enhanced subsidy of 40 hours per week will be awarded to parents in full-time or part-time work, including those on zero-hour contracts as well as those in full-time or part-time education and those participating in labour market activation programmes. Indeed, it is my intention to define work and study in regulations made under the Bill in broad inclusive terms to recognise the diversity of progression routes to labour market participation. As such, it is not the case that the enhanced subsidy of 40 hours per week will be limited to parents in full-time work or education. That is my point.

When parents are not engaged in any form of work, education or training, child care will be subsidised on a standard basis of up to 15 hours per week. This reflects international evidence that the child development benefits of early childhood care and education are, in most cases, realised through this level of participation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I am committed to keeping this aspect of policy under close review. Indeed, I plan to commission further research exploring the labour market status and child care needs of those currently using child care services, especially in disadvantaged communities.

There is a small but important group of families for whom child care is needed on child welfare or child development grounds or for whom child care is necessary as early intervention support. Where this is the case, a referral system under the affordable child care scheme will ensure that families will automatically qualify for a subsidy without having to satisfy any income, work or study test. Schedule 2 of the Childcare Support Bill lists five statutory bodies with which the Department of Children and Youth Affairs may make agreements on referral procedures for such families. My officials are currently in discussion with relevant statutory bodies on how this referral process will operate under the affordable childcare scheme.

I thank the Minister for her reply and for bringing considerable clarity to many of the issues involved. The latter is much appreciated. I intend to focus on one point relating to the Childcare Support Bill. Subsidies will be paid on a 48-week basis. Some child care providers operate on a 52-week basis. Is there scope to change this? Is the Minister planning amendments to provide the scheme on a 52-week basis? If the subsidy was averaged out over 48 weeks, it would represent an increase for some of the families I have in mind. I know the Minister will agree with me in this regard. Perhaps it is something we should consider. Child care providers do not operate for 48 weeks and close their doors for four weeks. That is not how they run their business model. Most provide full-day child care facilities and operate for 52 weeks. Is the Minister considering any such amendments?

That is a great question. Obviously, it relates to the current work of the Department and providers trying to average out the 48-week period to a 52-week period. As we move to the affordable child care scheme, I can understand how that would be an issue with regard to the determination of the subsidy on the basis of how much parents work or for how long they are in education and training. The enhanced subsidy is dependent on the hours. Deputy Rabbitte's question relates to the basis of hours over 52 weeks rather than 48 weeks. Many of these issues are being worked through and dealt with in the regulations, including the definitions of "work", "study", etc. I will bring that excellent question to my officials, who may have an answer already. We will get back to the Deputy or we will take a look at it in the context of that work.

I might be able to help the Minister's officials. I tabled amendments to the Childcare Support Bill in recent days on the basis of recommendations from organisations, including Barnardos, to address the 48-week period rather than the 52-week period. I am hopeful of the Minister's support for those amendments. Perhaps when the Bill was being devised, consideration of best practice meant people looked at a period of 48 weeks rather than 52 weeks. It could be a genuine oversight in the way the Bill was produced. This has now been identified as a concern for those on whose behalf I have articulated the point.

I am pleased to hear about the enhanced subsidy for zero-hour contracts. That is welcome and I compliment the Minister in that regard.

I am pleased to hear that Deputy Rabbitte will be tabling amendments. We will take a look at them. As indicated, I have acknowledged the proposal of a 52-week period as against a 48-week period and how we need to be flexible in terms of provision. From the perspective of my Department, supporting child care financially, and figuring out our rules accordingly, is important. We have done it in the past and we need to do it in future. I have indicated that some of this will be dealt with in the context of regulation, as distinct from in the Bill. We need to take a look at it more clearly. I accept that the issue identified by Deputy Rabbitte, our colleagues and advocates in the sector is key.

School Completion Programme

Denise Mitchell


7. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the publication of a formal new school completion strategy is to be expected; the reforms she is considering on foot of the report from the expert group in the summer of 2017; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8929/18]

Will the Minister indicate when we can expect the formal new school completion strategy to be published? What reforms is she considering on foot of the report submitted by the expert group last summer?

Education and schooling are critical in the context of the lives and life chances of children and young people. A range of responses are in place to support children in completing school, and the school completion programme is key among them. The programme provides learner-centred and holistic supports for young people who are at risk of leaving school early.

I believe the programme has played an important part in the achievement of our high rates of school retention.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to prepare a school completion strategy, as noted by Deputy Mitchell. I am working to examine how best to bring about improvements and reforms of the system.

I am conscious that the school completion programme delivers a valuable service for some of our most vulnerable young people. It is, however, in need of significant reform in terms of governance and organisation to ensure that we optimise the outcomes for our young people.

With this in mind, the board of Tusla convened an expert panel to identify and examine a potential revised model of good practice and governance of the school completion programme. The panel examined how industrial relations and human resources issues relating to school completion staff could be resolved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

The expert panel concluded its work. When I examined the findings, I decided to carry out some further discussions with a number of other stakeholders. To that end, I hosted an informative school completion consultation event in Farmleigh on 29 January last. The event was attended by a representative group, including school completion programme co-ordinators, school principals, academics with expertise in educational welfare, representatives from the voluntary sector and officials from several State bodies. The matters discussed included best practice and governance within the school completion programme. A range of views were expressed.

Following the Farmleigh event, I asked the facilitator for the day to do some additional work. I hope to bring proposals for reform of the programme to Government in the coming months. I have deliberated carefully over this process. These issues are complex.

The Department of Education and Skills is collaborating with my Department on a scoping exercise and data analysis which will inform the development of our strategy for the future.

Above all, we are moving toward significant reforms of the school completion programme with this strategy.

The Minister did a remarkable job on that long script. Well done.

We all agree that the school completion programme was a very important part of Delivering Equality of Opportunities in Schools, DEIS, funding. It provided supports for children who had issues in school and particularly children who were likely to leave school early. We have to acknowledge what it did. It included supports in school, after-school programmes and summer camps. It does fantastic work and makes a difference in young people's lives. The co-ordinators in particular deserve praise for the difference they make to parents' and children's lives by making school a happy experience for students. The school completion programme operated well under DEIS but it has suffered a reduction in the budget as well as the removal of three national co-ordinators under Tusla. This means that workers have no direct advocate or link with Tusla. My colleagues and I spoke to people involved in this and there has been very little communication with Tusla. It is very difficult for these people when it comes to budgets. The funding has been cut. I acknowledge the work the Minister is doing but can we have the lines of communication opened again?

I appreciate the issues the Deputy is raising. We need that kind of communication in the context of the reform programme that we are moving towards. I have met with a number of school completion co-ordinators not just in my own constituency of Dublin South-West, but in other constituencies and regions in my travels, Kilkenny being the most recent. Members of the newly-named public service union, Fórsa, have indicated in their communication that they are deeply appreciative of the event I hosted in Farmleigh on the school completion programme and the wider gathering of stakeholders. Many constructive things happened there and, as a result, I think we are better informed to determine the reform approach. Once that is ultimately decided, that will influence the investment required.

It is worth highlighting that, each year, the local governance committee must be advised on a proposal which is subject to scrutiny by Tusla to obtain that year's budget. Issues such as target lists, if deemed too ambitious, can hinder the allocation of a budget. Until a proposal is suitable to Tusla, no budget will be allocated. I find it extraordinary that, if we have a scheme that has been too ambitious, the committee will not get its budget. We have to look at this. I welcome what the Minister is saying. Will we be updated regularly on the Minister's progress? When does she expect a date for the completion and implementation of the plan?

Who made the judgment that it was too ambitious?

We have met co-ordinators who say, when they bring proposals-----

Tusla is responding?

-----Tusla is responding to say it is too ambitious.

We have many young people in the Gallery watching this and they are very welcome to this debate. We are talking about them and trying to do the best we can for schooling for them and their colleagues. I note the Deputy's point. When I am describing Tusla, its executive, its educational welfare services division and its board are very keen to ensure that we move from where we are now to a better place. That may be inclusive of some of the commentary that the Deputy is identifying. I will probably need another couple of months to agree those reforms because I will be consulting some young people on this and looking at what comes back from that event. I anticipate that we will ensure that we are as ambitious as we can be, that it would be accepted and that we have that budget to invest.

Irish Youth Justice Service

Thomas P. Broughan


8. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of persons employed in the Irish Youth Justice Service of her Department in each of the years 2014 to 2017 and to date in 2018; the role of each; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8830/18]

This question was prompted by the recent upsurge of anti-social and criminal behaviour by young people, among others, in my constituency. I know that the Minister has responsibility for part of the Irish Youth Justice Service, which is shared with the Minister for Justice and Equality. There were changes last year relating to the incarceration of children in the adult prison, which are very important. Do we need additional resources, specifically in the area of prevention?

I will be answering the Deputy's question in as much as it refers to staff of my own Department in the Irish Youth Justice Service, IYJS, which is an executive office located in my Department. I will also answer the Deputy's question relating to Oberstown Children Detention Campus. I am fully aware of the context of the constituency that the Deputy so ably represents. Some officials from the Department of Justice and Equality are co-located in the IYJS. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, will reply in written format to the Deputy about them.

The number of employees of my Department working in the Irish Youth Justice Service at end of each year and to date is as follows. At the end of 2014, there was a headcount of 11 people and a whole-time equivalent number of 9.8 people. The whole-time equivalent number stood at 8.6 at the end of 2015 and was 9.6 at the end of 2016. It was ten at the end of 2017 and stands at 9.9 today. The whole-time equivalent number of people reflects the fact that some staff in the headcount do not work full-time, so it is a stronger representation of the actual workforce. On the roles of these staff, there are two principal officers supported by teams from my Department in the IYJS. One principal officer has responsibility for policy relating to Oberstown Children Detention Campus, including the provision of safe and secure custody for children. The second principal officer has responsibility for the development of standards and policy for the delivery of safe care for children in Oberstown and youth justice services. The supporting team consists of three assistant principal officers, one higher executive officer, two administrative officers, two executive officers and two clerical officers.

The numbers employed in Oberstown Children Detention Campus in the years the Deputy requested are as follows. There were 233.58 whole-time equivalent employees in 2014. The number of whole-time equivalents in 2015 was 215.03. It rose to 248.5 in 2016, there were 245 staff in 2017 and at present there are 241 staff. Recent fluctuations in these numbers are a reflection of temporary timing issues in filling vacancies.

The 2016 report of the Garda juvenile diversion programme made for shocking reading in that 17,500 incidents were referred to the juvenile diversion programme with 9,451 young offenders. On Oberstown itself, I know the Minister has kept in close touch with the campus and developments there. We had the review by Professor Ursula Kilkelly. What is the Minister's current view on the HIQA report, which found that there was serious non-compliance with two of the main areas investigated and moderate non-compliance with six areas? I know that Mr. Pat Bergin reported to the committee here that the campus is licensed to accommodate 54 young people. The Minister has just given us the staff numbers. It normally has a population of approximately 40. We have heard about the critical incident stress management policy which has been implemented. There have been approximately 80 very serious incidents over the past couple of years.

As the Deputy said, I have regular contact with the chair, board and executive of Oberstown. I have been there many times and I am due to go there again.

There is adequate staffing at the centre, as there have been no requests for additional staff. On the recommendations for improvements, specifically the ones identified by the Deputy, various oversight reports have been initiated and completed on how the centre operates the care and protection of children at the campus. A group put together developed an action plan and conglomerated the set of actions required to be implemented. I am in regular contact with this group. I understand the implementation of these actions to improve is on target.

In the old system, when children were in the adult prison, it used to be said they graduated from St. Patrick's to Mountjoy. Unfortunately, as a result, they lead difficult lives. Has the Minister undertaken any research in tracking people who have been in Oberstown to check all the services are working in ensuring they can live useful and happy lives? Has the Minister received any requests from the agencies which support the work of the Oberstown service, such as the Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative, Le Chéile, the Probation Service, the Youth Advocate Programmes, YAP, and Tusla, for increased funding to be able to support their services and ensure the people in question will be able to lead useful and peaceful lives?

I will investigate if there have been any requests for additional support and revert to the Deputy. I will also come back to the Deputy on whether research has been conducted on the paths taken by young people when they move on from Oberstown.

I have met young people at St. Patrick's and Wheatfield who should have been in Oberstown but we were not able to facilitate them. There are significant issues in that they have not been able to move out of the prison context. There is a brilliant educational facility at Oberstown, which is important in dealing with this issue.

The bail supervision scheme is working well. We want to extend it to offer more opportunities outside rather than inside the prison context.

The deferred reply under Standing Order 42A was forwarded to the Deputy.

Family Resource Centres

Martin Heydon


9. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if applications from County Kildare for additional family resource centres will be considered in view of the shortage of centres in the county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8981/18]

I welcome the decision in the budget to allocate 11 new family resource centres around the country. In Kildare, we have two fantastic family resource centres, Newbridge and Curragh Pride. However, for a county with 220,000 people, Kildare only has the two centres. County Kerry, with a population of 147,000, has 12 centres while Donegal has nine and Mayo seven. When compared to these counties, one can see the necessity for two new family resource centres in Kildare.

On budget day, I was pleased to announce that I had secured additional resources of almost €3 million to support the work of existing family resource centres, and to facilitate the inclusion of an additional 11 community organisations to the family resource centre programme. I have increased the budget for these centres from €13.5 million in 2017 to just over €16.5 million this year.

Tusla administers the family resource centre programme. Applications to the programme opened on 23 October 2017. The final deadline for receipt of these applications was 20 December 2017. Tusla has confirmed that it has received a total of 43 applications, two of which are from County Kildare.

Tusla is currently assessing all applications. Applicants will be notified of the outcome of the assessment in March. In assessing the applications, Tusla has indicated its evaluation process will take account of a range of factors, including the size and population of the catchment area, the degree of economic disadvantage in the area, the existing distribution of services in the area and the ability of applicants to deliver good outcomes for children and families.

In addition to supporting the establishment of 11 new family resource centres, I am making additional funding of up to €10,000 available to each existing centre. This will take account of service needs in each area. Tusla local offices will be happy to work with each family resource centre in this regard.

Family resource centres play an important role in supporting children and families in local communities. I was pleased to be able to make additional resources available to support them in 2018. I look forward to the outcome of the process now under way which will lead to the provision of 11 extra family resource centres under budget 2018.

I thank the Minister for her response.

I welcome the funding that went to existing family resource centres, which is important. However, there are only two centres in County Kildare. Two excellent applications have been made for resource centres in Athy and Kildare Town. The Kildare town applicant, Teach Dara Community and Family Centre, exemplifies the grassroots response to local needs and encapsulates the spirit of the family resource centre programme. It has demonstrated commitment, innovation and the harnessing of available resources to operate a de facto family resource centre for several years. Sarah Shakespeare and her team are waiting for this opportunity to formally be accepted into the national programme.

The need for a properly funded family resource centre is undeniable in Athy, a town experiencing high levels of intergenerational disadvantage and isolation as well as being a designated RAPID area. The applicant, Athy Community and Family Centre, has proven community connectedness through John Delaney and his team. It has experience of operating a local community development programme and currently operates a community child care service. It has its own premises and already supports a range of existing local initiatives.

Both of these are family resource centres in everything but except name, funding and support.

Deputy Heydon is a worthy public representative for his constituency. The Deputy has put forward his arguments that these applications meet the criteria I have outlined. Ultimately, Tusla makes these decisions and recommendations to me.

From my ongoing work with Tusla’s executive and board, and as I look at the different issues in the programmes providing services for children and families, I note family resource centres are an integral aspect of the work of Tusla in the community. The way in which communities take the initiative and show leadership in this regard is also important. We want to utilise those resources more as we move into the future.

I thank the Minister for her response. I understand the role Tusla plays and she has highlighted the criteria it will use. The reason I feel passionately about this is because County Kildare is often misunderstood. As Deputy Durkan who is beside me knows, it suffers from a perception of affluence. That means the county's pockets of deprivation suffer from low levels of funding for mental health and youth services. When the Department gets a little more money coming out of the recession, it needs to raise every boat. We do not get many opportunities to redress this.

Kildare has two family resource centres. Other counties which have two family resource centres include Offaly, with a population of 77,000, Cavan, 76,000, Carlow, 50,000, Longford, 40,000, and Leitrim, 32,000. The two resource centres in question will provide the good outcomes which Tusla seeks. They are both in areas of economic disadvantage and need support. Will the Minister support me in this case?

From my own practice and experience, I have seen the effectiveness of community initiatives, leaders and innovators, which are what family resource centres are all about. Working in partnership with the State, they are the best way to move beyond economic and social disadvantage. That is why my heart, as well as my actions, are committed to family resource centres.

All I can say is that there were 43 applications and I was able to get money for 11 new family resource centres, which is the first time we have increased the number of family resource centres for quite some time, but I am committed to looking for additional investment for 2019-----

I support that.

-----as 11 from 43 leaves a few places that are not going to be able to get it this time.

Departmental Reports

Anne Rabbitte


10. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of her Department's implementation of the recommendations of a person's (details supplied) audit of the use of section 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8996/18]

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to provide an update on her Department's implementation of the recommendations of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's audit of the use of section 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

 The report the Deputy refers to was published on 29 May 2017 and I worked with the report's author, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, to develop an action plan to address the key issues raised. I published the action plan on 28 June 2017 and since then I have had ongoing engagement with Dr. Shannon and Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, about the implementation of these actions. It is a key aspect of my work in respect of both Tusla and its co-operation with An Garda Síochána. I am happy to report that progress is being made across all 15 actions of the plan.

I will give Deputy Rabbitte some indications of that progress now. Significant progress has been made with the appointment of a dedicated, co-located national manager from Tusla to work with the Garda national child protection unit. This role will improve inter-agency working in difficult cases and will help to identify any blockages to co-operation at an early stage and agree solutions. As An Garda Síochána continues to roll out its local child protection offices, there will be further opportunities to co-locate staff and to monitor the effectiveness of this approach.

Closer joint working between Tusla and An Garda Síochána is also being progressed by the work of the national strategic liaison committee. That is the forum where senior managers in An Garda Síochána and Tusla work together on issues of mutual importance to their two organisations. Through this committee actions on cultural change, joint working, and information sharing are being progressed.

I am also currently progressing the co-location of services to children who have suffered sexual abuse. I have established an interdepartmental group with the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality, to identify and develop a bespoke Irish model for the provision of these services. This follows the examination I and my officials have made of international models of best practice in this type of service provision. While these actions do not arise directly from the audit report, the development of such a multi-agency approach will contain learning which can inform service development. We have progressed actions in a number of other ways in terms of that audit and I can refer to those later.

I look forward to hearing that in the Minister's supplementary replies. I am concerned about the roll out of the child protection offices and co-location. In her response I would like her to explain co-location in a little more detail. The issue is about out-of-hours services from Friday evening at 5 p.m. until all services kick in again on a Monday morning. Do social care workers have access to the files? We spent some time on an earlier question discussing the ICT system. How can social care workers access files? How can they communicate with other people to understand a family situation if it is a first-time referral and whether it is repeated? I do not believe the Garda currently has the resources, manpower or training to support the Tusla workers. In how many areas around the country has co-location been rolled out and what training is being provided to the Garda?

On the co-location issue about which the Deputy specifically asked, what I am describing is a process whereby we are moving towards a much more substantial model of social workers, gardaí and health care workers working together in the context of the same site. One issue is the development of procedures that enable that to happen. The focus is particularly on the child who has suffered some form of sexual or other significant abuse to reduce the trauma of her or his experience and telling the story of that and offering, as much as he or she can, an identification of what has happened and that professionals who need to hear that story are in a similar location and can work together in order to reduce that trauma for the child but also work more quickly to develop a plan to move him or her beyond those experiences. We are moving towards the development of a model which we will eventually decide on and roll out.

I look forward to that because I believe the model the Minister is talking about will provide a lot of protection for the children affected by such abuse. One of the issues identified in Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's report related to repeated incidents at weekends, once a month or every three months concerning alcohol addiction and violence within the home. In such cases, members of An Garda Síochána felt they had no option but to go into homes as there was no out-of-hours service and the only recourse was to put children aged three, five, seven, ten or 15 years of age into the back of a Garda car and take them to the local Garda station and mind them until the situation blew over. That part of the report is not as in-depth as the Minister outlined but that is the reality of what we are experiencing at the moment. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon highlighted the issue very well. It is the here and now I am talking about and how we are going to address that.

As Deputy Rabbitte identified, the out-of-hours services were an integral aspect of Dr. Shannon's report that required significant reform. This is an issue on which Tusla and An Garda Síochána are working together to identify reform in terms of streamlining the three existing national services. Out-of-hours services are available in four major cities and we want to augment that as we move forward so that there is a plan of action in relation to those issues.

It is interesting that Deputy Rabbitte has raised the issue in the context of the co-location model because when we make decisions on a new way of offering those services, probably in particular dedicated locations, the out-of-hours issue is integral to that as well and needs to be addressed.

With the co-operation of Members, I will try to fit in two questions before 12 noon. Deputy Durkan is next. He has 30 seconds to introduce his question.

Childcare Services Provision

Bernard Durkan


11. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which she is satisfied regarding the availability of child care facilities in view of the increasing necessity for both parents to be at work and to meet the requirements of one-parent families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8963/18]

My question relates to the extent to which child care and support facilities are available given the ever-increasing demand arising from the fact that both parents may be required to go to work and also the requirements of one-parent families.

A key priority for me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is to ensure access to high quality and affordable child care. I have made capital funding available immediately for this purpose and I have also secured €250 million for child care facilities under the national development plan in the years ahead.

Each year Pobal conducts research on behalf of my Department to examine a number of factors related to child care services in Ireland, including capacity. The most recent early years sector profile for 2016 to 2017 indicates that existing child care provision continues to meet the needs of the nation's parents in terms of capacity. The survey process which informs the sector profile will re-engage with child care providers again in the coming months to provide a further updated picture. In the meantime, my Department continues to advance a number of measures to ensure that parents can access high quality child care.

In 2018, I secured €6.86 million for capital investment in child care. Under the early years and school age child care capital programmes, providers can apply for funding for new child care places, with maximum grants available of up to €50,000.

Could we have a bit of hush please?

What is happening?

The application process for these capital schemes is well under way and I encourage providers to contact their local city or county childcare committee with any questions they might have about this process.

The affordable childcare scheme will transform affordability for families. The legislation passed Second Stage recently. It will enable more parents to work if they so wish and it will increase female labour market participation leading to increased demand for child care places.

Under the national planning framework and the national development plan that we published last week, I ensured that child care was identified as one of the nation's strategic priorities and I secured €250 million in additional funding to expand child care capacity, which was the focus of the Deputy's question, over the duration of the plan.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Is she satisfied that the extent of the reviews currently provided for and taking place will be sufficient to alert her and her Department to the increasing demand in that area? Arising from that, I ask her to comment on her continuing ability to be able to respond positively.

I am satisfied. I have identified a process whereby my Department, working with Pobal and child care providers, carries out ongoing monitoring and analysis of the expectation of demand in terms of additional capacity or child care places. In the context of the future and work in preparing for the national planning framework in the national development plan, I have engaged in quite a bit of discussion with my Department. It has agreed with me that we will conduct some additional research on future projections, especially in light of a population increase over the next number of years, how we can determine more fully from a research perspective what that demand will be and how to ensure we will be ready for it.

Departmental Contracts

Mick Wallace


12. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the contract her Department has in place with Pobal; the services Pobal provides on behalf of her Department; if the contract was awarded following a tendering process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8999/18]

This question relates to the State agency and registered charity, Pobal, which administers funds on behalf of the State. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has the majority of contracts with Pobal. Can the Minister outline the services Pobal provides on behalf of her Department, the fees charged by Pobal and, most important, if the contract with Pobal was awarded following a tendering process?

My Department has engaged Pobal to manage programmes and administer programme funding over the past two decades across a number of different programme areas including early years care and education, or child care, youth services and the ABC scheme co-funded by Atlantic Philanthropies. The largest of these relates to the administration of child care schemes and associated activity with that sector. Pobal provides services in the areas of programme specification and design, business system specification and design, customer service, case management, funding decommital and recovery, contract management and compliance. Pobal has been identified as the scheme administrator for the forthcoming affordable childcare scheme, which will replace a number of existing child care schemes administered by it. The Bill for this scheme passed Second Stage in recent weeks.

Pobal is not under the remit of my Department. As the Deputy is aware, its parent Department is the Department of Rural and Community Development. The services it provides to my Department are managed under a multi-level governance framework, specifically service level agreements, programmes of work and individual programme agreements. The high-level terms of the relationship between Pobal and my Department are set out within these agreements. These outline Pobal’s legislative obligations and the oversight arrangements in place. Pobal is also subject to the revised code of practice for the governance of State bodies, relevant circulars and the terms of the corporate framework under its parent Department.

The services Pobal delivers to my Department are formalised within programmes of work on an annual basis and are not subject to public procurement requirements. Finally, the cost of Pobal’s delivery of services to my Department is also agreed on an annual basis by individual programme areas and is subject to review and ongoing scrutiny to ensure value for money for the Exchequer funding.

I thank the Minister. An internal audit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs completed in March 2014 examined the role played by Pobal and found some serious problems. I acknowledge the Minister was not in office at the time but I have to hand a copy of the audit report and it is pretty worrying. It states those involved understood that the Department employed Pobal without a tender process and that this approach had not been formally justified. The audit authors went on to state they did not know whether, if legally challenged, this contract with Pobal would be in line with EU directives. From a business point of view it seems unlikely that best value is achieved by dealing with one supplier without the benefit of a competitive tendering process. The Minister stated that Pobal is exempt from the requirements of the EU procurement directives and is not subject to a tendering process. Can she tell me whether legal advice was sought ? When was it obtained? Will she be willing to publish it?

I did not hear the last part of the question.

Did the Department of Children and Youth Affairs get legal advice on Pobal being outside of the rules of the EU procurement directives? If so, when was the legal advice given? Will she publish it?

Legal advice sought by the parent Department of Pobal has indicated there is no obligation on Departments to tender the contracts or arrangements made with Pobal for the management of funds, and that reflects the Teckal principle of EU procurement law, which states that open advertising and tendering rules for public contracts do not apply where a public body obtains services from in-house sources.

I want to say two things in regard to Pobal and my Department. It has provided an important, flexible and responsible service to our Department. We also plan to commission an independent review of the operating system for child care, because that is where we invest most money in terms of Pobal, and to determine whether reform is required. From a governance perspective, as the child care budget increases it would be preferable to have a closer statutory relationship with the administrator of the child care funding. That is looking to the future.

The Minister said it is independent. We have not seen the legal advice on that. Does the Minister not think that not seeking tenders and dealing with one contractor is bad business? In 2016, €204 million was disbursed via Pobal on behalf of the Minister's Department. Even though Pobal is a State agency, it does not do this work for free and charges fees. It was paid €13.5 million in 2016 for this work. It is supposed to be a not-for-profit charity.

The EU directive states that contracts greater than €135,000 must be advertised and a competitive tendering process carried out. This has not happened. We wrote to the Charities Regulator, which said it will examine all of these bodies, including charities which are statutory bodies. Pobal obviously falls under that category.

We have examined public procurement by Departments and State agencies and the number of breaches of EU directives and guidelines is scary. Last week I raised the issue of An Garda Síochána and Accenture. Accenture was paid €26.5 million in 2016 alone and there has been no tender since 2009. The Government must be losing money by not insisting on tendering processes.

The issues the Deputy has raised are important and it is an opportune time for him to raise them. This issue needs to be examined. It is important to state that my Department's work, engagement and moneys which are determined in respect of Pobal are legal and regularly scrutinised at executive level between my Department and Pobal.

I have indicated that we will conduct a review in general as our budget increases and as we continue to work with Pobal. As I understand it, a review will be conducted on the structure of the charitable status of Pobal, which is another question the Deputy raised.

We are following legal processes which are in consonance with the law. The Deputy is suggesting that we ought to consider policy changes or procure another body. Should we ask Tusla or establish another entity? These are the issues we will examine in the future.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.