Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

After-School Support Services

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

6. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the implications the new after-school care regulations will have for schools and childcare providers; and her views on whether sufficient consultation was conducted with the affected groups. [14504/19]

Has the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs been drawn to the implications of the new after-school care regulations for schools and childcare providers? Was there sufficient consultation? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

We need to regulate school-age childcare to ensure children's health, safety and welfare. I introduced regulations for the first time for this purpose in February. They will promote quality of service for children. In addition, registration with Tusla will allow school-age childcare services to take part in the national childcare scheme when it opens later this year, thus addressing the issue of affordability for parents.

While the regulations are critical for quality and affordability, I am conscious of the impact they may have on providers and I have made provisions accordingly. For example, all existing services have been given until 18 May to apply for registration. Services already registered as preschool services have been given an extended timeframe to 18 August. In addition, I have recently provided for a six-month extension of the date on which the minimum child-adult ratio will come into force. The minimum ratio of one adult to 12 children will come into force in mid-August, allowing services that have operated with a higher child-adult ratio more time to adjust.

The regulations reflect advice received from the school-age childcare standards working group which included representatives from across the sector. In developing its proposals the working group reviewed international evidence and practice. The group was reconvened in September during the drafting of the regulations for consultation specifically on the child-adult ratio. A ratio of 11:1 has been introduced for three to five year old children in the free preschool programme. I believe a 12:1 ratio for school-age children who may be as young as four years of age is appropriate. It should be recognised that in non-term time periods children may attend such services for 40 to 50 hours per week.

I emphasise that the regulations that came into force in February represent a first stage only. Public consultation is planned this summer in advance of developing a fuller set of regulations that will cover additional quality objectives.

I too would like to say I agree with regulation absolutely. It was an area in which regulation was needed. It needed to be put on a statutory footing. However, I possibly disagree with the Minister on the ratio being 12:1. I might not disagree with a 12:1 ratio for junior or senior infants. Such children would be in junior aftercare services. However, when children are leaving a classroom setting where the ratio is 26:1 and entering a setting where the ratio is 12:1, I have to think about the cost and staffing implications. We all know that in the childcare sector the cream was in after-school care services. That is where those involved in the sector made their money in many settings. I am a little disappointed that possibly there might not have been enough consultation on the ratio. I think I said this the last time I was before the Minister in the Chamber. The ratio will be at the end in closing some of these services. I am not being alarmist, but the ratio of 12:1 is probably too tight. I acknowledge that there is a May and an August deadline, but I would have preferred if there had been some consultation on the ratio to start the conversation.

I appreciate that the Deputy has set out her view. The 12:1 ratio is based on many views, as well as international research and evidence. That is how ultimately we came to the figure of 12:1. The second point is that we have discussed the matter previously. Was there enough consultation? The action plan for school-age childcare published in 2017 included a commitment to introduce a quality assurance system for school-age childcare services. It was on that basis that we pulled together the working group to respond to an urgent need to address the affordability of school-age childcare services as expressed by parents and providers. My Department acted quickly on receipt of the draft standards to introduce statutory regulations. They included the issue of ratios. The new regulations will enable school-age childcare services to take part in the national childcare scheme to be introduced later this year. That was part of the need for urgency. The Deputy asked about the group. Many of those involved were representative of the sector, etc. I hear what the Deputy is saying. As she is aware, there will be additional consultation. I have identified the need for further consultation in the development of a fuller set of regulations. The Deputy is requesting whether the child-adult ratio could be looked at in that context. I will bring that request back to the Department.

Will the Minister confirm how many after-school care providers have signed up at this stage? I was in contact with my city and county childcare body and unable to obtain a definite answer. That information would be welcome.

How many of the new providers would have signed up to it as well? That will be a barometer of how people in the industry see this going.

Does the Minister have any concerns regarding the impact of this regulation on the affordability and accessibility of after-school care, and how does she formally plan to support that sector? I believe there will be providers who will need transitional support, be it in staffing terms or otherwise. I would say some of them are oversubscribed. There will be a capacity issue. I would like to hear how the Department will address it.

I appreciate the questions Deputy Rabbitte always brings. They are rooted in listening to and being with the childcare providers. In terms of the numbers of people who have signed up, I do not have that information but I will certainly get it for the Deputy.

Deputy Rabbitte will agree that we need the regulations. We need quality in our school age childcare services. There has been a determination initially of some of the basics of what that quality requires. I am sure the Deputy agrees that we need that, and we have done that.

If there are services that will find that kind of approach to quality more challenging than they have in the past, it is a good question whether they will require some support to get there. I will bring that back to the Department. As the Deputy will be aware, my Department has a habit of supporting people in transition, and if that is required, that is a useful request. The bottom line is that together we need to make the regulations to ensure the quality and then to support people in the childcare sector.

Childcare Services Funding

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

7. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on whether existing levels of capital funding for childcare providers are sufficient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14503/19]

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

12. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when capital spending plans for the early learning and care and school age capital programmes for 2019 will be announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14499/19]

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

37. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to provide increases in childcare provision in County Meath. [14450/19]

What are the views of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on whether existing levels of capital funding for childcare providers are sufficient, and will she make a statement on the matter?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 12 and 37 together.

A key priority for me, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is to support the early learning and care and school age childcare sector through the provision of capital funding where it is most needed. I have allocated significant funding in recent years for this purpose and for improving the quality of infrastructure nationwide. In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €9.6 million for the sector which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming national childcare scheme.

I have allocated €6.1 million of this funding for the 2019 early learning and care and school age childcare capital programmes. This funding will be delivered in three strands. A total of €4.23 million will be available under strand A, which will offer grants of up to €50,000 to early learning and care providers for the creation of new places for children from newborns to aged three where demand for these is clearly evidenced. I have allocated €875,000 to strand B, which will offer individual grants of up to €15,000 to aid community or not-for-profit early learning and care services in addressing fire safety issues. Finally, there will be €1 million for strand C, which will offer individual grants of up to €20,000 to school age childcare providers for the creation of new school age places where demand for these is clearly demonstrated.

The application window for the early learning and care and school age capital programmes opened on 25 February and closed yesterday, 27 March 2019. Applications will now move to the appraisal stage, which is undertaken by Pobal and overseen by my Department. Applications will be appraised using a fair process based on a number of criteria, including demonstration of need, value for money, capacity of the organisation, including compliance with scheme rules, project achievability, and socio-economic deprivation in the service's location. Grants will be allocated to applications of the highest quality. In accordance with the principles of fairness and equity, no funding will be earmarked in advance for any particular area in the country, but County Meath and other counties identified will be able to compete fairly alongside all other parts of the country.

Capital programmes are necessarily a budget limited exercise. The maximum grant size available under each of these strands has been determined to optimise what can be delivered by each grant and to maximise the number of providers and children who will ultimately benefit from the funding. Decisions on the award of capital grants are due to be delivered in June 2019, once the appraisal process has concluded.

I am also pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and to have secured €250 million in capital funding for childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large-scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the earlier national childcare investment programme that concluded in 2010. This investment will be essential to respond to the increased capacity we expect as the new national childcare scheme is introduced. The national childcare scheme, NCS, will radically alter how this country supports the cost of early learning and care and school age childcare. Research is ongoing in my Department to determine areas of specified need that the NDP funding will address when it comes on stream in the coming years.

I thank the Minister for her response. Can she get the following information? How many places will strands A and C support on average throughout the country? With the creation of the additional early childhood care and education, ECCE places arising from the second year of it, has the Department enough funding for capital projects to support that expansion? Certain providers, be they in the community or the private sectors, feel restricted. They would like to take on extra children but they cannot fulfil the agreement for the two years because they just do not have the funding, although they might have the space.

I refer to the idea of accumulating some of the grants. Grants are provided for the ECCE in the morning. If providers can also get access to the grant for the after-school care in the evening and they can tie that in with the fire safety grant, how many crèches or providers get full return and how many can get only a part of that grant mechanism?

On Deputy Rabbitte's first question on the number of places, I will ask for that information for her. I gather she asks the question because she is wondering if there is enough funding for the places that are required where they are required. As I said, I will certainly ask for that. As the Deputy will be aware, my Department, along with Pobal, has worked diligently and with considerable technical expertise, at least in the past, to try to answer these types of questions and to develop methodologies to ascertain, as we move into the future, how we ensure that we do that. It is good that the Deputy asks that question and that they will continue to do that.

One of the concerns may be around where we have newly built estates with young demographics. With the kind of methodology that is being developed, the monitoring capacity is conducted through the use of a so-called geosparcity index which categorises a geographical area in regard to the supply of and demand for childcare. That merely demonstrates that there is attention to this and methodologies being developed to ensure that we can keep up with what we need and where we need it.

The Minister addressed some of the points. While the €9 million sounds like big money, I am concerned about its scale when spread across the country where there will be the various demands. The Minister has set maximum figures for the various different schemes. What level of funding does she see being allocated to each of the different providers? Is the Minister looking at providing a grant of €5,000 to €10,000? Will she give a smaller number of providers the maximum grant in each of the headings or will it be spread very thinly throughout the country?

Pobal has also set out a chart on how it will distribute and one of the priorities relates to disadvantage.

Will areas with very quick and dramatic population growth, such as Ovens and Ballincollig, be considered or have an opportunity to be prioritised?

Under Straitéis 20 Bliain, the need for Irish language support is recognised by the Government. We are aware that early years are more significant in this regard. Will Irish language providers be prioritised in recognition of Straitéis 20 Bliain and the Government's commitments in that regard?

I thank the Deputy. My answer to the first set of questions was trying to identify grants, up to certain amounts, according to the various strands. In strand A, for example, grants of up to €50,000 will be offered to early learning and care providers for the creation of places for those between zero and three. The Deputy is wondering how, given the limited resources, it will be determined how much to give various providers in light of applications of really high quality. I understand this is partly what he is asking about. As he knows, I do not do the work in question. Pobal and my Department receive the information. I have tried to identify the criteria whereby the decisions are made.

The Deputy also asked about increasing populations and the Irish language. We work on this. I may address it in response to another question. The First 5 strategy and the commitment to the Government in that regard need to be attended to also. I hear that in terms of the Deputy's question.

My question follows on in regard to capacity. I have already said many of the providers have space. When there was population expansion, the national schools rented portakabins to ensure the demand was met. Childcare providers want the maximum number using their services and to offer an affordable, accessible, quality childcare service but their capacity is limited. Has the Department costed the leasing of suitable portakabins to the providers while they are awaiting the approval of capital funding? Considering that so many new schools are being built, are there portakabins available that we could hand over to some of the crèches?

I thank the Minister for the information. I need clarification on Straitéis 20 Bliain and the support for the Irish language providers. As the Minister said, they need to be attended to but this does not appear to be in the criteria. Could the Minister outline how she intends to attend to Irish language groups and to put in place supports for language development in the earlier years, the crucial years?

On Deputy Rabbitte's question, I do not know whether the Department has considered the matter. I will feed that in. It is an interesting recommendation. What the Deputy is suggesting is a form of transition to ensure that a year or a couple of years do not go by with insufficient capacity. Anything we can find that offers support in this regard would be helpful. At the same time, resources are limited, and this must be considered also.

All the Deputies' questions are critical in the sense of trying to be a little ahead of the curve to ensure we have enough places and sufficient capacity. As the Deputies know, we have been developing methodologies for this for quite some time, but their suggestions are helpful.

There was a question on additional criteria in respect of grants for preschools, crèches and childcare centres, including naíonraí. The suggestion that learning through Irish could be part of the criteria is very interesting. I will feed that back. It would need to be considered in the context of the capital grant section that does the work or the working groups being formed to consider how to make progress on all the commitments in the First 5 strategy, in addition to commitments regarding preschool, in particular, and Irish language initiatives in the context of the work of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I will raise the matter with my Department to determine the best way to consider it and possibly include it.

Child Protection

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

8. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that safeguarding matters in an organisation (details supplied) are in keeping with appropriate legislation and guidelines. [14491/19]

I wish Mr. Donal Hickey a pleasant retirement and acknowledge he is a gentleman, even though he may be a Ciarraíoch. We will all miss him around the Houses. I wish him well in his retirement.

That might not be in order but it is very appropriate.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and appreciate his latitude.

We all endorse the Deputy's kind wishes.

There has always been hearty banter between Donal and me, my being a Corkman and his being a Ciarraíoch. It has always been in good jest.

What is the status of safeguarding in Scouting Ireland based on the Minister's current understanding?

The safety and welfare of children and young people are at the heart of all decisions made by me and my Department. I involved myself directly in recent matters relating to safeguarding and child protection when they arose in Scouting Ireland because I was made aware of concerns expressed to the organisation by Tusla. I am not a safeguarding expert but I believe that when issues raised by the State’s experts are brought to my attention, I have a duty to respond. I believe this is the right thing to do.

Scouting Ireland, in common with all organisations dealing with children and young people, has legislative obligations under the Children First Act. These include the obligation to report any safeguarding matters to Tusla. Tusla can advise any entity on its safeguarding policies and procedures as well as on its child safeguarding statement.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department received a copy of a letter, dated 18 February 2019, written by Tusla to the CEO of Scouting Ireland raising certain concerns. I am aware that a meeting was held between Tusla and Scouting Ireland on 7 March, the outcome of which was an agreed action plan to address the concerns raised by Tusla. Scouting Ireland had already engaged child safeguarding expert Mr. Ian Elliott to advise on its safeguarding policies and procedures some time ago and he is still engaged on a consultancy basis.

Scouting Ireland has assured me that it will continue to engage fully with Tusla to ensure the safeguarding of young people. On general governance requirements, Scouting Ireland has been working since last year to bring its governance up to a high standard. This has followed from the governance review carried out by Ms Jillian van Turnhout and the recommendations contained within that review.

I welcome the fact that one of the key recommendations in Ms van Turnhout’s review, on the appointment of a full-time safeguarding manager, has recently been implemented.

I will keep the situation under careful review. Any decision on continuation of funding is contingent on the receipt of a report confirming its compliance with all the recommendations in the van Turnhout report. I am expecting the report from Scouting Ireland this week. I will require a commitment from Scouting Ireland to ongoing engagement with Tusla that will demonstrate the implementation of its recently agreed action plan.

What exactly is the Minister expecting from Scouting Ireland this week? What report is it? Is it Mr. Elliott's review? I wanted to seek clarification on that very point.

As I said, what I am expecting this week is the report on the implementation of the van Turnhout recommendations.

My question does not deal with the van Turnhout recommendations but with-----

I understand that.

My questions do not deal with governance but with safeguarding.

The Minister came into the House recently and made a very strong statement on overnight trips for scouts. Some of the issues are now being worked through, and we hope we have reached a more positive space with regard to Tusla's interaction with Scouting Ireland.

All Members wish for some comfort to be given to the thousands of families with children and members of which are volunteers that Scouting Ireland is a safe place to be. All Members believe it to be a safe place, but there are some inherent risks.

However, definitive answers from the Minister regarding the Tusla review of supervision of children are required. She has given no indication so far today in that regard. She discussed governance and the review by Ms Jillian van Turnhout. However, I wish to know where we are in regard to the safeguarding piece. Mr. Ian Elliot has been investigating historical cases. Is he to report directly to the Department? Where are we in terms of the quality of the engagement or actions arising from the engagement between Tusla and Scouting Ireland?

The six-point action plan that has been agreed with Tusla and Scouting Ireland focuses on the issues raised by the Deputy in terms of where are the safeguarding issues. My expectation and understanding is that Tusla will continue to support Scouting Ireland in order to ensure that those actions are implemented. The first step is that Tusla makes a presentation on Children First legislation and safeguarding to the board of directors at its next scheduled board meeting. I assume that will be done or has already been done. A safeguarding manager has been recruited, as recommended in the action plan.

On some of the Deputy's other questions, Scouting Ireland will review its safeguarding risk assessment relevant procedures, particularly its code in respect of overnight trips and jamborees, in collaboration with Tusla. It is doing so and that will continue. I hope and expect that it will indicate to me that that has been done to the satisfaction of both parties. Tusla has requested that Scouting Ireland agree to an independent evaluation of its helpline. It will draw learning from that and apply it to its current and future policies, procedures and practice relevant to the helpline.

Child and Family Agency Funding

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the funding an organisation (details supplied) receives from Tusla; the basis on which the organisation receives funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14342/19]

My question concerns a particular organisation. Is it receiving funding from Tusla and, if so, on what basis?

I am informed by Tusla that the organisation in question does not receive funding from Tusla. I understand that the organisation to which the Deputy refers is a member of the new communities partnership, an independent national network of more than 150 immigrant-led groups comprising 65 nationalities which has offices in Dublin and Cork. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, funds the new communities partnership, which is registered as a charitable organisation. Tusla has informed me that the new communities partnership does not fund the organisation in question.

Under Part 8 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, Tusla funds a range of community, voluntary and charitable organisations which provide services to vulnerable children and families. Tusla has a service level agreement with the new communities partnership which governs the funding provided to the organisation and sets out the resources to be provided and the outputs to be delivered.

I thank the Minister for her clear response. However, concerns were raised regarding the group to which I refer. A magazine article raised certain issues and there were concerns that it was receiving funding. There was also reference to a particular individual involved in the organisation being a Tusla staff officer. If all of that information is incorrect, the person who wrote the article has questions to answer.

There is an overall question which alarmed me. I represent north inner city Dublin, which has very diverse communities with many nationalities. However, what we see in childcare organisations is the coming together of nationalities and an inclusiveness. The other aspect to my question was whether nationalities are in some way being separated such that each nationality may have its own childcare facility or separate funding rather than operating in a spirit of inclusiveness and bringing people together. That is the background to my question.

I am aware of the article to which the Deputy referred and which made certain assertions. I agree with the points she raises on the substantive issue. Specifically in regard to this issue, it is important to clarify that Tusla provides funding on the basis of certain service level agreements or objectives or looking for certain things to be delivered by a number of organisations under the new communities partnership. It is the new communities partnership that makes the decision on how to ensure those objectives and services are best provided. It is helpful for the Deputy to raise her questions and concerns, particularly in regard to the new communities partnership which is effectively making the decisions on the basis of the service level agreement. If she so wishes, I will list the general description of services to be provided under the service level agreement, but I am unsure if that is the point she wishes to be addressed.

It is good to raise this issue. It is important that the Minister clarified it and that there is a commitment to inclusiveness when it comes to childcare facilities. We recently celebrated the Chinese new year with a fabulous festival held just off Hill Street in the north inner city. The Hill Street family resource centre does amazing work, at the core of which is inclusiveness. I was alarmed that Tusla could be funding an organisation that was moving away from that ethos.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

10. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of social workers needed to fill all vacant posts in Tusla; the number required to have all cases investigated by a social worker within six weeks of referral; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14280/19]

I have raised the issue of social worker vacancies in Tusla a couple of times with the Minister in recent months. All Members were struck by the comments of the new chairperson of Tusla and former Deputy, Mr. Pat Rabbitte, at the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, where he stated that Tusla is running to stand still in regard to recruitment and retention. Although 142 social workers were recruited in 2018, 158 left the organisation. Since 2014, approximately 800 social workers have been recruited, but the net gain is only approximately 4%. The former Deputy also referred to legacy issues and cultural changes which must be confronted. What did he mean by that? What is the current situation in that regard?

I thank the Deputy for his very important questions. There are currently 321 vacant posts for social workers in Tusla. The agency is actively trying to fill these funded posts. It is acknowledged that there is a shortage of social workers in Ireland and internationally which makes recruitment of the required staff very challenging. The scale of the challenge is significant. For example, in 2018, the Tusla recruitment section appointed 142 new social workers but 158 social workers left or retired from the agency during the same period, as the Deputy pointed out. The turnover rate for social workers has fallen from 9.5% in 2017 to 7.8% in 2018. This may reflect the recent work that Tusla has undertaken to address retention issues. Tusla is operating a year-round rolling campaign to recruit more social workers and will open a graduate campaign in April, as in previous years. It is also seeking to recruit other supporting grades so as to enable social workers to concentrate on their core tasks.

Although the Deputy referred in his question to a six-week timeframe to have all cases investigated, I can confirm that all referrals to Tusla child welfare and protection services are screened immediately to determine whether they meet the threshold for social work intervention. Referrals undergo a preliminary inquiry which seeks to assess the level of risk and whether the referral relates to a child protection matter or child welfare, or whether a family support intervention is more appropriate.

Tusla has advised that a new national approach to practice, entitled "Signs of Safety", was introduced on 5 February 2018. This new approach introduced changes to the preliminary inquiry step of the referral process. The timeframe for carrying out preliminary inquiries is now five days. This step may involve gathering relevant information about the child or asking for immediate protective action for the safety of the child, if required.

Last Tuesday, the board of Tusla approved the agency’s multi-annual strategic workforce plan. I expect that this will chart the way forward in terms of a realistic approach to the personnel deficits being experienced by Tusla.

I thank the Minister. She told me last month that at that stage, Tusla had 499 agency staff and that 226 of those were social workers. What percentage of the total social worker staff are agency staff? It is welcome to hear that the turnover rate is beginning to fall. The Minister told me previously that the overall rate for Tusla was reducing to 5% or 6%, which is the normal rate one would expect in an organisation, but grave concern was expressed recently at the committee by the Irish Foster Care Association. Ms Bond, from that association, made the point that social workers have a caseload of approximately 30 children per worker, which seems an incredibly high number given that in the UK, the figure might be 17 or 18.

I also asked the Minister previously about the breakdown across the regions. Last year, there were 282 vacancies with 61 in Dublin south, 57 in Dublin west, 89 in Dublin north east, 70 in Dublin mid-Leinster, one in residential and four in national service. Those are very big deficits which remain.

The Minister made a fundamental point to me in a previous answer. She said there are only 200 to 250 social work graduates each year from our universities. Is it time, therefore, that we widened out the educational programme?

I will take some of those questions. The Deputy’s first question is on the percentage of agency staff. I can get the figure to him but what I would say is that whatever it is, it is too high.

All efforts are being made to try to reduce that. That is the objective of Tusla as well as myself.

The board has finally agreed this multi-annual strategic workforce plan, which has been quite some time in coming. It is a very significant achievement by the current board under the chairmanship of Mr. Rabbitte. It took a long time because it was a complex thing to develop but it will provide a basis on which hopefully we can approach this issue with a deeper understanding of both how to mix the staff in appropriate ways and also according to the regions and settings. The Deputy's question was around the breakdown across the regions. We have to look at the regions, the particular needs arising in the context of the regions and the ideal model of a mix of approaches or teams to support young people and children. That is all contained within the workforce plan.

Tusla told us that at the end of the second quarter last year, approximately 515 children were awaiting an allocation of a social worker, which is 130 more than in the previous quarter, and approximately 546 children did not have an up-to-date care plan. Those figures are disturbing.

Recommendation 8 in our joint committee's report on the provision of foster care services in Ireland stated that all children in foster care should be provided with a dedicated social worker. Given that 92% of the 6,300 children in State care are placed in foster care, has that recommendation been implemented? Importantly, in respect of aftercare, 1,800 young people aged 18 to 22 were in receipt of aftercare supports in Tusla at the end of the fourth quarter. That was in 2016. Is that an area that has been addressed?

Finally, I know it is a longer-term process but what is the Minister's view of the suggestion made by the chairperson that we should expand the provision of social worker courses outside of traditional universities?

It is important to put all those figures on the record because that is the basis on which we are trying to move forward and improve matters. I would make two brief points in that regard. The Deputy mentioned that Catherine Bond of the Irish Foster Care Association appeared before the committee. One of the points she made that I was particularly struck by was that perhaps Tusla should conduct exit interviews when social workers retire or move on to help us understand retention issues. That is a great suggestion. Retention is an issue. Recruitment is an issue but also the supply in order to recruit. I have identified that recruitment will be approached in a much more strategic manner now that we have a workforce plan.

The Deputy asked two questions relating to the supply. The Department has already gathered together the various appropriate institutes of higher learning, along with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and others, to examine if we can increase the number of places for social work training. One of the key areas has to do with work placement issues. It is not just that they study in the colleges. They need a placement and we need to mainstream or institutionalise those placements. That is one of the first tasks on which that group will work to ultimately increase the supply.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 12 answered with Question No. 7.
Questions Nos. 13 and 14 replied to with Written Answers.

Adoption Legislation

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

15. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14502/19]

My question is to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

As the Deputy is aware, this Bill passed Second Stage in the Seanad. I will be bringing the Bill back to the Seanad soon and intend to have it passed by both Houses by the end of this session.

As I am sure the Deputy is aware, the Bill seeks to balance the rights to identity and to privacy, which sometimes conflict with one another. Given the constitutional context, striking the balance between those rights is proving to be challenging. Members of the Oireachtas, stakeholders and lobby groups have expressed concerns about those specific aspects of the Bill which seek to achieve that balance. In particular, the requirement for adopted people to sign an undertaking declaring that they would not contact their birth parent was considered by some to be offensive to adopted people.

Having listened to these concerns, I engaged again with the Office of the Attorney General seeking to revisit the privacy provisions and to strengthen the right to identity. I recently secured Government approval to draft amendments to revise these provisions in the Bill. The revised scheme will seek to remove the requirement to sign an undertaking. It will also provide people applying for birth information with the opportunity to make their case about why this should be released, in circumstances where its release is being opposed by a birth parent. My officials are actively working on drafting the necessary amendments, with the assistance of the Attorney General’s office.

I am conscious of the delay with progressing the Bill. It has been a long and arduous legislative journey but new draft legislation was announced by the Deputy's colleague, the former Minister, Mary Hanafin, in May 2001. Eighteen years later, I am confident that this revision will have a positive impact on access to birth information and will be an improvement on the existing provisions in the Bill but it will only finally succeed if Members of the Oireachtas support it. It reflects my sincere efforts to tilt the balance more strongly in favour of applicants’ right to identity and access to birth information, while maintaining protections for a small cohort of potentially vulnerable birth parents.

I thank the Minister for her response. All the information she has laid before the House today is welcome. To follow on from that, when does she plan to meet the various groups that would have fed into the process previously, as they want to have an input into the amendments? Does she plan to have a consultation or a round-table discussion with the various interested parties to ensure the Bill makes its way through the Seanad? There has been much hurt and upset about this and 18 years on, many people are waiting with bated breath for the passing of this legislation. What steps will the Minister take to ensure there is communication and dialogue and not stalling?

I will be meeting all my colleagues before bringing the Bill to the Seanad but also those here who are good representatives of the various advocate groups, which I meet regularly in other contexts. I am confident at this stage that we have pushed as far as we can in terms of the constitutional limits and restrictions on the right to identity and the protection of the birth parents to bring that together in the best possible way for both sets of stakeholders, having listened to the stakeholders from different sides for quite some time. I am confident about that but I need Members of the House to support it to ensure its passage.

Questions Nos. 16 to 30, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Foster Care

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

31. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the lack of consistency in children in foster care receiving aftercare plans and aftercare workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14501/19]

Has the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs been drawn to the lack of consistency in children in foster care receiving aftercare plans and aftercare workers? Will she make a statement on the matter? I put this question to her earlier in our discussion on after-school care services.

I ask the Minister to forward her response to the Deputy because the Tánaiste is approaching to take Leaders' Questions.

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