Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Childcare Services Provision

Anne Rabbitte


49. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is considering putting in place support measures for parents in cases in which a crèche has been deregistered; and the measures being taken to increase supply in childcare. [51843/19]

Is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs considering putting in place support measures for parents in cases where a crèche has been deregistered and what measures have been taken to increase the supply of childcare? I have put forward this question because I met parents last week from Hyde and Seek in Glasnevin with Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick.

The safety and protection of children remains the first priority of Government. This is done through the enforcement of regulations which have children at the heart of their implementation.

The removal of childcare providers from the register of early years services is the ultimate sanction by Tusla, the independent statutory regulator for the sector. It comes at the end of an enforcement process during which Tusla makes every effort to support the provider to come into compliance with the regulations.

Deregistrations and prosecutions are evidence of Tusla’s robust approach where it finds evidence of disregard for regulations.

I acknowledge that deregistrations can cause significant challenges for parents in finding alternative childcare provision.

I have great sympathy for parents in this situation. Yet, I firmly believe that robust enforcement of the regulations is in children's interests and is the right thing to do. Where a service is removed from the register, the staff of 30 Department-funded city and county childcare committees throughout the country are available to support parents who need help finding an alternative service. Officials in my Department liaise closely with the relevant childcare committee to ensure that everything possible is being done for parents affected by closures. In recent cases, childcare committees have operated extended opening hours to support parents. The childcare committees have also been actively supporting and exploring the development of alternative childcare options in the locality. Tusla has agreed to prioritise or fast-track the registration of any new service wishing to open.

Capacity in the sector has doubled in the past five years and continues to rise. However, I recognise that capacity constraints remain. In 2019, I provided €5.9 million towards the creation of new places within the sector. I hope to announce details for a 2020 capital scheme in the coming months and I encourage providers to consider expansion. In time the draft childminding action plan, which I published in August for public consultation, will have a major impact in increasing capacity in the sector through opening up regulation and funding to childminders.

I suppose really my question was about what the Minister is considering and what the Department is considering. The Minister talks about locality and fast-tracking. I am aware of the issues because I met two of the providers in the area. They do not have the capacity. Capacity is at a premium, to be honest. I am looking for a commitment from the Minister today on how Tusla, the Department and the city and county childcare committees can work with the parents to keep them together.

The Minister referred to Tusla being robust. Yet, it took the agency 18 months to get the service registered. We are two years talking about this particular service. I have no wish to go into that, but these parents have no option and they are being left high and dry. They cannot find childcare in the area. They want the Department to come on board and have a mentoring system. Let us put someone in there who can help with management and administration. The parents speak well of the really good staff, the baseline workers. The parents have no option. Their backs are to the wall and they are pleading with the Minister to help in finding a solution.

It is helpful for one of our representatives to meet with parents specifically in respect of certain services that have closed. I thank the Deputy for her correspondence on the matter. The county and city childcare committees have been offering support to parents, especially in those areas. For example, the Dublin city childcare committee has received notice from more than 50 services declaring availability. The committee looked for other services that may have additional capacity. That list of services with availability has been circulated to the 32 parents who have made inquiries. The Fingal county childcare committee has contacted 110 full-day services to establish availability. A total of six parents have been in contact with the Fingal county childcare committee. The city and county childcare committees have been working with parents on a case-by-case basis to try to match places with requirements. They are engaged in other ways to support parents as well. That is only the city and county childcare committee but I can refer to other things going on in my final reply.

The bottom line is that the current childcare sector is in crisis. We have a capacity crisis. I appreciate the good work and what went online in the past week. It is welcome to identify where there is availability in these areas. That is a welcome move. However, it does not address the position that these parents find themselves in. We are three weeks out from 1 January and in the particular area two services are closing because they have to get ready for re-registration. There is no capacity because parents have gone around and asked. They have asked me and the Minister to liaise with Tusla and the city and county childcare committees to see whether there is a chance of getting someone in place to work with the owners to put in a mentoring service. A new manager has been appointed. The parents are happy to come on board. Perhaps there is some way we can join some dots here. I would welcome the input of the Minister in trying to find a solution.

In the first instance I know the city and county childcare committees are working with any parents who are in contact. They have tried to identify where places are available. If parents have not been in direct contact with the committees I urge them to make contact.

Deputy Rabbitte has explored a recommendation with parents. We have been thinking about that as well. The Deputy referred to putting in place interim management to ensure a service does not close. Unfortunately, it looks as if such a move needs legislation. There needs to be some changes to legislation to allow an interim management to come in to run the service. I have, however, asked the question. We are looking at whether we can fast-track amending the legislation to allow for the placement of interim management in a deregistered crèche. That is what is required. Second, Tusla is fast-tracking registration of some of the new services. Third, I am going to call for a meeting of city and county childcare committee co-ordinators from throughout the country early in the new year to look at whether there are any further solutions we can offer relating to the capacity and deregistration of services.

Domestic Violence Services Funding

Kathleen Funchion


50. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to explain the reason there has been no additional provision in budget 2020 for a refuge (details supplied) to receive funding for play therapy and counselling for children and women who avail of its services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51703/19]

My question relates to the Amber Kilkenny Women's Refuge, which serves Carlow and Kilkenny. Why has no additional funding been granted for the coming year, especially for play therapy and counselling services for women and children? I call on the Minister to comment on that.

I am conscious of the Deputy's support for this important facility and I was pleased to have been able to visit it at her invitation last year. The Deputy will be aware that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, supports Amber in Kilkenny as part of its role to provide care and protection for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

Tusla has informed me that Amber has received €506,468 in funding in 2019. I understand Tusla is currently engaging with Amber on funding for 2020. Details of funding and required service provision will be agreed in a service level agreement.

A sum of €25.3 million in funding is being allocated to Tusla for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, services in 2020. Following budget 2020, I issued Tusla with its performance statement for 2020 in line with the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. In response to the performance statement Tusla will prepare a business plan for 2020. The precise level of funding to be allocated to individual DSGBV services will be considered by Tusla in preparing its business plan. The plan will be submitted to me shortly.

In 2019, I provided Tusla with an additional €1.5 million to provide additional targeted supports for domestic and sexual violence services. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that good progress has been made in the roll-out of these additional resources by service providers. I highly value the work of individuals providing services to victims of domestic violence, including those in Amber.

Deputy, you have one minute for a supplementary question.

Is it two minutes or one minute?

You have one minute initially and then you will get another minute.

I appreciate the fact the Minister visited the service in January 2017. It was very much appreciated that the Minister took the time to go down and see the service. The service covers a vast area and includes the whole of Carlow and Kilkenny. In fact, there is an argument that Carlow should have its own women's refuge. Currently, it does not, but for various reasons, including family reasons, women in Carlow should be able to stay in Carlow.

The question is specifically on the counselling budget. To date, Amber has been running a fantastic service. I cannot say enough good things about the service being run. Women do not come from a domestic violence situation and wake up the next morning for everything to be okay again. They have to go through a process and counselling is a key part of it. Obviously, children who have been affected by or who have lived in a domestic abuse situation need counselling, which is often in the form of play therapy. Currently, that is coming from a charitable organisation and there is no ring-fenced funding. I know the organisation gets funding from Tusla, but there is no ring-fenced funding for counselling.

Deputy Funchion has identified a particular need within Carlow-Kilkenny. One of the precise recommendations that I made to Tusla, which is being taken up, was for the hiring of additional outreach support workers by refuges throughout the country. I made the recommendation because I met domestic, sexual and gender-based violence service representatives from throughout the country, especially those working outside the main urban settings.

I asked whether they would recommend that the women go to their service or the service go to the women and they suggested outreach workers. Carlow-Kilkenny has already hired an additional one out of the 12 for whom I have provided funding. I understand the hiring of a second outreach worker is in process. It is important to state there are additional resources in that regard. I will come back to the final question at the end.

I was speaking to them today. That second outreach worker was finalised only yesterday or today. It is good. I welcome it. That is to service Carlow. Obviously, there are many people who must travel, as well as school issues, and it is not an ideal situation.

Part of the reason for the question is that services dealing with domestic violence are often asked to undertake a needs analysis. They spend a considerable amount of time, take it very seriously but then are still waiting on an answer or for those additional resources two years later. In fairness, there was one granted either yesterday or today. It is coincidental but is good news.

I specifically emphasise counselling and play therapy because these are so valuable. One cannot flee a domestic violence situation. One will keep returning to it, unless one has the proper supports, and counselling is key to that. At present, a voluntary charity is providing the counselling for them. If that runs out, which it will at the end of this year, it will put the whole counselling budget in jeopardy, although that is such a vital part of the work that they do.

I will make two points on the specific issue of counselling and I thank the Deputy for raising it. She has put it on the record and Tusla will be aware of that. I hope and anticipate that counselling forms part of its negotiations, especially for 2020, to see whether there is any more scope for support for that particular aspect. My information, however, is that it has not raised the issue of counselling and additional resources for counselling on an ongoing basis. That is merely my information but I certainly hear the Deputy raising it.

Second, in respect of the children, one way we spent the additional funding in 2019 was that Tusla began to roll out what is called the TLC Kidz programme, which is a healing programme for children, in a number of Tusla areas for children who witness domestic violence. Facilitator training to support the roll-out was delivered in March and September of 2019. There were very high levels of interest and participation. I understand provision of that is coming to Kilkenny in January.

Finally, in terms of the second outreach worker, I did not have that information and I am happy to hear it. That recruitment process took longer than anticipated but it is good to know they have two in place.

Childcare Services

Anne Rabbitte


51. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the public consultation process on the draft childminding action plan will be extended in order to facilitate childminders who have attended focus groups in relation to the plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51844/19]

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the public consultation process on the draft childminding action plan will be extended in order to facilitate childminders who have attended focus groups in respect of the plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I warmly welcome the high level of participation by childminders in the recent public consultation on the draft childminding action plan. I strongly believe that childminding has an important and distinctive role to play in the future of early learning and care and school-age childcare in this country and this is why I appointed an expert group, chaired by Childminding Ireland, in 2016 to revert to me with recommendations.

Childminding is different from centre-based provision. That is why regulation of childminding must be proportionate and appropriate to the home setting in which childminders work, and that is why it was important to have a consultation process in which the views of childminders themselves would be heard.

At the heart of the public consultation was a series of 31 focus-group meetings across the country with childminders. These were organised at county level by childcare committees. They took place in the evenings to make it possible for childminders to attend. In addition, one meeting of stakeholders took place during the working day to enable other stakeholders, such as parents or parent-and-children representatives, to take part, and I am delighted that some childminders were also able to attend that meeting.

The consultation also involved an online survey and a call for submissions. There were 471 respondents to the online survey, of whom nearly 60% were childminders. In addition, there were 14 responses to the call for submissions.

All aspects of the consultation are important and each will be fed into the final plan. The views of those who attended the focus groups were carefully noted and will make a significant contribution to the analysis of the consultation that officials in my Department are now undertaking.

If there are specific issues which the Deputy feels have not been reflected in the extensive consultation to date, my officials would be happy to consider them. However, given the scale of consultation already undertaken, rather than extending the consultation I believe the priority now should be to review the childminding action plan in light of the views childminders have shared, and then to begin the processes of reform that they have called for. My Department will continue to engage with Childminding Ireland and other relevant representative groups as the process continues.

Although approximately 19,000 childminders currently operate in Ireland, only 81 of them are registered. One child in ten aged between zero and 12 years of age is cared for by a childminder. When one looks at the preschool children where non-parental care is used, almost one third of these children are cared for by childminders. If we want childcare to be affordable and accessible, childminding must be part of the solution.

At present, a parent can only avail of the affordable childcare scheme by using a registered childcare facility. A big part of the reason that fewer than 100 childminders in Ireland are registered is that the current regulations are written with a centre-based setting in mind. Taking into consideration everything the Minister has said, there is a fear within the childminding sector that we will see a cutting and pasting of whatever has been done already for centre-based settings with standards and regulations to be forced upon childminders. That is why they are looking for an extension of the consultation. They do not feel that they were represented because they were not registered.

I agree with everything that the Deputy outlined in terms of the concerns, which is why we put in place an extensive consultation led by Childminding Ireland in the first place to recommend what the draft plan ought to include, the substantial majority of which became part of the draft childminding action plan that is still to be put out for further consultation. The Deputy's points are well taken, which is why I listed all the different ways in which we tried to have the consultation with childminders to inform the finalisation of that plan.

In fairness, we have done extensive work in including, enabling and supporting childminders to drive what will be in that plan. It is true to say that, ultimately, those are decisions for Government but it is not the case that we have not been asking or listening. There are several issues that the childminders are particularly concerned about, particularly what level of qualification will be required, but we certainly are hearing those issues. I agree the childminders need a bespoke set of regulations that are appropriate and proportionate for the childminding setting.

The reason that question was tabled is that childminders who approached me stated that the consultation had finished when the draft plan was released. They felt that they had not enough time to engage on it.

The childminders do not want academia to write the report. They want it to be childminding-child led. Childminding, as opposed to a centre-based setting, is a completely different animal. The childminders want to be in control of their own rules and regulations with everybody else because it is a completely different setting. I think the Minister would agree with me on all of that.

Can the Minister give me details of the appointments to the various working groups and expert panels? Can the Minister assure me of some of the names that come from the childminding sector that would reassure the childminders that their voices and representations are at the core of this?

In response to Deputy Rabbitte's first question, it will not be academia that is writing it. In fairness, it was Childminding Ireland that led that first piece of consultation out of which the draft action plan was put in place ultimately. I absolutely agree with the Deputy. It will not happen under my leadership.

On the Deputy's second question, I do not have specific names in front of me. However, in terms of the steering committee that will be appointed to drive and oversea the implementation of the action plan once it has been finalised, I can state there is an explicit commitment that it will include representatives of childminders, parents and other key stakeholders within the sector. The role of the steering committee will including monitoring and reviewing of the implementation of the plan. During phase 1, it is proposed four advisory groups will be established and they will work with officials on regulation and inspection, qualifications and training, funding and financial supports and consultation and communications. I can only say that I expect and anticipate that, of course, some childminders will be part of that.