Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ceisteanna (106)

Bernard Durkan


106. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the adequacy of the budget for his Department to meet the ongoing and increasing demands of children and youth with particular reference to adequate protection measures including counselling, reporting and generally dealing with issues of child abuse including sexual abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21005/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

I am pleased to note this is the second question in sequence in my name. It is said that lightning never strikes twice but sometimes it does.

The question asks the extent to which children outside of school are subject to abuse and bullying and the extent to which such abuse can be detected at an earlier stage, with a view to implementing supportive measures.

As incoming Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am in the process of familiarising myself with the composition of the budget for my Department and the different services falling within its remit.

The Revised Estimates for Public Services 2014 allocated gross funding to my Department of some €997 million, which includes more than €955 million in current funding and €42 million in capital funding. On 27 March 2014, my predecessor informed the Deputy that she considered that the Estimate provision for the Department is facilitating the delivery of a significant level of public services as well as a number of new policy measures. These include the establishment of the new Child and Family Agency which took effect on 1 January 2014 and for which the level of funding allocated was more than €600 million in current funding and €6.8 million in capital spending; an additional €4 million to support implementation of the pre-school quality agenda; an increase of €1.5 million in funding to address child poverty through the new area based childhood programme as part of a total budget allocation for this programme over the period from 2013 to 2016 of almost €30 million; and €31 million in capital funding to facilitate the continuation of construction work on the new children detention school facilities at Oberstown, Lusk, an issue we discussed a few moments ago.

Some of the issues mentioned by the Deputy, particularly the reporting of child abuse, consequent protection measures and the issues of child abuse generally, including sexual abuse, are now the responsibility of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which was established on 1 January last. The overall level of funding available to the agency, which is significant by any measurement, is designed to ensure it can provide a comprehensive and integrated service to children and families who require support. In budget 2014, an additional sum of €6.7 million was made available to support the agency's reform of child welfare and protection services. This allocation will increase to €15 million in 2015.

I thank the Minister for his reply. To what extent will it be possible to identify bullying, Internet grooming and similar issues of a predatory nature that affect children and teenagers, with a view to intervening in a supportive manner at an early stage, rather than responding in the aftermath, as has frequently been the case in the past?

The Deputy raises an important issue. Notwithstanding the additional resources to which I referred, the prioritisation of current services and the provision of additional services, as proposed by all Deputies, we must acknowledge the demand pressures being experienced in children and youth services as a result of social factors and demographics.

The Deputy raised two specific issues, namely, bullying and physical abuse. I intend to give ongoing consideration to other areas of priority spending, while ensuring that operational reforms continue to be implemented to achieve the most effective utilisation of existing resources.

Again, the new stimulus package, as outlined by the Government will, the Deputy will be pleased to hear, involve extra spending in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the announcement of which will be made shortly.

Does the Minister anticipate he will be in a position to offer state-of-the-art child services facilities that will compare with those in other European jurisdictions? To what extent have comparisons have been made on the positive intervention by State institutions on behalf of children who may be the subject of physical, mental, psychological or sexual abuse, including through bullying on the Internet?

That will be the objective, subject to the availability of capital and current finances. It is my intention, as well as that of everyone involved, to ensure this new Department of Children and Youth Affairs and child services will be on a par with their counterparts across the EU and, indeed, beyond. The Deputy will be aware of the financial constraints involved, however.