Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Early Years Sector

Ceisteanna (13)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

13. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the engagement she has had with representatives of the early child care sector since budget 2018 was announced. [9001/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Strong engagement with the early years sector has been a hallmark of my time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have travelled throughout the country to meet childcare providers within their own services, to meet City and County Childcare Committees and to speak first hand to childcare providers, parents and to children.

On becoming Minister I established the National Early Years Forum, at which issues arising in the sector can be raised and discussed face to face. This helps better communication and engagement and fosters improved policy and decision making. The Early Years Forum consists of representatives of childcare providers and staff, academic experts in early years care and education and advocacy groups from across the sector. The Forum met before and after Budget 2018 and is due to meet again on March 7th.

The introduction of measures last September to make childcare more affordable were preceded by a national road show of information sessions. These events were attended by more than 1,000 childcare practitioners and offered information to the sector, as well as providing an opportunity for feedback to my Department. I intend to arrange similar events again in the future.

Focused working groups, made up of representatives from the early years sector, are a regular feature of my Department's work. Notably, the development of the Affordable Childcare Scheme is being informed by both a Business and Systems Working Group and a Communications Consultative Group. Both groups have met on numerous occasions to discuss aspects of how the scheme will operate when launched and offer the sector an opportunity to shape the scheme's design and its roll-out.

I have met with representatives of most, if not all, of the national childcare representative bodies in the country to hear first hand the issues they are experiencing and their proposals for improvement. I also established and have met with an Expert Group tasked with reporting on the future of child-minding in Ireland. 

Childcare providers are represented on my Department's Steering Group for the implementation of the Access and Inclusion Model, or AIM as it is known, which supports children with disabilities in the ECCE scheme and the early years service they attend.

I am delighted that my Departmental childcare team has been strengthened by the secondment of four staff from various childcare organisations around the country to assist us with our work. The expertise and experience of these staff complements the work of officials in considering policy and operational matters.

A plan to address the communications needs associated with the forthcoming Affordable Childcare Scheme has been finalised and work is underway for similar strategies to be developed for the Early Years Division of my department. This demonstrates my ongoing commitment to engagement and communication with the early years sector.

Child Care Services

Ceisteanna (14)

James Browne

Ceist:

14. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the recently established working group tasked with streamlining children’s mental health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8826/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am pleased to say that the Working Group referred to by the Deputy held its inaugural meeting on 19th January 2018. The group is co-chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health. The group is made up of senior officials from both Departments with representatives from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency and the Health Service Executive.

The key objective of the working group is to examine psychological and mental health services for children and young people with the aim of agreeing a clear continuum of provision and strengthening alignment between providers. The services must be centered on the needs of children and young people. The working group have agreed the Terms of Reference and are focusing on assessing work and policies in place with a view to identifying key actions to be progressed and improvements to be made.

I want to ensure that we have an integrated and comprehensive model of service for children and young people. At present, Tusla has responsibility for services relating to the psychological welfare of children and their families but the HSE deals with the more acute services. These include children and young people with complex developmental issues and those with more severe mental health problems.

The division of responsibility between Tusla and the HSE for different types of psychological and mental health services brings challenges, which both agencies have been trying to address. Tusla funds the HSE for the provision of some community based psychological services but the availability of services between areas is quite variable.

Both Tusla and the HSE have been developing proposals to improve the provision and availability of services but we would all accept that there is a good deal more work to do to achieve a well coordinated integrated service that meets the needs of children and young people.

I have met with the Ministers for Health and relevant Ministers of State with a view to maximising collaboration between Tusla and the HSE, including in the area of mental health.

I am pleased that the working group has now commenced its work to address these and related matters. Our aim is that the group would finalise an agreed approach by the middle of this year and commence implementation from Quarter 3 onwards.

Child Detention Centres

Ceisteanna (15)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

15. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the response she received from Tusla in relation to the failure of an organisation to acknowledge child protection complaints from the designated liaison person at Oberstown youth detention campus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8927/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

HIQA undertook an inspection of Oberstown Children Detention Campus in March 2017. The Deputy is referring to a statement in the Report of the finding of that inspection.  This stated that there were three formal reports to Tusla for which no acknowledgements were received. 

I am advised that the reports referred to were sent to Tusla in accordance with procedures in existence at the time. Acknowledgments were not routinely issued to all reports. Prior to the HIQA inspection of Oberstown at which this matter was raised, Oberstown management met with Tusla management to discuss the issue of a protocol setting out how both agencies will work together on a range of issues.  This included the procedures for reporting child protection and welfare concerns to Tusla. I am advised that there are ongoing discussions with management at Oberstown and Tusla  regarding this protocol. 

While the draft protocol includes procedures in relation to reporting child protection and welfare concerns, it is important to note that procedures have changed since December 11th 2017 when I commenced the Children first Act 2015.   It is now the case that mandated reporters are required to make their reports in writing.  They also have a legal entitlement to an acknowledgement.  Tusla has an online portal in place for the receipt of mandated reports.   

Mandated reporters can register on the Tusla website and are then in a position to submit reports directly to Tusla via the portal.  The portal is an efficient and accessible way of ensuring that reports of child abuse can be generated as efficiently as possible, including all the relevant information, and can be sent without delay to Tusla. 

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (16)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

16. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the rationale behind a group (details supplied) not being invited to participate on the newly formed forum in view of their unique experience within mother and baby homes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8869/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As I recently advised the House, I am in the process of setting up a Selection Panel to oversee the independent selection of representatives to a Collaborative Forum of former residents of mother and baby homes and related institutions.

For the avoidance of any confusion, I would like to clarify that no invitations have issued to participate in the Forum itself.

The establishment of the Collaborative Forum is a new approach in the State’s response to the theme of “nothing about us without us” which emerged from my consultations with former residents and their advocates.  This innovative approach will facilitate and empower former residents to actively contribute to decisions on matters of concern to them and their families.

I have published a Charter for the Forum which sets out the general functions of the Forum; provides a blueprint for its programme of work, and details key principles in the methodology and approach to be adopted in this important work.

The establishment of an effective selection process is essential to the successful commencement of this project. For this reason I have identified some key persons and organisations from the areas of human rights promotion and protection, former residents and their advocacy groups, and academics with professional experience in relevant areas to assist in this process.

The Deputy may wish to note that the umbrella organisation to which the Association of Mixed Race Irish are associated has been invited to participate in this selection process.

My Department has made the necessary contacts and I am awaiting confirmation of a response from a number of those approached.

Furthermore, officials from my Department were in contact with representatives of the Association of Mixed Race Irish last week to clarify the arrangements being made in relation to the Forum. My officials have assured the organisation that its members will be able to seek representation on the Forum in due course.

My Department will facilitate a comprehensive advertising campaign so that interested parties are made aware of the relevant details. This is an opportunity for former residents to create and drive forward a process that they can support and trust and actively participate in developing actions and solutions to address their concerns.

I strongly encourage all interested parties to participate in this process.

Children's Rights

Ceisteanna (17)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

17. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on a report (details supplied); if she is satisfied that the measures she has taken to address the problems facing children here are working; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9000/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Deputy will be aware that the Report Card is an established accountability tool for the Children's Right Alliance (CRA) and its more than 100 member organisations. It has since 2009, used the Report Card to scrutinise progress on the commitments to children in the Programme for Government. The most recent Report Card explores progress during 2017 against commitments in the Programme for Government which was published in May 2016.

Each year, the CRA evaluates Government's delivery of its promises in six key areas - the right to education, to an adequate standard of living, to health, rights in the family environment and alternative care, rights in early childhood and the right to equality. The grading is carried out by a high-level independent panel, comprising some of Ireland's leading experts in children's rights, child law, education, early years and from the trade union sector. The Report Card also provides an important resource for politicians, policy makers, service providers and non-governmental organisations and academics. The recommendations relate to issues across a range of Government Departments, including my Department.

I note that the Government's overall performance on child-related issues was assessed to have improved over last year, and that five of the six areas had an overall improvement in grade. My own Department's area of child protection got the single highest grade of the whole report; a B, up from last year's grade C. The report also gave LGBT+ issues a grade B-, up from C+ last year.

Nevertheless I recognise that there is much to be done, both within my own Department's areas of responsibility and across Government. 

A considerable number of  the CRA's recommendations are reflected in the commitments contained within Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, with responsibility for implementation again falling to the respective Government Departments. My Department is responsible for monitoring progress on the implementation of Better Outcomes Brighter Futures and supporting its key implementation structures across Departments and sectors. An annual report on progress towards those commitments to April 2017 was published in September 2017.

I can confirm that my officials are already focussing on the immediate actions for 2018 that were highlighted by the CRA in relation to these policy areas.

Dormant Accounts Fund Grants

Ceisteanna (18)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

18. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the allocation her Department received from the Dormant Accounts Fund of €7 million for an initiative aimed at breaking the cycle of childhood poverty; the amount that has been spent to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8866/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department has received funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund for the development and implementation of the Quality and Capacity Building Initiative (QCBI). This initiative which is envisaged to run until 2020 aims to ensure the mainstreaming of learning from the original Area-Based Childhood and similar programmes in prevention and early intervention. The QCBI will harness and apply this learning across the relevant services and supports with the aim of achieving wider systems change and service improvements for children and young people.

It is both an ambitious and significant initiative and one which though consultation with key informants is seen as both necessary and impactful. The QCBI has undergone a significant design and consultation phase. Indeed this was necessary based on its scope and potential impact.

To date, approximately €232,000 has been drawn down from the Dormant Accounts fund for preparatory work during the design phase of the QCBI. The breakdown of payments made to date are attached.

Now that the initiative is advancing apace, a significant suite of projects and associated expenditure under the QCBI initiative will be advanced in the coming weeks. These include the development of a Knowledge Exchange Platform, the launch of an Innovation Fund, and the development of a training module on prevention and early intervention.

These are key measures which will actively and directly support services to ensure that they have benefit from the learning gleaned in terms of service and practice impact. This will ensure that wider structures and supports for children and young people offer the best responses in enhancing their outcomes.

Date

QCBI -Spend to date

Payee

March 2016

EU Peer Review on Prevention and Early Intervention to improve outcomes for Children, young people and their families.

Cleaver East

3,630

March & July 2016

Data Hub Development Research

Research Matters

20,830

March 2016

Interest on payment

Research Matters

103

March 2016

ABC Mentoring Workshop

Clarion Hotel

5876

December 2016 & May 2017

Landscape Analysis for QCBI- was commissioned to map relevant initiatives that were relevant for the development of QCBI with a view to harnessing and building on those initiatives.

Brian Harvey Social Research

22,140

January 2017

QCBI Professional advice and input

Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative

20,000

April, September and December 2017

‘Outcomes for Children Information and Data Hub Project’ seeks to develop a resource that presents local data related to children and services provided for them. The project that is implemented by Tusla includes the development a digital resources as well as training that will enhance data-driven planning for, and delivery of, children’s services at local level. As such, it will help to address an important deficit. Tusla’s responsibility for planning of children’s services combined with their operational oversight of Children and Young People’s Services Committees positions them well to lead on this initiative.

TUSLA

159,000

Total

231,579

Early Childhood Care and Education

Ceisteanna (19)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

19. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if a full list of eligible and ineligible costs for applications under the grants funding available to child care facilities for early year and school age childcare will be issued; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8864/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

On 1st February 2018, I announced detailed application guidelines for the 2018 Early Years and School Age Capital programmes, including details on each of the five funding strands available under these.

Lists of indicative eligible and ineligible costs under each funding strand were made available as part of the application guidelines. For example, under Strands 1 and 4, dedicated to the creation of new childcare places under Early Years and School Age childcare respectively, alteration or refurbishment works undertaken on an existing facility to provide extra places would be an eligible cost; salary costs or general office equipment would not.

Under Early Years Strand 3, in which the focus is on the creation of a new, natural outdoor play area, eligible costs include reflective pools, natural planting and canvas canopies; whereas rubber matting and permanent construction projects are ineligible. In particular, I would advise that any application under this strand of funding will be appraised in terms of its overall vision, and how it aligns with the natural outdoor play area objective.

The indicative lists of eligible and ineligible costs, to be found in full in the application guidelines document, should be useful for prospective applicants. That being said, each project by its very nature is unique and so it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list. I would urge any providers who remain unsure to contact their local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) or Pobal to assist them with any further questions about eligibility or otherwise.

I can assure you that each application for capital funding will be assessed on its own merits, and that the published guidelines exist in order to maximise the quality of applications received by my Department and Pobal before the application window closes at 3pm on Friday the 9th March 2018.

I anticipate that this year's Capital programmes will see great demand and competition for funding, and I wish all providers the very best of luck with any applications they might make. Their personal visions for the expansion and improvement of childcare services are an invaluable part of making Ireland's childcare sector into one which is world class, accessible and affordable to all.

Family Resource Centres

Ceisteanna (20)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

20. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department will accept an application for a resource centre at a site (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8865/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Following recent clarification with the Deputy's office, I understand that the Deputy is querying if the organisation referred to, has applied to join the Family Resource Centre Programme.

On Budget Day, I was pleased to announce that additional resources of almost €3.0m were secured to support the inclusion of an additional 11 community organisations to the Family resource Centre Programme in 2018 and to support existing centres.

Tusla administers the Family Resource Centre Programme, and opened applications to the programme on 23rd October, 2017. The final deadline for receipt of these applications was 20th December, 2017.

Tusla has advised that it has received a joint application which includes the organisation referred to by the Deputy.

Tusla is currently reviewing all applications that were received within the specified application period. Applicants will be notified of the outcome of the assessment in March 2018.

Family support is a priority for me, and the increased level of funding for Family Resource Centres in 2018 reflects this. I will continue to support Tusla in its work with Family Resource Centres around the country.

Family Support Services

Ceisteanna (21)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to support stay at home parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8867/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I have responsibility for Early Years Care and Education and School Age Childcare. I am committed to the provision of childcare options that respect both parental choice and international evidence on how to achieve the best outcomes for children. Stay at home parents can access a number of schemes operated by my Department.

From September 2018, the ECCE Programme, or the Free Preschool Scheme as it is known by some, will be available to all children over the age of two years and eight months for two full programme years. 114,000 children are expected to participate in this Programme from September 2018, including children of stay at home parents. This is an increase in entitlement from 38 weeks when the scheme was introduced initially, to the 61 week average that was provided last year.

Other schemes provided by my Department address childcare affordability and are available to stay at home parents; for example, the universal subsidy for parents of children under three which was introduced last September. The Affordable Childcare Scheme when introduced will subsidise the cost of early years care and education and school age childcare. Parents who are not engaged in employment or study will be able to access subsidised childcare under the scheme for 15 hours per week. Deputies may be aware that the legislation for this scheme passed second stage in recent weeks.

Across Government, there have been a number of measures to support stay at home parents. Additional support has been provided for parents who choose to care for their children at home by increasing the Home Carer Tax Credit to €1,200 per year in Budget 2018.

State provision for maternity leave, parental leave and the recently introduced paternity leave also demonstrate the Government's commitment to support parents to care for young children. The Programme for Government commits to extending paid leave for parents in the first year of a child's life, which will be a key financial support enabling parents to care for their children at home in the critical first year. An Inter-Departmental group has been established to progress this commitment which officials from my Department are contributing to.

Better Outcomes Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People contains a commitment to produce Ireland’s first-ever National Early Years Strategy. The National Early Years Strategy will focus on the period of early childhood, from birth to age five, and will cover all aspects of children's lives. Drafting of the strategy is underway and is being directly informed by research, expert advice and consultation inputs, as well as bilateral discussions with government departments.

The strategy will take a joined-up, cross-government approach to the issue of supporting children and their families during the early years. Development of the Strategy is a priority for me and for my Department, and I will move to publish the Strategy later this year.

Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation

Ceisteanna (22)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

22. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the affordable childcare scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8863/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The development of the Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) entails a programme of work encompassing legislative, ICT, governance, administrative and communications work-streams.  Significant progress continues to be made across all these areas.  

Of particular significance, the Childcare Support Bill was published in December 2017 and completed Second Stage in the Dáil on 31st January.  A Request for Tender for the development of the Scheme’s ICT system was also published on 31st January, with tenders due to be submitted by 26th March.

Other preparations in relation to governance, administration and communications for the ACS are progressing as follows:

- a contract has been awarded to provide expertise in the development of a robust Governance and Compliance Framework for the ACS and work is underway;

- data-sharing arrangements with the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Employment and Social Protection are advancing on schedule;

- a Data Protection Strategy has been developed, following a Data Privacy Impact Assessment and liaison with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner;

- An ACS Communications and Engagement Strategy has been approved to ensure that parents, providers and others who need to know about the scheme will do so;

- Standard Operating Procedures and proposals for Scheme Administrator staffing and structures are also under development; and

- An Independent Review into the Cost of Delivery of Quality Childcare is underway.

The timescale for the introduction of the Affordable Childcare Scheme is dependent on the development of the ICT system.  Accordingly, until such time as an ICT vendor is in place to build the system, and agrees a delivery timeframe, it is not possible to confirm and communicate a definitive start date for the scheme. 

However, the existing childcare schemes and supports, including the enhancements introduced last September, will remain in place for the childcare programme year which begins this September (2018). The vast majority of those eligible for support under the Affordable Childcare Scheme, and the initial income thresholds agreed for its introduction,  are currently receiving financial support on par with what they will receive when ACS launches.  Over 67,000 (96% of the estimated eligible children) are availing of these enhanced supports and the number increases week on week. This includes the families of 32,000 children who are receiving the benefit of the new universal subsidy (97% of the estimated uptake).

Finally, in recognition of the administrative role which childcare services play in delivering Government schemes and other non-contact work, €18m in funding was paid to services in 2017 and will remain in place for 2018. 

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (23)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

23. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason for establishing a consultation forum; the guidance she received with regard to her view that a membership of 20 is appropriate; the methodology that will be employed to select membership; if it will be inclusive of all survivor groups, including a group (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8883/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The establishment of the Collaborative Forum is a new approach in the State’s response to the theme of “nothing about us without us” which emerged from my consultations with former residents of mother and baby homes and their advocates. 

These consultations were facilitated by Mr Jim Halley and he further assisted me in developing the proposal for a Collaborative Forum capable of responding to the issues raised by former residents. Mr Halley is a past Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration and he is an internationally respected mediator and facilitator.

I believe that the establishment of this innovative collaborative process will enable stakeholders to create and drive forward a process that they can support and trust. The fundamental principle behind the proposal is that those affected by a decision have the right to be centrally involved in the decision making process.

I have published a Charter for the Forum which sets out the general functions of the Forum; provides a blueprint for its programme of work, and details key principles in the methodology and approach to be adopted in this important work.

The size and membership of the Forum will appropriately reflect its focus to directly support and engage with those who were resident for a time in these institutions and those with comparable experiences in the former County Homes.

I am in the process of setting up a Selection Panel to oversee the independent selection of representatives to the Forum. The establishment of an effective selection process is essential to the successful commencement of this project. For this reason I have identified some key persons and organisations from the areas of human rights promotion and protection, former residents and their advocacy groups, and academics with professional experience in relevant areas to assist in this process.

In selecting members to the Forum, the panel will be obliged to have regard to relevant considerations to ensure a balance and diversity of stakeholder perspectives and experiences is achieved. The Panel will agree the criteria for selection and the arrangements for a public information campaign to seek expressions of interest from relevant persons.

The Deputy may wish to note that the umbrella organisation to which she refers has been invited to participate in the selection process and its members can respond to the call for expressions of interest in due course.

 

Health Services Staff Data

Ceisteanna (24)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

24. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of social workers in each region; the number of social worker vacancies in each region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8829/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla has advised that the breakdown of whole time equivalent Social Workers  by region as at 31 December, 2017 is as follows:

Region/Area

WTE

 Child Residential  Service

8.6

Residential   DML

1.99

Residential   DNE

2.89

Residential   West

 

Residential   South

3.72

Special Care Services

 

National Services

98.04

Dublin Mid-Leinster (DML)

374.78

Dublin   South Central

75.06

Dublin   Sth East\Wicklow

99.52

Dublin   Sth West\Kildare West Wicklow

99.59

Midland

78.62

Regional   Services DML

21.99

Dublin North East (DNE)

301.46

Cavan\Monaghan

34.45

Dublin   North City

92.66

Louth\Meath

74.88

North   Dublin

71.13

Regional   Services DNE

28.34

South

344.32

Carlow\Kilkenny\Sth Tipperary

63.24

Cork

152.36

Kerry

40.35

Regional Services South

3.98

Waterford\Wexford

84.39

West

338.78

Donegal

63.66

Galway\Roscommon

92.08

Mayo

37.01

Mid-West

107.02

Regional Services West

1

Sligo\Leitrim

38.01

Grand Total

1465.98

Tusla has advised that there are currently 282 vacancies for Social Workers.   The numerical breakdown of these vacancies by region is as follows:

Dublin South

61

Dublin West

57

Dublin North East (DNE)

89

Dublin Mid-Leinster (DML)

70

Residential

1

National Service

4

Grand Total

282

Recruitment and retention of social workers continues to be a challenge for Tusla however,  I understand that 75 of these 282 vacant posts are at an advance stage of the recruitment process and Tusla expects to fill them shortly.

Dublin South    

17

Dublin West

22

Dublin North East (DNE)

19

Dublin Mid-Leinster(DML)

17

Grand Total

75

Tusla is currently drafting its 3-Year multiannual strategic workforce plan and I expect that this will consider initiatives to address the on-going challenges of recruiting social workers.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (25)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

25. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to advertise the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation in the United States of America in view of the acknowledgement of 2,000 children that went to the United States for adoption between the 1940s and 1970s (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8868/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The statutory Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) is independent in the conduct of its investigations. The approach to publicising its work and seeking persons with potentially relevant information to come forward are matters for the Commission to decide. I do not have any role or influence in this regard.

The Commission previously informed me that it had written to a range of Irish groups in the UK and the USA inviting relevant people to come forward to provide testimony and information, and the Confidential Committee has visited the UK on a number of occasions.

As the Deputy will also be aware, issues relating to the experiences of mothers and children in these institutions, and the on-going investigations of the Commission, continue to be widely reported by national and international media outlets.

While I do not have a direct role the Commission's advertising strategies, I am on record of this House as encouraging any person with information which may be relevant to the Commission to contact the investigation team directly. All relevant contact information is on my Department's website and can be accessed at www.dcya.gov.ie .

 

Family Resource Centres

Ceisteanna (26)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

26. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the process to allocate 11 new family resource centres around the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8980/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

On Budget Day, I was pleased to announce that additional resources of almost €3.0m were secured 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.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, administers the Family Resource Centre Programme.

Applications to the programme opened on 23rd October 2017, and the final deadline for receipt of these applications was 20th December 2017. Tusla has confirmed that it has received a total of 43 applications.

Tusla is currently assessing all applications, and applicants will be notified of the outcome of the assessment in March 2018.

Homeless Persons Supports

Ceisteanna (27)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

27. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the findings of an organisation's (details supplied) report,in particular the evaluation of the effects of homelessness and emergency accommodation on children's sense of self worth and wellbeing; and her plans to strengthen Tusla's role in providing supports for children in homelessness. [8871/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I welcome the publication of the tenth edition of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card evaluating the Government's progress on actions for children. The 2018 report acknowledges progress made and the Government’s efforts to improve the lives of children in Ireland. The report rightly highlights the continuing impact of the homelessness crisis on the lives of children. I absolutely acknowledge that homelessness is an extremely distressing experience, and that any medium to long-term period living in a hotel or other emergency accommodation seriously impacts on normal family life and is particularly detrimental to children.

While the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has the ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness, my Department is working closely with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to provide ongoing supports for families in emergency accommodation in order to mitigate the challenges faced by parents and children in this situation.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, works together with other statutory and voluntary agencies to provide services and supports to children, young people and families experiencing homelessness. In my own Department, I have introduced free childcare for the children of families experiencing homelessness. I am happy to say that the families of an additional 196 children are currently availing of childcare under this scheme, while some families were already eligible under existing schemes. As part of the scheme a daily meal is provided for each child.

Actions taken by Tusla include the provision of funding for child support workers and the appointment of a Homelessness Liaison Officer.

Family Resource Centres, part funded by Tusla, are working with families who are experiencing homelessness and many have developed local responses to the needs of children and families in emergency accommodation. These include, by way of example, family fun days, homework support, after school programmes, play therapy and transport services.

In recognition of the difficulties associated with homelessness and school attendance, Tusla’s Educational Welfare Service offers a number of supports to children (and families) experiencing homelessness.

Tusla’s joint protocol with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) covers child welfare and protection matters for children in emergency accommodation. It is fully operational in the DRHE areas and it is intended to replicate this protocol across the State. A Joint Working Protocol has been signed between Tusla and Galway City Council.  

Finally, the DRHE is coordinating the development of a comprehensive National Quality Standards Framework for homeless services on behalf of all housing authorities.  Consultation with service users and key stakeholders, including Tusla, has been undertaken and the draft standards have been piloted in selected services.  These standards, including a child safety element which will provide homeless services with a framework for continuous quality improvement, will be implemented nationally.

It is important to note that Tusla only intervenes in family life in exceptional circumstances. Children who are with their families in emergency accommodation remain in the care of their parents or guardians. Where Tusla has concerns regarding the welfare and development of any child they will provide family supports to assist that family and child.

Ultimately, my concern is that we minimise and then eliminate the problem of homelessness. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help those affected, to the greatest degree possible within my area of responsibility.

 

Departmental Funding

Ceisteanna (28)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

28. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to make funding available to individual electoral areas for the purposes of playground provision instead of general allocation to local authorities which may overlook areas that have yet to secure funding for such investment. [9005/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The DCYA capital grant funding scheme for play and recreation provides capital funding to support new and existing play and recreation facilities for children and young people. The total amount of funding made available each year is €250,000. A maximum grant of €20,000 is allocated to each Local Authority through the Local Authority Play and Recreation Network (LAPRN). The LAPRN members are invited to apply for funding for projects which provide:

- New and innovative play and recreation spaces and facilities. New and innovative projects can include new facilities, equipment, designs and / or the utilisation of non-traditional play spaces.

- Refurbishment or upgrading of existing play and recreation spaces and facilities.

Under the Capital Grant Scheme for Play and Recreation, 25 awards were made in 2017. The largest amount awarded was for €15,000 and the lowest amount was €5,000.

The LAPRN group was established in 2012 to introduce a more coordinated and interagency approach to achieving the main goals of the play and recreation policies at both national and local level. The members of the group are key Local Authority managers and staff responsible for the local delivery of play and recreation services in communities across the country. The Department is currently working with the LAPRN group to agree priorities for the funding allocation for the current year.

Traveller Community

Ceisteanna (29)

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

29. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that despite recognition of Traveller ethnicity in March 2017, infant mortality rates in this group are 3.6 times higher than the rest of the population; her plans to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9020/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I must inform the Deputy that my Department has no responsibility with regard to this issue. If the Deputy has any particular questions regarding health issues, including infant mortality, he should address these to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD.

As a lifelong campaigner for equality, social justice and fairness, I regard the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017 as a hugely significant development.

I am concerned that Travellers, and in particular, Traveller children experience many outcomes which are significantly poorer than the average that is experienced and acceptable to the majority of the population of Ireland. This arises in a range of sectors including health, education, employment and accommodation.

This Government is committed to address these disadvantages. My colleagues Minister Charlie Flanagan and Minister of State David Stanton in the Department of Justice and Equality have led the development of the National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021. Minister Stanton chairs the steering group that overseas the implementation of the strategy. This is an encouraging partnership involving the Traveller representative bodies working with the relevant Government Departments and State Bodies.

Childcare Costs

Ceisteanna (30)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

30. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that childcare costs continue to pose a serious financial challenge for families; the measures she will introduce to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8986/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The factors impacting on the costs across delivery of services in any sector are complex and multifaceted. The cost to childcare providers is affected by many factors such as rates, rent, labour costs, and insurance amongst other things.

In September 2017 this Government introduced a number of measures to make childcare more affordable for families in Ireland.

These measures involved:

- A new, universal (non-means tested) subsidy for all children in Tusla-registered childcare aged between 6 months until they are eligible for the ECCE programme, which amounts to up to €1,040 per year for children in full-time childcare.

- Significant increases, of up to 50%, in targeted childcare subsidies provided under existing childcare schemes, specifically the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Schemes (subsidies available of up to €145 per week, per child).

DCYA undertook a comprehensive information campaign to increase parents’ awareness of the new and increased childcare subsidies available, and to encourage childcare providers to take part in the schemes.

Currently, the families of over 32,000 children are benefitting from the new universal subsidy, while the families of over 34,000 children are enjoying enhanced targeted subsidies.

This means that over 66,700 children, or 96% of the estimated 70,000 expected to avail of the measures, have registered for support, and the door remains open to parents to apply.

These measures will remain in place in September 2018 to support families until the launch of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

In order to recognise the additional administrative demands these measures place on childcare providers, a budget of €3.5m in Programme Support Payments (formerly known as ‘Non-Contact Time Payments’) was announced to support providers who sign up to the schemes in recognition of their ‘non-contact time’ and administrative responsibilities.

This payment, which was made in late December 2017, was in addition to the €14.5m Programme Support Payment secured in Budget 2017 for ‘non-contact time’ during the period September 2016-August 2017. A further €18m in Programme Support Payments has been secured for 2018.

Aside from the above measures, over 89,000 children were approved for the free-preschool scheme in September 2017. More children joined in January 2018 and more again will join in April 2018. It is expected that in total about 119,000 children will benefit from ECCE again in 2018.

From September 2018, the three entry points will stop and all children will be eligible for 2 full academic years (76 weeks) of ECCE once the child meets the minimum age requirement.

The new measures, from September 2018, will fully benefit those born from 2015 onwards, whilst those born previous to that year will continue to benefit from the expanded programme announced in Budget 2016. (The average entitlement for the last year to ECCE was approximately 61 weeks. When ECCE was first introduced the entitlement was to 38 weeks.)

A 7% increase in the capitation rate paid to childcare providers for children enrolled on the ECCE Scheme will also come into effect in September 2018.

In total, there are over 170,000 children currently receiving DCYA childcare subventions and this is expected to grow to approximately 180,000 by April.

The first ever Independent Review into the Cost of Delivery of Quality Childcare is underway and will inform our future policy decisions in this area.

Child Care Costs

Ceisteanna (31)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

31. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the introduction of the universal child care subsidy and its impact on the sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8985/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

In September 2017 my Department introduced a series of measures to make childcare more accessible and affordable for families in Ireland. These included:

- A new, universal (non-means tested) subsidy for all children in Tusla-registered childcare aged between 6 months until they are eligible for the ECCE programme, which amounts to up to €1,040 per year for children in full-time childcare.

- Significant increases, of up to 50%, in targeted childcare subsidies provided under existing childcare schemes, specifically the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Schemes (subsidies available of up to €145 per week, per child).

DCYA undertook a comprehensive information campaign to increase parents’ awareness of the new and increased childcare subsidies available, and to encourage childcare providers to take part in the schemes.

I am delighted to report that the introduction of these measures has been a success. Currently, the families of over 32,000 children are benefitting from the new universal subsidy, 97% of the expected take up.

Over 34,000 children are enjoying enhanced targeted subsidies. This means that over 66,700 children, or 96% of the estimated 70,000 expected to avail of the measures, are now benefitting from these supports, and the door remains open to parents to apply.

These measures will remain in place in September 2018 to support families until the launch of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

Finally, to recognise the additional administrative demands these measures place on childcare providers, a budget of €3.5m in Programme Support Payments (formerly known as ‘Non-Contact Time Payments’) was announced to support providers who sign up to the schemes in recognition of their ‘non-contact time’ and administrative responsibilities.

This payment, which was made in late December 2017, was in addition to the €14.5m Programme Support Payment secured in Budget 2017 for ‘non-contact time’ during the period September 2016-August 2017. The Programme Support Payment of €18m will remain in place for 2018.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (32)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

32. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to ensure the progress of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8882/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 provides for the first time a statutory entitlement to identity information for adopted persons. It provides for a structured and regulated access to information and tracing services for those affected by adoption. It sets out the information that can be provided  and the circumstances in which it can be provided to adopted persons and provides that services will be provided by Tusla. A key provision in the Bill provides that an adopted person aged 18 years or over who was adopted prior to commencement of the Bill will be provided with the information required to apply for his or her birth certificate, subject to certain conditions. The Bill passed Second Stage in Seanad Eireann in May 2017.

I am anxious to progress the Bill to ensure that adopted people and their families have access to as much information as possible without impinging on the constitutional rights of all involved. In this regard I intend to request the Chair of Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs for an opportunity to update the Committee on the progress of the Bill and any proposed amendment that Government may consider with a view to proceeding  to Committee Stage in the Seanad as soon as possible.

Children in Care

Ceisteanna (33)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

33. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if measures are being considered to address the high number of children under voluntary care orders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8997/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

A child can be received into voluntary care by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, under Section 4 of the Child Care Act, 1991. This section allows Tusla to receive a child into care without a court order, and with the consent of the child's parents, when this is required for the child’s welfare or protection.

A voluntary care agreement may be appropriate in situations where a parent requires medical or other treatment, or for other reasons, for a time limited period. Social workers review a child in care's situation at statutory Child In Care Reviews, in consultation with the child's parents and other professionals. It is worth noting that annual figures for admissions and the length of time in care published by Tusla indicate that a significant number of children return home within the year of their being received into care. All of this serves to illustrate that there are the wide range of reasons and time frames for a child being in care.

My Department is not currently considering measures to reduce the number of children being received into the care of Tusla with the agreement of their parents, however, Tusla is expected, in line with best practice, to work co-operatively with parents with full cognisance of their rights as well as the best interests of their children.

Under a commitment given in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the national framework for children and young people in Ireland, my Department has initiated work to review the Child Care Act 1991. All matters relevant to the situation of children in care, including the usage of voluntary care agreements, will be considered in the context of the Review.

Child Protection Services Provision

Ceisteanna (34)

Frank O'Rourke

Ceist:

34. Deputy Frank O'Rourke asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the procedures in place for children or teenagers at immediate risk; if there is an emergency service plan in place that entails the necessary professional services within the HSE, Tusla and her Department liaising for immediate intervention in urgent situations in which high risk has been established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8979/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Children or teenagers  who are in a situation of immediate risk may initially be dealt with by An Garda Síochána or by Tusla, but in the main both agencies work together in such cases.  Tusla, when alerted to a child at immediate risk, for instance a young child left alone at home or abandoned and  if the child needs to be removed from that situation will contact An Garda Síochána. The Gardaí may, under their Section 12 powers in the Child Care Act, remove the child from danger and Tusla will then receive the child into their custody and, following an assessment, may apply for an Emergency Care Order. Tusla has emergency foster placements available for such situations.

Where a child of teenager is identified as being at immediate risk from an adult, Tusla will identify if they  can be protected from that person by their parent, or by the removal of the adult posing the risk. In such situations Tusla are likely to call a strategy meeting with relevant professionals to share information and to develop a safety plan for the child or teenager. If they cannot be protected in their home, Tusla will apply to the Courts for an Emergency Care Order.

If a child or teenager appears to be at risk of harm or neglect, it is appropriate to report concerns to Tusla. Anyone can report a concern about a child  to Tusla, and information on how to do so is available on the Tusla website. If a child or teenager is at immediate risk or in danger, the Gardaí should be alerted without delay. 

Child Care Services Provision

Ceisteanna (35)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

35. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the degree to which she remains satisfied regarding the availability of community child support services, including the provision of support for afterschool activities through youth clubs and similar bodies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8964/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department continues to invest significant resources in the childcare sector generally. In the last three Budgets (2016, 2017 and 2018) investment in childcare has increased by 80% which reflects the emphasis being placed on improving access to high quality and affordable services .

This investment includes funding of the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and the After School Childcare (ASCC) schemes. CCS is a childcare programme targeted to support parents on a low income to avail of reduced childcare costs. ASCC is designed to support parents on eligible training courses, as well as certain categories of parents returning to work, by providing subsidised childcare places. Eligible children must be under 15 years of age to avail of these supports. Last September, I increased significantly the subsidy paid under CCS to make it more attractive for low income families.

An annual survey conducted by Pobal on my Department's behalf suggests that supply of childcare places currently broadly matches demand. My Department is committed to keeping capacity in the sector under review and Pobal will commence this year's survey in the coming months. Staff from thirty City and County Childcare Committees are available across the country to assist parents who may have difficulty in meeting their childcare needs.

In May 2016 the Programme for a Partnership Government committed my Department to “introduce a new system to support and expand quality afterschool care for school-aged children” . Section 8 of the Programme for a Partnership Government also committed to “utilise our primary school buildings for afterschool care provision for school age children to offer more options and flexibility to parents. We will link additional capitation to the provision of buildings for afterschool care, where demand exists. Community groups and private providers will be invited to tender to use school facilities (outside school hours).”

In Section 10, there is another relevant commitment. “Schools buildings must be utilised out of hours if they are to remain at the centre of communities into the future, both throughout the day and throughout the year, including better utilisation of information technology.  Afterschool care, homework clubs and other community activities should be permissible.  Additional capitation funding will be linked to the availability of afterschool care options, where demand exists.”  

My Department chaired a group with the Department of Education and Skills to progress those commitments in a coherent way and to align relevant bodies of work under our respective areas of responsibility. The result of this work, the Action Plan for School Age Childcare, was presented to my Government colleague Minister Bruton and I in March 2017.

Since the Action Plan was published, much progress has been made  to advance the Programme for Government commitments. My Department established an expert working group on School Age Childcare (SAC) which has been working over the last year to develop standards and to recommend a quality assurance system for SAC services. The Department of Education and Skills has published guidelines to assist school authorities consider how their premises might be utilised for SAC and other activities where it can be facilitated by the school patron/trustees. My Department has provided capital grants for the development of Early Years and School-Age Childcare services and uptake has been very high.

Youth Groups might well decide to provide school-age childcare or other services, although to date evidence of this is limited. Youth clubs funded by my Department under the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme must be volunteer-led. While some staff-led targeted youth services are co-located with pre-schools and/or afterschools,  the youth funding is not in any way linked to the operation of these services. 

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (36)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

36. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his Department sought further information from the relevant whistleblower regarding health and safety reports which they allege were destroyed as part of a cover up within the Air Corps; and if not, the reason therefor. [9078/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I appointed an independent third party to review allegations made in a number of protected disclosures relating to health and safety issues in the Air Corps which were received in late 2015 and early 2016.

No specific information has been sought from the correspondents in relation to reports which were the subject of an allegation of destruction contained in correspondence which was also sent to the Deputy.

I sent the report of the independent third party to those who had made disclosures for their views and I am considering the next steps in the process having received those views and in the context of ongoing litigation. 

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (37)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

37. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of officials and advisors that travelled from his Department to the launch of the NDP, NPF in County Sligo; the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9156/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

I attended the NDP and NPF launch in the Institute of Technology Sligo on 16 February 2018 accompanied by two special advisors.  No official of the Department attended the event.  Outside normal travel expenses, which have not yet been calculated, no costs were incurred by the Department of Defence.

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (38)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

38. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the procedure to be followed with regard to section 14(6) of the Passports Act 2008 which allows a person that has an interest in the welfare of a child that is an Irish citizen to apply for a passport for that child without the consent of a guardian; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9049/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

All passport applications are subject to the provisions of the Passports Act 2008 (“the Act”). In the case of children and among other requirements, section 14 of the Act requires the Minister to be satisfied on reasonable grounds that appropriate consent for issue of a passport has been provided. In general, consent is required as follows:

-Where the child has 2 guardians, consent of each guardian

- Where the child has more than 2 guardians, consent by not fewer than 2 of those guardians.

A number of other circumstances are also provided for in the Act, including where a court in the State has made an order dispensing with the consent of a guardian; where a court in the State has made an order authorising a person other than a guardian (including the Health Service Executive) to give consent for issue of a passport to a child; as well as separate provision for cases where the child and his/her guardians are ordinarily resident outside the State.

Section 14(6) of the Act provides that

Subject to this Act, the Minister may, on application in that behalf to him or her in accordance with section 6 by a guardian of the child or any other person who has an interest in the welfare of the child, issue a passport to the child without the consent to such issue of the other guardian or, if appropriate, any of the guardians of the child if the Minister is satisfied that—

( a ) there exist in relation to the child exceptional circumstances involving an immediate and serious risk of harm to his or her life, health or safety requiring him or her to undertake travel for which a passport is required, and

( b ) for the purpose of securing the welfare of the child,

a passport should be issued to the child.

This provision was always intended, and by its explicit terms is, intended for exceptional cases. Discretion to issue a passport in such cases without the consent of a guardian/guardians is conditional on a high threshold being met, namely cases involving:

exceptional circumstances;

an immediate and serious risk of harm to the child; and

the welfare of the child.

A range of circumstances can be envisaged in which the section may be relevant. These might include, for example, situations such as an Irish citizen child unaccompanied overseas in circumstances where his/her guardian(s) have been injured, passed away or disappeared; an Irish citizen child with complex medical needs in a conflict, emergency or otherwise insecure setting where his/her welfare is at risk; and so on.

Any decision on whether this section was appropriate for use in any particular case would depend on all the particular facts and circumstances. If a particular case is at issue, I would urge the Deputy or the persons concerned to make direct contact with the Passport Service (Ms Teresa McHugh) for further guidance.