Child Care Law Reporting Project

Ceisteanna (31)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

31. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she will take to address the issues raised in the recently published child care law reporting project study; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25561/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I welcome the publication of the latest report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, which deals with lengthy, contested and complex child protection cases in the District Court.

The report’s author, Dr Carol Coulter, notes that the issues raised cannot be solved by one branch of Government alone. They require co-ordinated action from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Courts Service, the legal profession, Tusla, and my own Department. 

The Recommendations include: the need for Tusla to try too identify potentially complicated cases early on , and to develop a strategy to deal with them; the need for a unified national legal strategy in child protection cases; and the provision of national training for social worker to help strengthen their analytical abilities relating to legal issues. 

I have been assured by Tusla that all of the recommendations are being given full consideration by senior management.  A number of ongoing reforms will address the key recommendation for better awareness of complex cases at all management levels.

Tusla has also informed me that Signs of Safety and the Empowering Practice and Practitioner Initiative are being rolled out. It is anticipated that this will help to reduce the number of protracted court processes by requiring social workers to proactively work with families towards a solution, before considering an intervention. 

As the Deputy will be aware, Tusla are working with the Gardaí to develop and implement joint protocols on data sharing, specialist interviewing, and the investigation of child sex abuse. This, it is hoped, will increase efficiencies and reduce delays in finalising these cases.

I  also plan to develop an Irish approach to the Barnahus and Child Advocacy Centre models for services to children who have suffered sexual abuse. The centres to be established will support children who have suffered sexual abuse in a way that would minimise their trauma while accessing protective, therapeutic or health services, and engaging with the criminal justice system. 

The first meeting of the Cross Agency Interdepartmental group, which I established together with my colleagues Minister for Justice and Equality and Minster for Health, to examine the development of an Irish model for children who suffered child sexual abuse, was held in February 2018.  The Group is working towards establishing dedicated Cross Agency centres for these children, in line with best international practice and standards. The Group continues to meet regularly to progress this work.

The Child Care Law Reporting Project was established to bring transparency to child care proceedings, and to collect information that will assist in the better operation of the Child Care Act 1991. 

The Report, and the recent submission from Dr Coulter, will assist my Department in the review of this Act, and its findings will help ensure that any new child protection and welfare legislation will work for the benefit of our most vulnerable children.

Finally, I am delighted to confirm that the Project will be funded by my Department for another three years. I look forward to more concise and empirical research on this very important topic.

PQ Ref No. 25561/18

Illegal Adoptions

Ceisteanna (32)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

32. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the sampling exercise of adoption records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland will be extended to include all forms of illegal adoption and not just illegal birth registrations. [25562/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Deputy Wallace has raised the question of whether our further analysis of illegal registrations will also cover illegal adoptions.

I have checked the UN definition of illegal adoptions.

It is:  “Adoptions resulting from crimes such as abduction and sale of and trafficking in children, fraud in the declaration of adoptability, falsification of official documents or coercion, and any illicit activity or practice such as lack of proper consent by biological parents, improper financial gain by intermediaries and related corruption”.

The analysis that I have now commenced is looking at the falsification of official documents, as well as illicit activity and practice such as lack of proper consent by biological parents in the cases where their children were illegally registered.

I accept that “proper consent” could also cover forced consent and consent from young women and girls who were underage.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is examining practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in specified institutions within its terms of reference.  It is also examining the interaction of Mother and Baby Homes with other institutions, organisations and individuals involved with children from these institutions.

Some of the mothers were children themselves.  This may uncover practices such as the lack of proper consent and also consent given by girls who were underage.  The Commission can also examine whether there was improper financial gain by intermediaries or evidence of related corruption.

I think it would be helpful to see what the findings of the Commission are in respect of illegal adoptions, as defined by the United Nations.  It may help us to understand what specific evidence exists and what we would need to look for should we embark on a more expansive analysis of forced and underage consent of adoptions.

At this point in time, I think it would be very difficult to broaden the analysis of illegal registrations to cover these children.  The children we are focussed on, in terms of the further analysis we are doing, are now adults.  They do not know that the people they considered to be their parents are not their parents.  They have had their identity stolen.

Foster Care Policy

Ceisteanna (33)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

33. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures she is taking to address concerns raised by the Health Information and Quality Authority which found significant levels of non-compliance in foster care standards; if such concerns extend to County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25321/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I thank the Deputy for his important question. When an inspection is carried out by HIQA, the process requires the service inspected to develop an Action Plan in response to the findings made by Inspectors. 

This Action Plan is agreed with HIQA in advance of the publication of the report. All elements of the Action Plans are time-bound, and a designated Tusla official is responsible for executing the Plan.

HIQA undertakes follow-up inspections to examine the progress being made against Action Plans.

In 2017, HIQA carried out themed inspections across the 17 Tusla areas, in the area of foster care. The inspections assessed the recruitment, assessment, approval, supervision and review of foster carers and inspected against eight of the 27 Standards in Foster Care.

A number of positive findings were reported. Assessments of foster carers were of good quality, as were supports for foster carers caring for children with complex needs, and reviews of ongoing placements. Families with allocated link workers were satisfied with the quality of the service and support they received.  

The Deputy will be aware that County Tipperary falls within two of the Tusla regions - the MidWest, and the region of Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary. 

HIQA published inspection reports for these regions in August and October 2017, respectively. 

HIQA found that aspects of the standards were not met in both areas. The clear themes coming through were the need for better oversight by the Foster Care Committee, how the overall system is working, management of complaints and allegations, recruitment of staff, the replenishment and broadening of foster care panels, improved supports and supervision of foster carers. 

By and large children in foster care do well and that is in large part due to the dedication of the foster carers, supported by their social work team. However, HIQA raises some consistent and worrying concerns. I, and my officials, are actively engaging with Tusla with a view to addressing the findings in HIQA reports and delivering the best possible service to children in foster care.

I am pleased to note that HIQA accepted Tusla’s action plans in relation to the inspection reports in both areas.

I value the work that HIQA does to assess and monitor the quality of the foster care service provided by Tusla. In future inspections HIQA will, I understand,  speak directly with children in foster care placements, so that  we can learn from their views and experiences.

Illegal Adoptions

Ceisteanna (34)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

34. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which she can facilitate a comprehensive evaluation of the extent to which children were illegally adopted, removed from their natural parents and in some cases transported to other jurisdictions in return for a fee in the past; if such activities have been detected as being ongoing in recent times; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25658/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Deputy will be aware that I have commenced a further analysis of illegal registrations following on from the announcement that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency had identified 126 cases where births were illegally registered between 1946 and 1969 by St Patrick’s Guild adoption agency.

This analysis will seek to establish if there is further evidence of illegal registrations in the records of other adoption agencies.  There are 150,000 records at issue and of these, there are 100,000 currently in the custody of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla.

If this analysis indicates evidence of illegal registrations then we will undertake a deeper, more extensive analysis of the records.

The information that this process may uncover is life-changing for the individuals affected. During every stage of this process, their right to their identity will be the key determinant of the next steps that we take.

The issue raised by the Deputy of children transported to other jurisdictions, and the payment of fees/donations in relation to the placement of children, are other features of our history which are already in the public domain. 

Indeed in approximately 20 of the current 126 identified cases of illegal registrations, the children were subsequently brought outside the jurisdiction.  The people affected in these cases also have an assigned social worker and will be offered contact and support.

In relation to the Deputy’s question about whether such activities are ongoing in recent times, I understand that in relation to intercountry adoption, the payment of “reasonable” expenses is allowed.

Finally, the Deputy may be interested in the work of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission which is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in specified institutions within its terms of reference.  The Commission is also examining the interaction of Mother and Baby Homes with other institutions, organisations and individuals involved with the placement of children from these institutions.

The Social History module which will form part of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s final report should prove to be a very valuable insight into our past treatment of mothers and their children in Ireland.

Homeless Persons Supports

Ceisteanna (35)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

35. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the aims of the joint protocol with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive regarding additional supports for children in emergency accommodation; the number of referrals; and if she is satisfied with the operation. [25450/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

While ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness rests with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Tusla, is determined to do its part to alleviate the difficulties endured by children and families experiencing homelessness. It works closely with my Department in this regard.

Tusla has an important role to play in regard to a number of elements of the National Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. It is represented on a number of key interagency fora, including the Homelessness Interagency Group and the Dublin Joint Consultative Forum alongside the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).

I am pleased to confirm that the joint protocol is fully operational. I want to replicate this form of Inter-agency  co-operation nationally.

Tusla and the DRHE have agreed a joint protocol to facilitate an inter-agency response to the many challenges posed by homelessness. The main aim of the joint protocol is to work in partnership to address the family support needs of homeless families and to promote interagency cooperation.

As part of the protocol, Tusla provides support to the DHRE’s ‘one-stop-shop’ assessment centres. Here the role of Tusla staff is to participate as required with regard to issues involving child protection and welfare, educational welfare and Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) services. 

Referrals received from Case Workers located in Assessment Centres are responded to as appropriate. The Tusla Homelessness Liaison Officer provides broad-based supports to the centres.

Tusla is also working together with the DHRE and the Family Resource Centres, themselves part-funded by Tusla, to coordinate family support services for families in family hubs and other forms of emergency accommodation.

Tusla collects a broad range of data and information relating to child protection. However, Tusla does not currently collect national metrics on homeless families. 

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (36)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

36. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that enough supports are in place for children in direct provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25452/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Child Care Act, 1991 applies to all children resident in the State, regardless of their immigration status. Under the Child Care Act, 1991 and the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, Tusla has a duty to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care or protection. 

The Agency is obliged to provide care for these children for as long as their welfare requires it. It should be noted that children living in direct provision are in the care of their parent(s). 

My colleague, the Minister of Justice and Equality has responsibility for the direct provision service, which is  provided through a dedicated Reception and Integration Agency. Senior officials from my Department are currently engaged with the Department of Justice and Equality on the development of Standards for Direct Provision Centres, and I look forward to the results of this work.

A senior social worker from Tusla is seconded to the Reception and Integration Agency, providing social work advice to the Agency, and working directly with Direct Provision Centres to develop their child safeguarding practices and links to community supports.

Concerns about the welfare, safety or well-being of a child in direct provision are reported to Tusla, in line with Children First Legislation.

A range of professionals including teachers, nurses, early years educators, gardaí and other health professionals, who see children regularly, are in a good position to identify children where there are welfare or safety issues.

The Children First Act, 2015 places a statutory obligation on key professionals, such as those I have named, to report concerns of harm above a defined threshold, to Tusla without delay.

Direct Provision Centre managers are categorised as Designated Persons under Children First, and so are required to make mandatory reports of concerns relating to children resident in their centres.

Direct Provision Centres are also required to have child safeguarding statements and practices in place. 

Unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children who seek the assistance of the State are placed in the statutory care of Tusla. Their needs are assessed by an allocated a social worker from a specialist team who work exclusively with unaccompanied minors. They receive appropriate educational, social, medical and counselling support.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Ceisteanna (37)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

37. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the funding for a refuge (details supplied) is to be increased due to the significant increase in demand for the service in view of the fact that the funding for the counselling service was cut in the past. [25556/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the provision of care and protection to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

In 2018, Tusla is providing €23.8 million in funding to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services, an increase of €1.7m over 2017 funding.

This includes funding for some 58 services throughout the country that offer a range of emergency accommodation and community-based supports to individuals and families affected by domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.  Many of these supports include counselling.

I was delighted to avail of the opportunity to visit the centre in question, on the invitation of your colleague, Deputy Funchion, earlier this year. I support and value the work of these services. I understand that Tusla has identified a need for development and expansion of outreach services in the region in question.

Tusla has also advised me that it has allocated additional funding to the centre in question for the development and expansion of outreach services in the centre's catchment area.

Tusla has also completed a needs analysis project in the region, which will inform its future plans for service delivery in those areas, as well as the commissioning of services and allocation of funding. 

At present, I am not in a position to advise on the level of funding that will be available for services next year. This issue will be clarified in the context of the 2019 Estimates process, and having regard to the overall level of funding available to Tusla next year.

However, I can assure the Deputy that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services are a priority for me.

It is important that the needs of victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are met in the best way possible, with due attention to the quality, accessibility, and outcome of services.

Early Childhood Care and Education Data

Ceisteanna (38)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

38. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the actual demand for places under the early childhood care and education scheme in County Cork; the way in which deficits will be made up within individual local areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25640/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

A total of  2,805 children at services in Cork City and a further 12,557 children at services in Cork County have benefitted from the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE) in the current year.

My Department, in conjunction with Pobal, reviews ECCE capacity on an ongoing basis and while there can be pressures in some immediate localities, all eligible children have been catered for. My Department also works closely with the local City and County Childcare Committees in this regard.

From September 2018, the ECCE Programme will revert to one single entry point in a given ECCE Programme Year (September). From this time, children will be entitled to two full years of ECCE provision. This meets the commitment given in the Programme for Government.

As regards capacity, and having regard to demographic trends, from September 2018, the number of ECCE enrolments in any given year will be in the region of 114,000. Given that 118,000 places are currently filled, no immediate capacity issues are expected for those children due to register for ECCE in September 2018.

In addition my Department has just announced the provision of €6.87m in capital supports in 2018 for the Early Years sector. This funding supports both capacity and quality initiatives.

Adoption Registration

Ceisteanna (39)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

39. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has contacted all persons who were wrongly registered as biological children of adoptive parents in respect of St. Patrick’s Guild, Dublin; if she has instructed Tusla to review all historical records at the institution; if all records of other non-State adoption agencies and boards were contacted to determine if other similar false registrations were carried out in full rather that just a sample of same; her plans to review State bodies in respect of their historical adoption records; if her attention has been drawn to State bodies in which situations exist that merit investigation in respect of offering adoption services and or advice on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24820/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As the information that an incorrect birth registration has taken place is potentially life changing, the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty that this has in fact happened, before it contacts the individuals concerned.  This threshold has now been reached in the case of the 126 St Patrick’s Guild files.

This is a very serious and sensitive issue. People have the right to know of their true origins and, where we have clear evidence, I believe we have an obligation to tell the people affected.  Some may know already, but for others it will be entirely new and very difficult information indeed.

As an immediate step, Tusla has put in place a Helpline, operating from 10 to 4 each day, Monday to Friday, and has also put significant information on its website.  Both will provide information in relation to what to expect if you are one of the people affected by the incorrect registrations that have been identified in the records of St Patrick’s Guild. 

There will be a social worker-led process of making contact with those affected that can be identified. This includes the person who was incorrectly registered (the child), the birth mother and the people who participated in the incorrect registrations and subsequently raised these children as their own.  

I would emphasise that the process will be measured, sensitive, and at the pace of the individual concerned.  There will be no sudden phone calls or unannounced visits to people’s doors.  The process of offering contact and supporting those affected will be handled very carefully and will take account of the requirements of the individuals. 

In view of what has been found in a subset of the St Patrick’s Guild records, those index cards marked ‘Adoption from Birth’, we need to know whether there may be similar evidence of incorrect registrations in the records of other adoption societies. 

I have asked an Independent Reviewer to oversee a targeted sampling process of relevant records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority in the first instance to see if we can establish clear evidence of incorrect registrations.  Marion Reynolds is a former Deputy Director of Social Services in Northern Ireland.  I am asking her to report to me within four months of the work commencing.

There are some 150,000 records at issue, of which 100,000 are currently in the custody of Tusla and the AAI.  We need a well-planned sampling process first of the Tusla and AAI records to see if a major trawl of these is likely to give us hard evidence of incorrect registrations. Hard evidence is necessary before individuals can be informed.

Tusla found evidence in the St Patrick’s Guild records primarily because of the marker adopted from birth on index cards.  If this had not been present it would have been extremely difficult to identify even the 126 cases that they have found so far.  I would sound a note of caution to say that it may not be the case that such a clear marker, or indeed any marker, will be found in any other files.

We must first judge the likely incidence of cases that can actually be identified, through the sampling exercise, and the scale of them.  Then we can judge the next steps that may be required.  

It is also worth noting that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is examining adoption practices in the cases of mothers and children who were resident in the specified institutions within its terms of reference.

Adoption Registration

Ceisteanna (40)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

40. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of the 126 persons affected by the St. Patrick's Guild adoption scandal who have now been informed of the false registration; if her Department and Tusla have asked An Garda Síochána to bring criminal charges against those involved in the St. Patrick's Guild false registration of births between 1946 and 1969; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24860/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

On the 29th May 2018 I announced that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency had identified 126 cases where births were incorrectly registered between 1946 and 1969. The cases were identified during an analysis of adoption records that were transferred to Tusla by the former adoption society St Patrick’s Guild.

It was during the course of working with these records and in particular the scanning of them that the issue of incorrect birth registrations was identified, with clear evidence of this practice recorded on index cards created and maintained by St Patrick’s Guild. On foot of this discovery Tusla informed An Garda Síochána, the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation and my Department.  I moved immediately to inform the Cabinet, and to announce that a process has been put in place by Tusla to deal with these cases, led by experienced information and tracing social workers.  

As the information that an incorrect birth registration has taken place is potentially life changing, the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty that this has in fact happened, before it contacts the individuals concerned.  This threshold has now been reached in the case of the 126 St Patrick’s Guild files. 

This is a very serious and sensitive issue. People have the right to know of their true origins and, where we have clear evidence, I believe we have an obligation to tell the people affected.  Some may know already, but for others it will be entirely new and very difficult information to receive and absorb.

As an immediate step, Tusla put in place a Helpline, operating from 10 to 4 each day, Monday to Friday, and also put significant information on its website.  Both provide information in relation to what to expect if you are one of the people affected by the incorrect registrations that have been identified in the records of St Patrick’s Guild. 

There will be a social worker-led process of making contact with those affected that can be identified. This includes the person who was incorrectly registered (the child), the birth mother and the people who participated in the incorrect registrations and subsequently raised these children as their own.  Each of the 126 cases has been assigned to an experienced Tusla information and tracing social worker and work has already commenced on tracing the individuals concerned.

I would emphasise that the process will be measured, sensitive, and at the pace of the individual concerned.  There will be no sudden phone calls or unannounced visits to people’s doors.  The process of offering contact and supporting those affected will be handled very carefully and will take account of the requirements of the individuals. 

I am confident that Tusla is prioritising these cases and committing the necessary resources.  However, I would remind the Deputy that the only information available at the commencement of the process was in records that are in most cases over 50 years old, so the process of tracing people will take some time.  It is not expected that Tusla will be in a position to start making contact with individuals until at least the end of this month.

In relation to the Deputy's question about criminal charges, on foot of their initial assessment, Tusla contacted an Garda Síochána and gave them full details of the issues of concern.  The Gardaí requested, and were given, 10 sample files.  It is my understanding that they are currently reviewing these cases.

Departmental Budgets

Ceisteanna (41)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which she remains satisfied regarding the adequacy of the budget available to her Department to cater for the full extent of her Department's responsibilities, including the protection of children, the monitoring of at risk cases and the follow-up as necessary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25657/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Budget 2018 saw additional funding of €73 million being made available for child care and youth services bringing total investment by my Department in 2018 to €1.383 billion. The additional funding secures much needed additional resources for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency and provides a full second year of the ECCE free pre-school scheme. It also recognises the importance of improving conditions for our early years workforce.

Tusla has received an additional €40.6 million or a 5.7% increase which is additional to the €37 million increase it received in 2017. The total financial allocation to Tusla in 2018 is €754 million. This level of funding allows it progress a number of key priorities including the introduction of mandatory reporting under Children First, continue to address unallocated cases, address gaps in out of hours services and further invest in Family Resource Centres delivering services to families in disadvantaged areas across the country.

The additional funding for early years childcare is another significant step in ensuring access to high quality, affordable early years care and education. The total allocation to early years and childcare schemes for 2018 is €485 million.  From September 2018, all children will be entitled to a full two years of the ECCE scheme or free pre-school, as it has become known.  This is a further enhancement that delivers fully on a commitment in the Programme for Government that is good for children, families and Early Years providers.  

A total of €62 million is being made available in 2018 to support the provision of youth services throughout the country including services for young people at risk of disadvantage.

I am satisfied that the significant resources secured for 2018 facilitates my Department and its agencies to build on the good work by all involved in working with children and families to deliver on this Government’s commitment to fundamentally reform the delivery of services. I will continue to champion the need for further significant additional investment in all childcare services under the remit of my Department as we enter the Budget 2019 process and ensure that public funding is allocated efficiently, fairly and that it is targeted in the correct manner to deliver the best results for children.

Adoption Records Provision

Ceisteanna (42)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

42. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department will seek to seize records immediately in order to transfer them to a central location in which they can be fully audited and preserved in view of the scale of documents held by private adoption agencies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25107/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

In view of what has been found in a subset of the St Patrick’s Guild records, those index cards marked ‘Adoption from Birth’, we need to know whether there may be similar evidence of incorrect registrations in the records of other adoption societies. 

I have asked an Independent Reviewer to oversee a targeted sampling process of relevant records held by Tusla and the Adoption Authority in the first instance to see if we can establish clear evidence of incorrect registrations.  Marion Reynolds is a former Deputy Director of Social Services in Northern Ireland.  I am asking her to report to me within four months of the work commencing.

There are some 150,000 records at issue, of which 100,000 are currently in the custody of Tusla and the Adoption Authority.  We need a well-planned sampling process first of the Tusla and AAI records to see if a major trawl of these is likely to give us hard evidence of incorrect registrations. Hard evidence is necessary before individuals can be informed.

In relation to the remaining estimated 50,000 records that are not in the custody of either Tusla or the Adoption Authority, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 provides for the transfer of these records to the custody of the Adoption Authority.  The Bill also creates offences in relation to the concealment, destruction, mutilation and falsification of these records.  I agree with the Deputy that the protection and collation of these records is of the utmost importance but the mechanism to achieve this is the enactment of the Bill.  It is my intention to proceed as quickly as possible with the enactment of the information and tracing legislation.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Questions Nos. 44 and 45 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (43)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

43. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the estimated deficit in social workers working in or assigned to County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25320/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that Tusla services are divided into four regions nationally and within each region there are local areas, with a total of 17 local areas nationally.

Tipperary is served by two areas:

- Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary

- Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary

Tusla has informed me that as of 31 March 2018, there was a deficit of 5 Social Workers in the Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary area and Tusla is currently in the process of recruiting for these posts.

For the same period, Tusla has informed me that there was a deficit of 10 Social Workers in the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary area and Tusla is currently in the process of recruiting for these posts also and I understand that 3 posts have been accepted to date.

Questions Nos. 44 and 45 answered orally.

Illegal Adoptions

Ceisteanna (46)

Mick Barry

Ceist:

46. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of cases of illegal registrations and or illegal adoptions that have been reported to her Department by Tusla since 2014; and the number reported by the HSE prior to 2014. [25614/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

While there have been suspicions about the practice of incorrect registrations for many years, it has been extremely difficult to uncover clear evidence of the practice because of the deliberate failure by those involved to keep records.  This clear evidence has only been found in the case of the 126 St Patrick’s Guild files that I announced on 29th May last.

On that date I announced that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency had identified 126 cases where births were incorrectly registered between 1946 and 1969. The cases were identified during an analysis of adoption records that were transferred to Tusla by the former adoption society St Patrick’s Guild.

It was during the course of working with these records and in particular the scanning of them that the issue of incorrect birth registrations was identified, with clear evidence of this practice recorded on index cards created and maintained by St Patrick’s Guild. On foot of this discovery Tusla informed An Garda Síochána, the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation and my Department.  I moved immediately to inform the Cabinet, and to announce that a process has been put in place by Tusla to deal with these cases, led by experienced information and tracing social workers. 

As the information that an incorrect birth registration has taken place is potentially life changing, the State has a responsibility to reach a high level of certainty that this has in fact happened, before it contacts the individuals concerned.  This threshold has now been reached in the case of the 126 St Patrick’s Guild files. In the case of a further 16 St Patrick’s Guild files, Tusla are still in the process of a validation exercise to assess whether evidence exists that an incorrect registration took place.

The AAI are currently engaged in a similar validation process in relation to approximately 140 cases where they have concerns that an incorrect registration may have taken place.  If the threshold of evidence that an incorrect registration has taken place is reached in any of those cases, they will be added to the cases already being progressed by Tusla.

Children in Care

Ceisteanna (47)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

47. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has taken steps to address the fact that many children in foster care are placed under a voluntary care order; and the issues arising from same. [25645/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Where a child is received into care, the first approach which is often considered is a voluntary care arrangement under Section 4 of the Child Care Act, 1991.  The section places an obligation on Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to take a child into care where it is unlikely that the child would receive the required care and protection in any other way.  It allows Tusla to receive a child into care without a court order, on the condition that it is not against the wishes of the parent or guardian to use this approach.  

A voluntary care agreement may be appropriate in situations such as when a parent requires medical or other treatment 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.  

If it is not possible to reach an agreement with a parent or guardian, or the parent or guardian seeks to resume care of the child, it may be necessary for Tusla to seek a direction or an order from the Courts.  The decision to make an application to the Courts is a serious step and Tusla makes every effort to identify supports or actions that could act as an alternate approach.  

In light of this, I do not believe that steps are needed to reduce the numbers of children being received in to the voluntary care of Tusla with the agreement of their parents. My Department is undertaking a review of the Child Care Act 1991 and submissions on this aspect of the legislation are being considered.

Internet Safety

Ceisteanna (48)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

48. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she has taken to enact the recommendations of the Internet content governance advisory council; if additional steps will be taken to ensure the safety of children online; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25646/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Internet Content Governance Advisory Group (ICGAG) was established in 2013 by the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

The purpose was to assess existing provisions for safer and better internet strategies. The report of the ICGAG included a number of recommendations which have application across various Government Departments.

The Deputy will appreciate that I do not have lead Ministerial policy responsibility for internet safety.  In the circumstances I do not propose to comment on the individual recommendations in the report.

However, I have significant responsibilities, as part of a cross-Government approach, in ensuring that the internet is a safer place for children.

In this regard, the Children First Act, 2015 places statutory obligations on organisations providing relevant services to children, including the preparation of a Child Safeguarding Statement. My Department will be amending the Children First Guidance to include a specific reference to online safety in the preparation of the Statement before the end of the second quarter of 2019.

It is also important to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard and acted upon when we make decisions on internet safety. In this context my Department undertakes and supports a wide range of consultation and participation processes with children and young people through Dáil na nÓg and Comhairle na nÓg.

My Department also provides funding to three national youth organisations which provide on-line safety resources for the youth sector. They are the National Youth Council of Ireland, Spunout - Ireland's Youth Information website, and Youth Work Ireland.

Parents have a crucial role in ensuring that children are safe online. Providing information and services to parents is part of the role of my Department, particularly through the Child and Family Agency, and through community and voluntary sector organisations.

This will be a key focus for the Department in the coming years. I will be outlining steps in that regard in the Early Years Strategy.  

In terms of Government action, the Department of the Taoiseach is currently developing an Action Plan on online safety. This will take into account the recent Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs entitled Cyber Security for Children and Young Adults and concerns highlighted in the ICGAG Report.

I am fully committed to playing my part in a co-ordinated cross-Government approach to dealing with this issue, particularly as it relates to children.

Early Childhood Care and Education Staff

Ceisteanna (49)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

49. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will report on the possible inclusion of child minders in the ECCE scheme and their value as additional options for parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25451/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Childminders who are registered with Tusla and have a minimum Level 6 qualification in childcare (a list of recognised qualifications are available on www.dcya.gov.ie) are eligible to provide the ECCE programme.

Under the ECCE programme rules, there must be a minimum of eight ECCE-eligible children in an ECCE session. Childminders must apply for an exemption from this requirement and will be approved where they have five ECCE-eligible children.

An expert working group report on child-minding was presented to me on 26 March 2018 which makes important recommendations on the childminding sector. The report, Pathway to a Quality Support and Assurance System for Childminding in Ireland, outlines a vision for the development of the childminding sector over the next decade. DCYA is currently considering the recommendations contained in the report and it is anticipated that an action plan containing short, medium, and long-term goals for the sector will be published within the next year. This action plan will inform the direction of the development of the childminding sector and various supports, including whether or not ECCE is suitable long-term for childminders.

Community Childcare Subvention Programme

Ceisteanna (50)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

50. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to increase substantially the maximum level of grant aid in respect of the provision of new childcare facilities in cases in which there is an identified need for additional places and in which the maximum level of grant aid under the present scheme would be inadequate to support a community childcare organisation to provide accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25641/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Community childcare services has always been a key priority of my Department's capital programmes. This year, over €1.16m in capital funding was allocated specifically to community services nationwide for the purpose of creating new additional childcare places. Of this, €0.93m was allocated to community early years services, in twenty separate individual grants, as part of Early Years Strand 1 Capital. This will result in the creation of 396 new childcare places, of which 137 are for 0-3 year olds and 259 are ECCE.

A further €0.23m in funding was allocated to community school age services, in fourteen separate individual grants, as part of School Age Strand 4 Capital. This will result in the creation of 232 new school age places.

This year, the maximum individual grant award available to services was €50,000 and €20,000 for Strand 1 and Strand 4, respectively.

As well as this, Strands 2 and 5 are available exclusively to community services to support essential maintenance and repair of community facilities, exemplifying my broader commitment to assisting community-based providers through capital funding. This year, €1.25m has been committed across both strands for this purpose.

As you may know, I recently ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan 2018-2027. As part of this, €250m in additional capital funding is allocated for the childcare sector over the duration of the plan. 

Research is currently underway in my Department regarding specific capital need, both present and future, in the childcare sector and this will inform capital investment in the coming years.

As part of the capital commitment of the National Development Plan, the possibility exists of funding significantly larger capital projects than currently pursued under the single-year programmes. However, the exact shape of my Department's future capital undertakings is still under consideration.

Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation

Ceisteanna (51, 56, 58)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

51. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the affordable childcare scheme is on target to launch in September 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25639/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

56. 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. [24819/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

58. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme; when she expects it to be fully functioning; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25560/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 56 and 58 together.

I am glad to report that my officials and I are making good progress in the development of the Affordable Childcare Scheme.  This development involves intensive work across legislative, ICT, administrative, governance and communications areas.

With regard to the legislative progress, the Childcare Support Bill has now passed all substantive stages in both the Dail and the Seanad, garnering cross party support in both Houses.  I hope to conclude the final technical stage of seeking Dáil confirmation of amendments made to the Bill in the Seanad next week, with a view to enactment of the legislation by the end of the month.

The Childcare Support Bill will be underpinned by detailed secondary legislation and formal policy guidelines.  Work is currently ongoing on both of these and also on the development of regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school age childcare services by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate.  These latter regulations will be introduced in advance of the Affordable Childcare Scheme to allow services to register and thereby participate in the scheme from its inception.

With regard to the development of the ICT system, our work is subject to an independent peer review process under the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer to ensure that it is rigorous, robust and of the highest possible standard.  Against a backdrop of detailed preparatory work, at the beginning of the year, I published a Request for Tenders for the development of the scheme's IT system.  An evaluation of tenders received has now been completed, a preferred bidder has been notified and the contract negotiation phase is underway.  This final contracting phase involves the agreement of a project implementation plan for the IT system which will set out timelines for its development, testing and 'go live'.  Once this project implementation plan is agreed as part of the IT contract, I will be in a position to confirm and communicate a planned start date for the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

I am happy to say that good progress is being made too on the administrative, governance and communications areas.

Deputies may also wish to note that 76,000 children are now availing of childcare subsidies under the interim measures introduced in Sept 2017 in advance of the Affordable Childcare scheme itself. The target for these measures at the time had been 70,000 children.

Homeless Persons Supports

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 28.

Ceisteanna (52)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

52. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the supports being provided to children in homeless accommodation including hubs; the studies that are taking place to evaluate the impact of homelessness on those children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24893/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

While the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has ultimate responsibility for managing homelessness, as the Deputy will be aware, I am committed to helping children and families as part of a whole-of-Government response to the problem of homelessness.

My Department is not currently undertaking any studies on the impact of homelessness. However there can be little doubt 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.

The Deputy will be familiar with many of the initiatives undertaken by my Department and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to support children and families experiencing homelessness. They include the introduction of free childcare for the children of families experiencing homelessness. As part of the scheme a daily meal is provided for each child, the cost of which is included in the subvention rate. The scheme is also designed to help those transitioning from homelessness to permanent accommodation.

Tusla works together with other statutory and voluntary agencies to provide services and supports to children, young people and families experiencing homelessness. 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 people who are experiencing homelessness and many have developed local responses to the needs of 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.

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.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 28.

Children in Care

Ceisteanna (54)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

54. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the average length of time of a care order placing children in care; and her views on whether care orders can be too long in duration. [25609/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Under the Child Care Act 1991, where it appears to Tusla that a child is in need of care or protection that they may not otherwise receive, Tusla may apply to the Courts for a care order. The care order, including the length of time the order is to be in effect, is a decision for the Courts.  

Tusla does not publish data on the duration of individual care orders, and it is worth noting that, in certain circumstances, multiple care orders may have been made in relation to a single child.  Tusla does collate and publishes data on the length of time children are in care.  This annual figures for 2012 to 2016 are provided in the following table.

Table: Children in care by length of time in care

Year

 less than 1 year on

1 to 5 years on

More than 5 years on

TOTAL

 % of Total less than 1 year

 % of Total 1 to 5 years

 % of Total More than 5 years

2012

1151

2842

2339

6332

18%

45%

37%

2013

1197

2798

2474

6469

19%

43%

38%

2014

934

3078

2442

6454

15%

48%

39%

2015

929

2715

2740

6384

15%

43%

43%

2016*

704

2716

2847

6267

11%

43%

45%

*Pre-publication data provided by Tusla, subject to change

For children who are received into care for longer periods or until they are 18 years old, there will be clear reasons why this provides the stability and security for the child and that it is in their best interests. 

In recent years, about 40% of admissions during the year are the result of a court order.  The remaining cases are received under voluntary care agreements, which are preferred where it is likely that the period in care is to be short.  It is also beneficial where there is a good relationship between parents and social workers.  For example a voluntary care agreement may be used where a parent is not able to care for their child while participating in a treatment programme or is in hospital for an extended period.

The time periods available for the consideration of the Courts are set out under each care order in sections 13 (Emergency care order), 17 (Interim care order) and 18 (care order) of the Child Care Act 1991, as amended.  Where it is in the child's best interests. the Court may make an order for a shorter period than the maximum provided for in the Act.  

To make a care order under section 18 of the Act, the Court must be satisfied that the child has been assaulted, ill treated, neglected or sexually abused; or that their development, health or welfare is or is likely to avoidably impaired if the order is not made.  The Courts may, for example, consider that the evidence of abuse is such that it is entirely inappropriate that the child would ever be returned to their parents. Another example is, sadly, where a child comes into care because they have been orphaned.

One of the key principles of best practice in child protection and welfare is that children should only be received into care as a last resort, where other means of protecting them have been exhausted. The child's written care plan would address the possibility of reunification with their family, where appropriate. The priority in all cases should be the best interests of the child, and consideration of the child's express wishes where it is possible to do so.

It is important to recall that the Courts can review a care orders at any point, and can then make a determination made as to whether the continuation of the order is in the child's best interests.  

A court decision is not required in order for a child to be reunited with family, if it is deemed to be appropriate. In some circumstances, a decision may be made by social workers that in their professional opinion, it is in the best interests of the child to remain in the care of Tusla in line with the Court's decision.

School Completion Programme

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 51.

Ceisteanna (55)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

55. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of progress in implementing the findings of the ESRI report on the school completion programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25649/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am very conscious that the School Completion Programme delivers a valuable service for some of our most vulnerable young people. I am also conscious of the recommendations made in a number of reports, including the ESRI Report, in relation to the governance of the Programme. 

With this in mind, the Board of Tusla convened an expert panel to identify and examine a potential revised model of good practice and governance of the School Completion Programme.

The panel comprised an external legal expert, representation of Tusla Educational Welfare Service, Finance, HR and Legal units, representatives from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Department of Education and Skills and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  It was chaired by the Tusla CEO.

The expert panel has concluded its work. When I examined its findings, I decided to carry out some further discussions with a number of other stakeholders. To this end, I hosted a very informative School Completion Consultation event in Farmleigh House on January 29th last.

Matters discussed included best practice and governance within the School Completion Programme. There was a range of views expressed as to how both these elements could be improved to ensure that the best service possible is delivered to those who need it. 

Following the Farmleigh event I have asked the facilitator for the day to do some additional work on a possible way forward, I have received this input very recently.

I have deliberated carefully over this process for some time because the issues are complex and I want to achieve the best possible results for the young people who use the service and for the professionals who deliver it. I wish to see plans for the development of the SCP advanced in this quarter.

I am very much aware of the positive outcomes that have been achieved within the School Completion Programme.

For example, the proportion of students in DEIS schools who completed the senior cycle has increased from 68% in 2006/2007 to 82% by 2016. This illustrates the benefit of the programme.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department and Tusla Educational Welfare Service are fully committed to the future of the School Completion Programme and will continue to work to ensure that it will deliver the best possible outcomes for young people at risk of early school-leaving.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 51.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 51.

Ceisteanna (57)

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

57. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the funding for a centre (details supplied) is to increase due to the significant increase in demand for the service and in view of the fact that the funding for the counselling service was cut in the past. [24824/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has statutory responsibility for the provision of care and protection to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

In 2018, Tusla is providing €23.8 million in funding to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services, an increase of €1.7m over 2017 funding. This includes funding for some 58 services throughout the country that offer a range of emergency accommodation and community-based supports to individuals and families affected by domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.  Many of these supports include counselling.

I was delighted to avail of the opportunity to visit the centre in question, on the invitation of Deputy Funchion, earlier this year. I support and value the work of these services. I understand that Tusla has identified a need for development and expansion of outreach services in the region in question. Tusla has advised me that it has allocated additional funding to the centre in question for the development and expansion of outreach services in the catchment area for this centre.

Tusla has also completed a needs analysis project in the region, which will inform its future plans for service delivery in those areas, as well as the commissioning of services and allocation of funding. 

At present, I am not in a position to advise on the level of funding that will be available for services next year. This issue will be clarified in the context of the 2019 Estimates process, and having regard to the overall level of funding available to Tusla next year. However, I can assure the Deputy that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services are a priority for me.

It is important that the needs of victims and survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are met in the best way possible, with due attention to the quality, accessibility, and outcome of services.

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 51.