Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, answered orally.

Childcare Services Regulation

Question No. 12 answered with Question No. 7.

Ceisteanna (11)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

11. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to tackle unregistered childcare facilities advertising as fully registered facilities; and the protocols in place to sanction premises that operate under false advertisement to ensure that parents have full confidence when seeking a childcare facility for their children. [14341/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Childcare Act 1991 (as amended by the Child and Family Agency Act 2013) requires that all persons wishing to operate a prescribed early years service must be placed on the register of early years services, which is maintained by Tusla - the Child and Family Agency. This is an important legislative requirement.

Continued operation of a service is contingent on registration with Tusla's Early Years Inspectorate which operates as the statutory regulator for the sector. Tusla monitors compliance with the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 through the registration process and through inspections of services. Any breach of the Child Care Act 1991, or of the Regulations, is taken very seriously by my Department and by Tusla.

Where a service meets the requirements for registration but refuses to cooperate with this process, for example by operating as an unregistered pre-school service, the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate may escalate the matter to the District Court. It is Tusla's policy to seek closure of all unregistered services, and if engagement is not forthcoming from the provider of these services, Tusla will bring the matter before the courts.

The courts have a range of powers under the Child Care Act, including the power to impose fines and to prohibit an individual from providing an early years service. These are generic sanctions allowed for under the Act and are not specific to any particular case.

In February 2019, I signed the School Age Childcare regulations. These allow, for the first time, for the registration of school age childcare services in Ireland. Childcare services already registered with Tusla under the early years regulations have until August 18th to register their school age service. Stand-alone school age childcare services must register with Tusla before May 18. These regulations will be followed by more comprehensive regulations after a further period of consultation.

Question No. 12 answered with Question No. 7.

Youth Services Funding

Ceisteanna (13)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

13. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if funding for youth activities and affairs in County Meath will be increased. [14449/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am aware that there are a number of areas of the country where the youth population has grown to a significant extent without a corresponding growth in the level of targeted youth service provision.

Meath is one such area. In order to address this my Department undertook, along with the Education and Training Boards, a mapping exercise with Pobal of all youth service provision in the country in 2017.

This year, the Education and Training Boards are building on the knowledge gained in 2017 by carrying out a full area profile, needs assessment and service requirement for each of their areas. This process is to help the ETBs identify the specific needs of young people in their areas and the services required to meet those needs.

Ten of the ETBs will be focussing on already existing youth service provision in this exercise. The remaining six ETBs, including Louth Meath ETB, have been asked to also identify, through this exercise, areas where new service development is required. This is because these 6 ETBs have had no recent new youth services established in their areas.

I expect this to be completed by the end of May. My Department is committed to working with Louth Meath Education and Training Board to explore ways to address emerging needs.

My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country. This includes those from disadvantaged communities. The youth funding provided by my Department was €58.9m in 2018.

Budget 2019 provided an additional €1.5m in current funding to my Department to support the provision of youth services which will be used, primarily, for programmes that target disadvantaged young people. This will include investing in new service provision where need is proven. I have asked for a sum of €30k to be set aside for each of the six ETBs, including Louth Meath ETB. This will support the cost of a quarter year of a youth service provision.

My Department is currently finalising the 2019 funding allocations for the youth projects and youth services throughout the country. Every effort is being made to complete this process as soon as possible and allocations will be notified to projects in the near future.

The funding allocation for the targeted youth projects and services in County Meath amounted to €152,854 in 2018.

The Local Youth Club Grant Scheme supports youth work activities at a local level. In 2019, I provided an additional 12% in overall funding for this scheme, bringing the total allocation to over €2m. This includes an allocation of €131,735 for Louth Meath Education and Training Board.

My Department is currently finalising details for a Local Youth Club Equipment Scheme for voluntary clubs/groups and a small capital scheme for staff led youth services to be launched in 2019. The full details of the application criteria for these schemes and the funding allocation provided to Louth Meath ETB will be announced in the near future.

Irish Language

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (14, 24)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

14. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her policy on ensuring that all children in crèches receiving money from the State are given an opportunity in circumstances in which parents wish their child to come into contact with the Irish language; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14275/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

24. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has had discussions with the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht regarding the specific language needs of children from Irish speaking households in the context of funding for crèches; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14276/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 24 together.

I am conscious of the value of supporting the provision of services in the Irish language to children at an early age, and of the role pre-schools can play in promoting Irish as a living language. In this regard my Department has collaborated with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in agreeing a comprehensive set of actions under the 5 Year Action Plan for the Irish Language 2018-2022.

These actions are in support of the overarching 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030, and are designed to affirm the importance that early learning and care settings have in encouraging the development and revitalisation of the Irish language.

The aim of these actions is to build on the existing measures, supports and partnerships in place in the area of Irish-medium early learning and care, and to further improve these supports and services.

Furthermore, First 5, the recently published ten year Whole-of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families contains two actions specifically related to the provision of Irish language supports to the early learning and care sector.

My Department funds some 228 services which identify themselves as Naíonraí. Total funding of some €16m was provided to such services over the past four years.

Much is currently being done in my Department to ensure improved communication with Irish speaking childcare services. For example, in respect of the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme, the website and parent application will be available in Irish. Irish speaking support staff will be available to answer parental queries, and communications in relation to the Scheme will also be available in Irish.

Training and materials for the Access and Inclusion Model that helps children with a disability to participate in the ECCE scheme are available through Irish. Inspections operated by Tusla and the Department of Education are available through Irish, as are mentoring services from Better Start.

My Department is committed to continuing to support services wishing to operate through the medium of Irish.

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Ceisteanna (16)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

16. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the extent to which the welfare of children of all ages remains central in the context of her supervision and responsibility in this area, with particular reference to the need to ensure that adequate case workers are readily available to meet the demand and follow-up as required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14487/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The welfare and protection of children in this State continues to be a core priority of mine. I have secured a budget of over €786 million for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which includes funding for the recruitment of more social workers and support staff for Tusla.

I can assure the Deputy that all referrals are screened when they are received. All urgent and emergency cases receive immediate attention by the local duty social work team. Other cases are referred to family support services or dealt with by child protection teams, as needed.

Once a referral has been screened, Tusla social work staff carry out a preliminary enquiry to determine the best course of action. The preliminary enquiry looks at all relevant information, and a decision is made on whether an immediate protective response is needed.

Tusla's goal is to complete all preliminary enquiries inside five days, and data on this metric is published on a quarterly basis.

I am very aware of cases awaiting allocation to a dedicated social worker. These cases are given appropriate attention by the duty team, which can include checking with professionals who see the child regularly, or visiting the child and family at home, getting additional information about the child's situation and in some instances, where a child is in care, organising a Care Plan Review and visiting the child.

One of the key challenges for Tusla in carrying out this important work is recruiting social work staff with the appropriate experience and qualifications. I can advise the Deputy that my officials are working with Tusla, and with the relevant educational bodies, to develop ways of increasing the number of training posts for social workers.

Childcare Services Funding

Ceisteanna (17, 21, 38)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

17. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the level of engagement between her Department and the community managed not-for-profit childcare service providers, with specific reference to negotiations for funding agreements and funding rules in the context of recent compliance audits by Pobal (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14494/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to prevent a perceived forthcoming crisis in the childcare sector (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14271/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John McGuinness

Ceist:

38. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the financial crisis the recent audit by Pobal has had on national community managed not-for-profit childcare services; the amount that will be sought back from the sector; and the steps she is taking to compensate these voluntary schemes in some of the most disadvantaged communities as a result of the audits. [14483/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 21 and 38 together.

Assisting families to access high quality, affordable early learning and care and school age childcare is a priority for me as Minister and hence I take the issues raised by colleagues and services very seriously.

My Department funds a number of early learning and care and school age childcare programmes and I want to see investment in this area continue to increase significantly over the coming years. I am delighted that First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families commits to doubling investment over the next 10 years.

Given the large amount of public money invested in these programmes, there needs to be an appropriate level of oversight and accountability. I believe that my Department's approach to protecting Exchequer funding and ensuring compliance, is balanced appropriately with supports we provide to services to enable them continue to deliver a sustainable and high quality service.

Pobal, as administrator of my Department's funded childcare programmes, conducts compliance visits to childcare service providers. These visits check a service’s compliance with the published rules of Exchequer funded programmes.

Results from Pobal compliance visits for the first part of the programme year 2018/2019 show a significant level of non-compliance. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

In particular many childcare services have been found to be in breach of programme rules concerning attendance records and registrations. This issue has been particularly acute among services offering the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS).

Non-compliance, like the type we have seen in CCS, represents a risk to Exchequer funds as it can lead to services receiving funding in excess of their entitlement. For this reason, my Department, working with Pobal, identify incorrect registrations and apply the relevant corrections to ensure that services are receiving the correct level of funding.

The level of overclaim identified varies for each service and may impact some services more than others. Pobal has been working with services to explain the financial impacts and manage the overclaims recovery process.

I recognise fully the challenges that can be faced by community services where incorrect registrations have been discovered. That is why my Department has developed a strong Case Management system, operated by Pobal, through which a dedicated team assists services facing challenges.

This Case Management service provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance. Where financial difficulties or sustainability issues arise however, a budget I have created to assist with these challenges can then be tapped into to assist services transition, in a manageable way, towards sustainability.

I am encouraged that the majority of services have engaged constructively with the process so far and a way forward has been found. I would recommend all other services to get in contact with Pobal or their local City / County Childcare Committee if they need support or advice, or if they believe a sustainability issue arises. Again, I want to stress that expert assistance, and financial support is available to services who need it.

The existing or legacy targeted childcare schemes will be replaced later this year with the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). The NCS was developed based on evidence of the best interests of children and families. Its attendance rules will reflect the reality of children and parents' lives and the need for services to operate as businesses. My Department has engaged with service providers on the development of the NCS and continues to do so.

The rules have been developed to be fair, proportionate and child-centred, while also being clear and consistent. Importantly they will recognise the need for flexibility for parents. My Department has worked hard to ensure that they will not disadvantage services for what can be considered minor non-attendances.

At the same time, rules will recognise the need to protect State finances by ensuring that Exchequer funds are used to support the maximum number of families in need of financial support, represent value for money for taxpayers, and are managed and allocated in accordance with robust and appropriate procedures.

My Department has begun to roll out a major national information campaign in relation to how the NCS will operate. A significant amount of time will be invested in working with services to ensure that they are ready for it.

The Deputies will be aware that investment in childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the last four budgets, now totalling €575m per year. Community services access much of this growing investment.

Turnover for many services has increased substantially due to the fact that the number of servicers operating has increased only slightly and co-payments / top-up payments made by parents has decreased, both measures assisting many services to strengthen their sustainability and review their business model to meet compliance requirements.

The National Childcare Scheme will mark another significant milestone for early learning and care and school age childcare in this country, creating an infrastructure from which Government can further increase investment in services over the next decade. This is in line with the commitment made in First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families that I published last November.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (18)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

18. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the fifth interim report of the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14496/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) submitted a Fifth Interim Report to me on 15 March 2019.

I intend to seek formal Government approval to publish the report. In advance of this I will consult the Attorney General. Subject to this advice and approval, it is my intention to publish the report prior to Easter.

The dignity and memory of those who died in these institutions is central to my approach to these matters. I am mindful of the expectations of their families for an early publication date of the report.

It is a substantial report which focuses on the burial arrangements of persons who died while resident in these institutions. The report includes extensive technical reports prepared in the course of the Commission’s investigations into the burial site associated with the institution formerly known as the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and the Commission’s assessment of burial arrangements in respect of a number of other institutions within its remit.

It also reports on burial arrangements in circumstances where the remains were initially transferred to educational institutions for anatomical examination.

My Department will advise representative groups, and those who have been in contact with my Department on these matters, of developments prior to the publication of the report.

Given the importance and sensitivity of these matters, I do not propose to comment further on the contents of the report in advance of it being made public.

Early Years Sector

Ceisteanna (19)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

19. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress she has made in addressing the concerns articulated by early years professionals regarding low wages and staffing issues; her plans to introduce a sectoral employment order to alleviate these concerns; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14343/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I have been unequivocal in my support for better pay and conditions for early learning and care professionals, who play a critical role in supporting children's development. They deserve to be valued and respected for this.

My Department funds a wide range of initiatives to support the quality, affordability and accessibility of early learning and care. However the State is not the employer of staff and cannot therefore set wage levels.

Instead, I have actively supported a range of measures to improve pay and conditions. These include the 117% increase in investment since 2016 that has enabled services to operate at optimal capacity; the 7% ECCE capitation increase for providers last September and the introduction of Programme Support Payments to providers, which this year amount to €21.4m.

The average wage in the sector rose from €11.93 per hour in 2017 to €12.17 per hour in 2018, but there is a very long way to go before staff have the wages and working conditions that reflect the importance of the work they do, particularly now with 22% of the workforce being graduates.

Services are experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified staff, mostly I understand due to poor terms and conditions and partly because of the major growth in the sector that has happened in recent years.

Pobal data shows that 130,000 children were attending services in 2014 but this grew to 230,000 in 2018. While the staff turnover rate fell from 28% in 2017, to 24% in 2018, the rate is still too high.

I have repeatedly called for the sector to pursue a Sectoral Employment Order, which offers a viable mechanism to establish appropriate wage levels.

As the Deputy will be aware, neither I nor my officials can initiate a Sectoral Employment Order, but my Department is ready to input to such a process, if and when the sector seeks it.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 17.

Ceisteanna (20)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

20. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she or her officials have met the management or board members of Tusla in respect of the recruitment of a CEO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14489/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I met with the Chair and representatives of the Tusla Board on two occasions when the recruitment of a permanent Chief Executive Officer for Tusla was discussed among other matters. These meetings took place on 1 October, 2018 and 28 January, 2019.

The Child and Family Agency Act 2013 provides that it is the responsibility of the Board of Tusla to appoint the Chief Executive Officer of the Agency.

The Board of Tusla appointed an interim Chief Executive Officer on 1st October last, following the resignation of the previous incumbent.

At the meeting in October 2018, the Board’s plans, specifications for the Chief Executive Officer role and the intended recruitment process were discussed. At my more recent meeting with the Board in January this year, I received an update that included Tusla's contact with the Public Appointments Service and the use of executive search to assist in the recruitment process.

My officials have liaised with Tusla Human Resource Management and the Tusla Board to provide advice and to assist Tusla in making the necessary preparations for the recruitment of a Chief Executive Officer for a fixed term 5 year contract.

This included engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to obtain the necessary approval for terms and conditions, as required by the governing legislation, to enable Tusla to finalise the required documentation and advertise the position.

The Deputy may be aware that the position of Chief Executive Officer of Tusla was advertised by the Public Appointments Service on Friday last, 22 March 2019.

In my view and I am sure the Deputy will agree, it is essential that a candidate of the highest calibre is recruited to lead on the transformation and delivery of effective child and family services in Ireland.

Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 17.

Departmental Funding

Ceisteanna (22)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

22. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the criteria for allocating the €1.2 million from December 2017 for a new intervention programme to help young persons escape the influence of criminal networks; and when the funding will be allocated. [11722/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Emerging Irish research, such as the Greentown Study, commissioned by my Department, identifies a small number of children in the state who fall victim to the influence of criminal networks and gangs, as foot-soldiers or couriers. These children are thus more likely to enter the criminal justice system and serve periods of detention. This can have profound negative impacts on their emotional and physical well-being as well as affecting the opportunities available to them as adults.

My Department commissioned further research under a partnership project with the University of Limerick. Funding of €1.2 million (€450,000 in 2018 and €750,000 in 2019) was allocated under the Dormant Accounts Act, 2012. It facilitates the expansion of the research begun with the Greentown Study. It is intended to replicate this study in two other towns. Additionally, a national survey will be conducted to indicate how widespread the Greentown findings are. This will culminate in an expert-led intervention programme to be trialled next year.

It is my hope that, through this research, we will be in a position to make robust interventions available to motivate and assist vulnerable children in danger of criminal influence and their families.

Child and Family Agency Data

Question No. 24 answered with Question No. 14.

Ceisteanna (23)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

23. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of children deemed to be at risk nationally; the extent to which support and attention is being made available to them; the level and quality of such support and its success to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14488/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I can advise the Deputy that, at the end of December 2018, there were a total of 26,433 child protection cases open to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Open cases are allocated to a social worker and assigned a priority level: high, medium or low. At the end of December, there were a total of 1,003 High Priority open cases, 3,296 at Medium Priority and 2,133 Low Priority awaiting allocation to a social worker.

I would like to remind the Deputy that high priority does not necessarily mean high risk, and that all urgent or high risk cases receive immediate attention. Identified cases that have not yet been allocated receive support and a service from Tusla's duty teams.

The transition to a single national agency responsible for the welfare and protection of children has not always been easy and work remains to be done. Challenges are ongoing in respect of the recruitment and retention of staff, the integration of key services for children and families and the vital cross agency working that allows for quick and effective responses to all the situations referred to or dealt with by Tusla. The development of a national child care information system, the NCCIS, will support social workers in the work and provide a more effective protective service. I am confident that Tusla is fully dedicated to meeting those challenges, and to continue to improve the service they deliver to the most vulnerable young people in our society.

Question No. 24 answered with Question No. 14.

Child Abuse Reports

Ceisteanna (25)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

25. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 33 of 13 February 2019, when the report of the review panel that commenced on 16 May 2016 in respect of the care of three children in a foster home in County Galway will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14495/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The shocking abuse suffered by these very brave young women while in foster care in the early 2000's has disrupted and deeply impacted their lives. I am very conscious of the significant public interest in the case.

The Deputy will be aware that the review process begun by the National Review Panel in 2016 was paused at the request of An Garda Síochána, to allow criminal proceedings to conclude. Following the conclusion of the criminal case and sentencing of the perpetrator, the Review was resumed and has now been completed. It has been highlighted by Tusla that not all of the young people involved have chosen to waive their statutory right to anonymity. Tusla must not infringe on this statutory protection.

It is important to be mindful that a number of the young people involved in this case may be extremely vulnerable. Past hurt and the current well-being of all the young women are a real concern here. I don't believe that adding to their trauma by putting particulars into the public domain should be done without consultation with them, which is part of the process when publishing a report of this type.

I have been advised by Tusla that a sequence of meetings are to take place with the young people involved, and that the conclusion of the process will take their views and needs into consideration.

I share the Deputy’s conviction that it is in the public interest for the learning in this case to be shared. It is also our responsibility to bear in mind the significant if unintended impact this could have on the young people at the centre of the case. I expect that the Chair of the Tusla Board will take into account both the public interest and the voice of these very vulnerable young people in his consideration of the report and its publication.