Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation

Ceisteanna (26)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

26. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason for the delay to the affordable childcare scheme announced in October 2016; her plans to ensure the availability of childcare in all local communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14498/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

On 11th March, I announced the launch of the National Childcare Scheme- our pathway to truly accessible, affordable, quality childcare. The scheme will open to applications this October, with payments flowing from November.

As previously noted to the House, the provision of a timeline for the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme has always been dependent on having the necessary legal and ICT infrastructure in place. Good progress is currently being made in this regard.

Last July, the primary legislation establishing the Scheme, the Childcare Support Act, was signed into law. Detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines made under the Act are now being finalised.

Last July, I also awarded a contract for the development of the Scheme's supporting IT system. The contractor, Codec, is currently working intensively with officials from my Department and Pobal to develop the scheme's supporting IT system so that it will be available on schedule in October.

In December, I signed regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare services with Tusla, and these regulations came into force on the 18th of February. This means that school age childcare services will be able to participate in the scheme from the outset.

A national communications campaign on the Scheme is also underway. This involves a sequenced programme of information, training and supports, to allow everyone- parents, providers and representative groups- to prepare for the Scheme. Key elements of the campaign in March included the launch of a new website- www.ncs.gov.ie - as well as a major nationwide training programme for providers, offering over 12,500 training places across 600 venues. I am happy to report that there is very strong interest in both the website and the training.

In September and October, my Department will run a large information campaign across a number of media channels to ensure there is full awareness amongst parents of their potential entitlements under the new Scheme.

In the interim, in order to fast-track many of the benefits of the National Childcare Scheme, and to ensure all Government investment was being fully utilised, in September 2017 I announced a series of enhancements to the existing targeted childcare subsidy schemes. These enhancements involved a new universal subsidy for children under 3 years and increases of up to 50% in targeted childcare subsidy rates. The interim measures exceeded our target and benefitted 84,000 children in the programme year September 2017- August 2018. These measures remain in place for the 2018 /2019 programme year and continue to experience high demand.

As stated above, the National Childcare Scheme is due to go live this October. As part of Budget 2019, I was pleased to have been able to further enhance the Scheme by raising the upper and lower thresholds for income related subsidies. These increases will poverty-proof the scheme for families on lower incomes, and enable more families with middle and higher incomes to access support.

I continue to work intensively with my officials to deliver this landmark scheme which will alter the landscape of early learning and care and school age childcare in Ireland, support families, provide a sustainable platform for investment and, crucially, allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life.

In parallel with this work, I will continue to support providers with regard to increased provision of early learning and care and school age childcare places. In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €9.606m for the sector which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme.

I am also very pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan ( 2018-2027) and to have secured €250m in capital funding for early learning and care and school age childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the National Childcare Investment Programme that concluded in 2010.

This capital investment will be essential, I believe, to respond to the increased demand we expect as the National Childcare Scheme is introduced. Research is on-going in my Department to determine areas of specific need that the NDP funding will address when it comes on stream in the coming years.

Finally, many families and children opt for home-based rather than centre-based early learning and care and school age childcare. Continued access to childminding services is important. I will soon publish a Childminding Action Plan which will set out short, medium and long term objectives to regulate childminding in this country, hence enabling a larger volume of childminders access the NCS over time. This action plan will also set out the supports required to enable childminders meet the regulatory requirements that will be developed over an extended period.

Early Childhood Care and Education Programmes

Ceisteanna (27)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

27. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that some parents that are availing of the ECCE scheme are being charged for a fourth hour even if they are not using the facility for a fourth hour in view of the fact the facility is open for four hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14497/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The ECCE programme is a universal programme available to all children within the eligible age range. It provides children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school. The programme is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks, free of charge to parents.

The rules of the ECCE scheme clearly state that:

2.4.7 Requirement to provide ECCE free of charge

ECCE must be provided free of charge to parents/guardians in return for the capitation.

2.4.8 Optional Extras

Childcare providers cannot charge for any activities/items which form part of the ECCE service. Childcare providers may charge for optional extras, but where a parent/guardian does not choose any of the optional extras, their child must be provided with the full ECCE service provision. Each optional extra must be identified individually on the fees list. Services cannot prioritise ECCE places on the basis of uptake of optional extras.

There is one exception to this rule pertaining to services who offer 'sessional only' (up to 3.5 hours childcare provision per day), as stated below.

2.4.9 Additional 30 minutes in sessional service

A sessional service provider may offer an additional 30 minutes per day but this must be categorised as an optional extra. Therefore the parent can choose to opt for paying for an extra half hour or equally, choose not to.

However, as per the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme grant funding agreement, part-time and full-time services may prioritise places for children who wish to avail of extra hours over those availing of the ECCE Programme only, on the principle that Early Learning and Care services are private enterprises and are therefore free to set their own admission policies which can include prioritising part- time or full-time places.

Parents who cannot access a free ECCE service are encouraged to look around for an alternative service that is in a position to offer it. Their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC) should be able to assist them, or advise if there is no local alternative. The website www.myccc.ie can help parents locate their CCC. The City and County Childcare Committees in turn keep my Department advised on capacity issues and whether parental preferences are being met.

Child Detention Centres

Ceisteanna (28)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

28. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that the non-publication of a report is in the best interests of the children in view of the fact that the authors of the report (details supplied) made a safeguarding referral during their visit to Oberstown Children Detention Campus on the basis of child welfare concerns. [14445/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am advised by Oberstown Children Detention Campus that prior to the visit by the reviewers to the Campus, they were advised about what action should be taken, should any child protection or welfare issues arise during their time there. This is in line with standard procedures in such circumstances. The Reviewers were advised to notify the Director of any such issues that they became aware of. During their visit, the reviewers became aware of an incident and met with the Director to notify him. The Director advised them that he was aware of the incident and a process was already underway to deal with the matter.

The Deputy will be aware of the extensive discussion on the Operational Review took place at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on 30 January last. At that meeting, the Chair of the Board of Oberstown, Professor Ursula Kilkelly, gave a detailed update on the current situation. She outlined, among other things the serious legal difficulties associated with publishing the full report, for reasons which have been well set out on a number of occasions.

The Deputy will also be aware that I also met with the Joint Committee on the matter on 18 December last.

I would reiterate that the recommendations of the Operational Review, which are at the kernel of how we move forward, were published in July 2017 and are being implemented as part of a significant package of reform in Oberstown.

In addition to the Operational Review, the Board commissioned a number of other reports at the same time, with a view to engaging external expertise to support the development of the Campus. These reviews included security, health and safety and behaviour management.

Deputies will recall that I established a Review Implementation Group whose final report, received in December 2017, produced a coherent plan to implement the recommendations of the various reports.

An updated Action Plan from the Review Implementation Group was completed in May 2018 and was published on my Department’s website. My Department continues to monitor the Review Implementation Group and the second report on the implementation of the recommendations was published on 29 January last.

My focus continues to be on ensuring that all of the key recommendations are implemented and to ensure that Oberstown observes best practice and international standards. I believe that this is the best way forward for the young people at the campus.

Childcare Services Provision

Ceisteanna (29)

James Browne

Ceist:

29. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to develop targeted supports for parents and guardians paying for childcare in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14274/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department has a number of programmes and schemes in place to support parents and guardians with the cost of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare. These are available on a national basis through thousands of registered providers across all counties, including Wexford. They include:

- The universal pre-school programme, which provides children with 15 hours per week of pre-school education over a 38-week programme year. Since September 2018 children qualify for two years of universal pre-school.

- The universal Community Childcare Subvention (CCSU) and the targeted Community Childhood Subvention (CCS), which provide weekly subsidies to offset fees charged by providers. CCS is available to families who hold a Medical Card or are in receipt of social welfare benefits.

- The Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Schemes provide a weekly subsidy to offset fees charged by providers for parents on approved education or training courses, Community Employment schemes, or those returning to work who need school-age childcare.

- Specific supports are also in place for children in emergency accommodation, in accommodation centres provided by the State for persons in the protection process or programme refugee children in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres.

Radical reforms to the targeted schemes, based on the principle of progressive universalism, are in train. The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), when introduced this October, will replace the CCS and TEC schemes with a single, streamlined scheme.

Under the NCS, parents will continue to have access to the universal subsidy towards the cost of Early Learning and Care. This stands at €1,040 per annum currently for a child under 3 in full time registered Early Learning and Care. Targeted subsidies for children from 6 months to 15 years of age will be provided, with the level of subsidy determined by net household income and the age of the child (children). Households with a net income of less than €26,000 will receive the maximum subsidy. This can be as high as €5.10 per hour, available for up to 40 hours per week, for a child under one. Households with net income up to €60,000 will also benefit, but on a sliding scale from the maximum subsidy level available for incomes under €26,000. Further information is available at www.ncs.gov.ie.

In addition to these universal and targeted subsidies, the NCS allows for additional support for families where there is an identified need for Early Learning and Care on grounds of child development or child welfare. Families with high levels of need, who require Early Learning and Care for child welfare, child protection or family support reasons, may be referred for support by a specified “sponsor” body. Where such a referral is made, the family will automatically qualify for a subsidy for the number of hours considered appropriate by the sponsor without having to satisfy the scheme’s eligibility, income or enhanced hours requirements.

Recent analysis undertaken by the OECD has concluded that, when the NCS is introduced, the costs of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare to parents will come closer to the OECD average – from being one of the highest across the OECD. For example, we will move from being the most expensive country in the OECD for lone parents to 11th position ( this research was conducted before Budget 2019 which increased investment by a further €89m). This demonstrates significant progress. The NCS, in creating a flexible platform for future investment in funding, will allow subsidies to be expanded over time and importantly further progress to be made.

Departmental Communications

Question No. 31 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (30)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

30. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the way in which and when she received correspondence that Tusla sent to an organisation (details supplied) on 18 February 2019 in respect of ongoing safeguarding concerns. [14492/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

In the afternoon of Monday 25th February, during a telephone call on another matter, Mr Ian Elliott advised an official of my Department of the existence of the letter from Tusla (dated 18th February) and of his discussion about this earlier that day (25th February) with two officials of Tusla and with senior Gardaí. He was later asked by the same official to set out the details in an email. He sent an email on the morning of Tuesday 26th February to the official as requested.

Later that day another senior official of the Department responded to his email and asked that he furnish the Department with a copy of the letter from Tusla, Mr Elliott refused to do so. Another senior official of the Department was, in the meantime, in contact with Tusla and got a copy of the letter by email at 10.17a.m on 27th February 2019. This was forwarded to me and I received a copy by email at 10.27a.m. on 27th February 2019.

Question No. 31 answered orally.

Departmental Communications

Ceisteanna (32)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

32. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the communication she had with an organisation (details supplied) following the issuance of correspondence by Tusla on 18 February 2019 raising concerns regarding child protection procedures within the organisation; her plans to publish a redacted version of the report by the barrister into the handling of a sexual assault allegation by the organisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14339/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

In the afternoon of Monday 25th February, during a telephone call on another matter, Mr Ian Elliott advised an official of my Department of the existence of the letter from Tusla (dated 18th February). He also informed the official of his discussion about this which took place earlier that day (25th February) with two officials of Tusla and with senior Gardaí. Mr Elliot was later asked by the same official to set out the details in an email. He sent an email on the morning of Tuesday 26th February to the official as requested.

Later that day another senior official of the Department responded to his email and asked that he furnish the Department with a copy of the letter from Tusla. Mr Elliott refused to do so. Another senior official of the Department was, in the meantime, in contact with Tusla and got a copy of the letter through that route.

An internal process review is being conducted by Scouting Ireland on foot of the report by the Barrister. The Minister has no plans to publish a redacted version of the report until such time as the review has concluded.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (33)

Denise Mitchell

Ceist:

33. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has considered the burial report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; when she plans to publish it; her views on the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14338/19]

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.

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.

I intend to seek formal Government approval to publish the report after I have the opportunity to discuss the report with the Commission and consult the Attorney General as appropriate. I will seek to conclude these considerations as soon as possible. Subject to this I intend to publish the report before 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.

My Department will advise representative groups, and those who have been in contact with the 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.

Adoption Data

Ceisteanna (34)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

34. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will act on the recommendation of the UN special rapporteur calling on Ireland to carry out a comprehensive national examination of forced and illegal adoptions, including audits of records in the hands of the State, while ensuring that persons whose birth records were falsified have access to information and redress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14444/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I welcome the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation regarding illegal registrations. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, 2016 will address the recommendation regarding access to information for illegally registered people as they will be able to apply for an information and tracing service on the same basis as adopted people. However, we do know that the practice of illegal birth registrations can be extremely difficult to prove in most instances, often because there was also a deliberate failure of those involved to record any information about it.

The Deputy will be aware that a review of a sample of files within the custody of the State is currently taking place. This process is being overseen by an Independent Reviewer, Marion Reynolds, who is a former Deputy Director of Social Services in Northern Ireland. The findings of this review will assist me in reaching a decision about what, if any, subsequent action might be deemed necessary to identify more fully the scale of illegal birth registrations. I am expecting to receive the report before Easter.

Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation

Ceisteanna (35, 39, 40)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

35. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the public information programme for the affordable childcare scheme will commence; if she is satisfied there will be sufficient places available nationally under the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14500/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

39. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the affordable childcare scheme will be launched. [14493/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

40. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme. [14505/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 39 and 40 together.

On 11th March, I launched of the National Childcare Scheme- our pathway to truly accessible, affordable, quality childcare. The scheme will open to applications this October, with payments flowing from November.

Good progress is currently being made in preparing for the Scheme's launch.

Last July, the primary legislation establishing the Scheme, the Childcare Support Act, was signed into law. Detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines made under the Act are now being finalised.

Last July, I also awarded a contract for the development of the Scheme's supporting IT system. The contractor, Codec, is currently working intensively with officials from my Department and Pobal to develop the scheme's supporting IT system so that it will be available on schedule in October.

In December, I signed regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare services with Tusla, and these regulations came into force on the 18th of February. This means that school age childcare services will be able to participate in the scheme from the outset.

A national communications campaign on the Scheme is also underway. This involves a sequenced programme of information, training and supports, to allow everyone- parents, providers and representative groups- to prepare for the Scheme. Key elements of the campaign in March included the launch of a new website- www.ncs.gov.ie - as well as a major nationwide training programme for providers, offering over 12,500 training places across 600 venues. I am happy to report that there is very strong interest in both the website and the training.

In September and October, my Department will run a large information campaign across a number of media channels to ensure there is full awareness amongst parents of their potential entitlements under the new Scheme.

Under measures included in Budget 2019, I was pleased to have been able to further enhance the Scheme by raising the upper and lower thresholds for income related subsidies. These increases will poverty-proof the scheme for families on lower incomes, and enable more families with middle and higher incomes to access support.

I will continue to work intensively to deliver this landmark scheme which will alter the landscape of childcare in Ireland, support families, provide a sustainable platform for investment and, crucially, allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life.

In parallel with this work, I will continue to support providers with regard to increased provision of childcare places. In 2019, I have secured a Capital budget of €9.606m for the sector which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available, and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming National Childcare Scheme.

I am also very pleased to have ensured that childcare was identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan ( 2018-2027) and to have secured €250m in capital funding for childcare under the plan. This represents the kind of large scale investment in the sector by the State that has not been undertaken since the earlier National Childcare Investment Programme that concluded in 2010. This investment will be essential, I believe, to respond to the increased capacity we expect as the new National Childcare Scheme is introduced.

Child and Family Agency Investigations

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 7.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 17.

Questions Nos. 39 and 40 answered with Question No. 35.

Ceisteanna (36)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

36. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the serious difficulties facing Tusla; the number of child protection notifications yet to be investigated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14279/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am glad to have an opportunity to set out the immense work that Tusla has undertaken since its establishment, the ongoing challenges it is facing and the immediate and longer term actions being put in place as I speak.

Tusla was established in 2014 with the task of bringing together 17 child protection service areas across the country, to operate as one Agency. It must be remembered that the different areas, although all in the HSE, had continued in reality to operate different practices and policies, reflecting their different health board origins. Tusla's task was to reform the 17 areas into a single organisation with new management structures, bring together nearly 4,000 staff from three separate organisations, (the HSE, the Family support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board) develop national operational policies and realign the new organisation to current need. All of this had to occur while providing the ongoing complex business of child protection services in the face of increasing referrals.

Tusla has been engaged in a programme of reform which involves the standardisation of business processes, the development of quality assurance mechanisms and improved data system to reflect service demand, outputs and outcomes. A National Child Care Information System (NCCIS) was rolled out to all 17 Tusla areas in July 2017. The NCCIS is producing high quality data and making child protection services more effective. Tusla has also implemented a national model for child protection, Signs of Safety, and, through its own auditing work, identifies practices that need improvement. Tusla now has common definitions and thresholds for child protection cases, which, for the first time, provide a true picture of children's need in our country. Knowing where the problems lie is an essential step in delivering improvements.

A major issue for the organisation since its establishment has been achieving a sufficient number of social workers to meet the ongoing rise in referrals for child protection and child welfare services. Tusla are finalising a Workforce Strategy to focus on future need to ensure they are in a position to address their statutory work.

HIQA have rightly identified issues in relation to retrospective cases and safety planning that need to be addressed in their Statutory Investigation published last summer. I established an Expert Advisory Group to advise me and the Board of Tusla on the progress that was being made in implementing actions. I met with the Chairperson of the EAG, Dr Moling Ryan, on Monday last and he provided me with a report identifying progress and areas needing further prioritising.

My officials are currently working with the education sector, including the five Universities and one Institute of Technology involved in qualifying social workers. The purpose of the work is to increase the future provision of social workers.

The Deputy also asks about the number of child protection and welfare referrals that have yet to be assessed. At the end of December 2018, over 6,000 cases were unallocated, representing 23% of all cases. All high-risk or urgent referrals do receive an immediate service and urgent response. Tusla has identified 5 of the 17 areas that between them hold the majority of unallocated cases. I have asked Tusla to make a presentation to me on the special measures it is putting in place in these areas to manage this worrying situation.

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 7.
Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 17.
Questions Nos. 39 and 40 answered with Question No. 35.

Child and Family Agency

Ceisteanna (41)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

41. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of times she has met with senior management of Tusla since January 2019; and the subjects of discussion at those meetings. [14490/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I have met with members of the Tusla, the Child and Family Agency Senior Management team on two occasions since the beginning of January 2019. The subject of discussion at one meeting was the allocation of the additional €1.5m in funding to Family Resource Centres (FRCs) this year. The second meeting related to the potential use of additional resources in 2019 to meet the requests of an individual Family Resource Centre.

However, I should clarify for the Deputy that I have met with members of Tusla senior management on a number of occasions since January. However, these were encounters in the course of the business of my Department.

For example, on 19th February I attended the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs of which the Deputy is a member. The Committee was considering the impact of Brexit. A representative of Tusla senior management attended the Committee along with me and my officials that day.

Earlier this week, I launched an Outcome Report of a Stakeholder Workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals through the Lens of the Child. The launch was in my Department in conjunction with the Geary Institute of University College Dublin. A representative of Tusla senior management attended the launch along with many other guests.

I had not organised meetings with Tusla senior management but I clearly met with members of Tusla senior management on those occasions.