Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ceisteanna (49)

Denise Mitchell


49. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to expand the school completion programme, SCP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29679/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

My question is to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has any plans to expand the SCP and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I am conscious that the school completion programme continues to deliver a valuable service for some of our most vulnerable young people. Currently, the SCP receives annual funding of €24.7 million. My Department works with the Educational Welfare Services, EWS, to ensure that necessary resources are available to support this programme and to ensure staffing levels are sufficient to deliver a high quality service for those young people most at risk of early school leaving.

However, a number of long-term complex issues continue to exist in regard to both the governance and the staffing of the programme. In recognition of the need for a strong policy platform for EWS, including the SCP, I requested that my officials establish a task group to support the further development and integration of these services. The work of this group is near completion and I am eager to ensure that the output will result in a clear blueprint for the development of the three strands of the EWS, which include the SCP. A consultation event on the blueprint was held on 10 June - I was present for some of it myself - where those working with vulnerable young people as part of the EWS were able to express their views and help shape the policy blueprint prior to its publication.

As part of the implementation of the actions contained in the blueprint, I have requested that a new SCP scheme be scoped out and developed to ensure that its reach, resources and impact are maximised in supporting young people. I am also continuing to examine options in respect of the employment status of SCP co-ordinators and project workers. In budget 2019, I secured an additional €500,000 in funding for the EWS and the alternative education assessment and registration service. I will continue to lead on advancing supports both in policy and provision in this crucial area.

I cannot speak highly enough of the work being done under the school completion programme. Unfortunately, under previous Governments resources for this important programme were cut. Its move to Tusla seems to have led to many complaints from staff and teachers about how long it takes for the scheme and the activities to be approved. With everything else Tusla has on its plate, it is probably not the best body to be overseeing this. We also have a bit of a problem that it is mostly DEIS schools that can avail of the programme but now many students are travelling to Gaelscoileanna and non-religious schools. These students who would have been able to avail of the supports are no longer able to do so because they are no longer attending school in a DEIS area. Has the Minister given any consideration to placing this programme back under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills?

I agree with the Deputy about the incredible work of the SCP, the co-ordinators, project workers and all the other people they bring in to help them work in the context of usually difficult circumstances for children and families. I have visited a number of them in my own constituency and outside it. I cannot speak highly enough of them. I also understand the challenges and frustrations regarding the programme itself, knowing that we need reform and I am looking forward to that. Tusla has a dedicated unit with a national manager and others working on that who are strictly focused on this work as distinct from child protection and everything else. The decision was made a long time ago to transfer the programme from the Department of Education and Skills to Tusla. They have a history of doing that. One of the things the blueprint does is offer some guidance particularly in integrating the SCP with the other two streams, which has not been done previously. That is why it needs to be done.

The half-year Exchequer returns boasted of another year of record tax yields. I hope there will be more investment and supports, particularly for our young people in this programme. The Minister said there is an allocation of more than €24 million but ideally I would like it to be much more than that and I hope the Minister will champion this. We heard from co-ordinators who feel that the reduction in funding has resulted in more targeted intervention. They feel more targeted intervention is causing a stigma among young people and a broader approach might be helpful. We have also had issues with contracts of employment and pay for staff who work in the scheme. I understand this has been raised by their trade union. Can the Minister outline whether any progress has been made on that issue? The Minister said a new task force has been set up and there will be a new SCP scheme. When will the task force's recommendations be published?

On targeted work versus universal supports, and what is going on currently in the SCP, several co-ordinators were part of the consultation event and my Department is in ongoing engagement with them and one of them is represented on the task force. I hope there is enough of a vehicle or pathway for their engagement as we develop the blueprint for the SCP, listening to the concerns and the best way forward. The programme works in schools in tandem with the home school community liaison programme and the work of educational welfare officers. The programme has never had a well thought-out policy base, not to mention a legislative one, upon which it can do its work and and which outlines how that relates to other work that is going on in that context and that is why that is so important. We expect to have the blueprint published relatively soon and we will then move forward with the scoping of the programme itself.