Early Childhood Care and Education Funding

Ceisteanna (435)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

435. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the case of unpaid higher capitation for a company (details supplied) will be examined. [48592/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Thank you for your correspondence concerning the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Higher Capitation and the 2019 Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare Capital programmes.

Pobal administer both programmes on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA).

In relation to Higher Capitation payments, Pobal issued an announcement to services through the PIP system on 19th August 2019 informing them of the Higher Capitation timelines for the 2019/2020 programme year. Regrettably these timelines were later than had been indicated the previous year, due to a combination of resourcing issues and a delay in closing off the 2018/2019 programme year. I understand the frustration the timelines and delays have caused.

Pobal officials began processing applications for the programme year 2019/2020 in October 2019, in line with the announced schedule. Pobal is currently processing a large volume of applications, and is working to approve applications and release funding as soon as possible.

Considering the significant pressure on services, my Department made the decision that early learning and care providers whose applications had not yet been processed and who were also in receipt of the first preliminary payment on 23rd August 2019, would receive an additional preliminary payment on 1st November 2019. This payment was for a four-week period that took early learning and care providers to 20th November 2019. The payment was based on a child’s Full Time Equivalent (FTE) numbers for the week ending 18th November 2019 using the max FTE cap for services which were approved for Higher Capitation last year.

A further preliminary payment was made on 8th November 2019 for any early learning and care service providers whose application had still not been processed at that stage. This payment was for a four week period that took service providers to the 22nd November 2019. Service providers who had not previously been approved for the Higher Capitation rate but had submitted an application for the 2019/2020 programme year that had not been processed, received a preliminary payment on 29th October 2019. This payment was for an eight week period. An additional preliminary payment was also made to these services on 8th November and this payment was for a four week period.

As part of the School-Age Childcare strand of the 2019 Capital Grants Programme, it was a condition for services to register with Tusla in order to receive the full grant amount, as registration with Tusla is now a legal requirement for school-age childcare services. As the registration process for many services had not yet been completed at an earlier stage in the year, services who were approved for school-age childcare capital funding and had engaged with the registration process had part of their grant released prior to completion of registration, with the remainder being withheld until the registration process was complete.

Officials in my Department have been in contact with colleagues in Pobal for clarification on the details you have raised on behalf of the service in question. In response, Pobal confirmed that there are outstanding issues on the service's Higher Capitation and School Age Childcare Capital applications. I would therefore urge the service to engage with Pobal with the intention of resolving these issues. As Pobal are the administrators of both the Capital and Higher Capitation payments, they are the most appropriate point of contact for queries concerning such applications.

Early Childhood Care and Education Data

Ceisteanna (436)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

436. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of applications for AIM payments received in each year since the scheme was introduced; the number of applications in each year that were received before the programme year commenced; the average waiting time for processing payments; the number of payments that were made for the full programme year for applications that did not require a setting visit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48656/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of support that is designed to ensure that children with a disability can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) (free pre-school) programme. The key objective of AIM is to support early learning and care (ELC) providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that children with a disability can meaningfully participate in the ECCE programme, thereby reaping the benefits of quality pre-school education.  This year I have secured an additional €10 million for AIM in Budget 2020 of which a significant proportion will go to provide increased supports under AIM Level 7.

The following table provides information on the number of applications for AIM payments received for the full programme year and before the programme year commenced (on or before the last date prior the commencement of the programme year).

Programme Call

Total applications received

No. of applications made before programme year commenced

Programme start date

AIM Level 7 2016

1,552

380*

29/08/2016

AIM Level 7 2017

3,574

1,480*

28/08/2017

AIM Level 7 2018

4,851

2,791*

27/08/2018

AIM Level 7 2019

4,986

3,601*

26/08/2019

*Please note that this figure relates to applications received between May and 31 August.

The average waiting time for processing payments

AIM Level 7 payments are made in line with the payments schedule published in August with the first payment run processed three weeks after the commencement of the 2019/2020 ECCE Programme year.  Weekly catch up payments are also facilitated to minimise the time lag for services from approval to payment. In order to make an AIM Level 7 payment there must be an approved registration for the AIM child which reflects the level of AIM support awarded. Services are informed of this requirement as part of the decision notification process and regular communications (including timelines) are published on the Programme Implementation Platform (PIP).  The average timeframe from approval to payment is 3 weeks inclusive of the registration check process.  

The number of payments that were made for the full programme year for applications that did not require a setting visit

As per the AIM programme rules an observation visit is required for all applications made under the AIM Level 7 application process. However, in exceptional cases where the needs of a child are identified as highly or medically complex and to ensure the child’s participation in pre-school, AIM level 7 support may be awarded in advance of an observation visit being undertaken, provided this has been previously approved by Better Start. Within the current programme year (2019/2020) there have been 32 of these cases. Payment has been issued as per the AIM Level 7 payment schedule, when all pre-payment requirements have been met.

Early Childhood Care and Education Funding

Ceisteanna (437)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

437. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the unacceptable delays in processing requests for AIM assessments and subsequent payment approval processes; if her attention has been further drawn to the negative impact that the delays are having on children in view of the fact that services are unable to retain AIM workers or subsidise payment delays; the reason for the refusal to backdate approved payments to the date the AIM worker commenced in the setting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48657/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with a disability can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) (free pre-school) programme. The key objective of AIM is to support early learning and care providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that children with a disability can meaningfully participate in the ECCE programme, thereby reaping the benefits of quality pre-school education.

AIM provides a range of supports, both universal and targeted. In many cases, the universal supports provided through AIM, which include staff training, are sufficient to enable the full participation of a child with a disability. Having reviewed the needs of a child in the context of the early learning and care setting, an Early Years Specialist may provide advice on strategies to support the child's inclusion. In some cases, the Early Years Specialist may recommend funding for additional assistance, either to allow for an additional staff member or to enable a reduction in the adult to child ratio.

In order to minimise any delays in the provision of supports, early learning and care providers are encouraged to submit applications for support (Access and Inclusion Profile) as early as possible.  For the programme year that began in September 2019, the window for applications opened on 1st May.

Since the September 2019 programme call opened on May 1st, the average response time from submission of an Access and Inclusion Profile to conducting an observation visit for a child or children in the ECCE programme - which is necessary to determine the level of need - has been 26 days. This is within the expected timeline as per the Access and Inclusion Profile guidance, which states that, following a review of the information provided, a member of the Better Start Access and Inclusion team will contact the pre-school within 4-6 weeks of submission.

Once an observation visit has taken place, an Early Years Specialist within Better Start completes a report, which goes through a review and appraisal process. On average the time from observation to final decision is 23 days. Therefore, in total, from application to decision it takes on average 49 days to process an AIM application.

AIM payments for additional assistance (AIM Level 7) are made in line with the payments schedule published in August 2019 (see table). The first payment run was completed on 13 September 2019, three weeks after the commencement of the 2019/2020 ECCE programme year.  Weekly catch-up payments are also facilitated to minimise the timeframe for services from approval to payment. In order to make an AIM Level 7 payment there must be an approved registration for the AIM child which reflects the level of AIM support awarded.  Early learning and care services are informed of this requirement as part of the decision notification process and regular communications (including timelines) are published on the PIP provider portal.

With regard to the back-dating of AIM funding for an additional staff member, it should be noted that this type of support is only one of a range of supports provided under AIM. Where an application for AIM support is submitted, an Early Years Specialist determines the most appropriate type of support, depending on the needs of the child in the context of the early learning and care setting. The most appropriate support may not be an additional staff member. It would therefore not be appropriate for an additional staff member to be recruited until funding for this purpose is approved.

In cases where a child has additionally complex needs or complex medical needs such that he or she could not reasonably be expected to attend the preschool service for an observation visit without AIM targeted supports already being in place, the observation visit may be delayed until after the supports are in place at the discretion of the Better Start Early Years Specialist Service. In such situations, targeted supports can be approved prior to an observation visit, but approval by the Better Start Early Years Specialist Service is required, and payment in relation to targeted supports cannot be backdated to a date before the date on which approval is given.

In cases where a child has been allocated AIM Level 7 support in the first year of the ECCE Programme, and the child continues the ECCE Programme in the same early learning and care setting, provided there are no changes e.g. to the adult-child ratio in the room, approval for the second year of funding may be granted without a second visit to the setting. (An observation visit will have taken place in the first year of the child's participation.)

AIM Level 7 Payment Schedule

Payment Date

% paid

Cumulative paid

13th September 2019 

25% of contract value

25 % of contract value

11th October 2019 

12.5% of contract value

37.5 % of contract value

29th November 2019 

12.5% of contract value

50 % of contract value

10th January 2020 

12.5% of contract value

62.5% of contract value

21st February 2020 

12.5% of contract value

75% of contract value

27th March 2020 

12.5% of contract value

87.5% of contract value

22nd May 2020 

12.5% of contract value

100 % of contract value

  Please Note:

- Payments may vary throughout the year, if there are any changes to approved funding.

- Catch up payments will be made to services on a weekly basis.

- This schedule is for information purposes only. DCYA reserves the right to amend it at any stage.

- Service Providers are advised to check PIP on a regular basis to ensure they are in possession of the most up to date information.

Childcare Services Expenditure

Ceisteanna (438)

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

438. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the expenditure on childcare in each year since 2014, by scheme; the allocation and estimated out-turn for 2019 and the allocation for 2020, in tabular form. [48697/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Expenditure in the Early Years section of my Department has increased significantly over the last number of years, as outlined in the following table.

Table 1: Early Years Beneficiary Outturn (€m) 2014-2018

 

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

ECCE

164.4

168.5

207.6

256.7

275.6

CCS/NCS Programme funding

45.0

41.5

41.1

63.2

124.5

TEC

19.3

19.6

18.4

13.3

10.4

AIM

NA

NA

7.6

22.2

31.7

Programme Support Payment (PSP

NA

NA

NA

18.3

18.7

Capital

3.3

8.3

7.0

11.8

6.2

Administration and supports

20.8

23.4

23.4

30.7

35.1

Total

252.8

261.3

305.0

416.2

502.2

% Increase in Early Years expenditure from 2014

N/A

3%

21%

65%

99%

€574.4m was allocated to these purposes in 2019. Current projections indicate that expenditure over this year will be within 1% of this allocation.

Table 2: Early Years Beneficiary allocation and estimated outturn 2019

2019 Allocation

2019 Est. outturn

ECCE

€298.1

€295.1

CCS/NCS Programme funding

€148.0

€147.9

TEC

€9.2

€7.9

AIM Programme funding*

€21.4

€23.6

Programme Support Payment (PSP)

€19.4

€18.8

Capital

€9.6

€9.1

Administration and supports

€68.8

€67.2

Total

€574.4

€569.6

*The AIM programme launched in 2016. There are a range of further supports under the model which , from 2019, are now accounted for under the administration and supports heading.

My Department is currently finalising funding allocations for next year as part of the annual Revised Estimates process. On Budget Day 2020 I announced that an additional €54.5m had been secured for Early Learning and Care and School Aged Childcare

Early Childhood Care and Education

Ceisteanna (439)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

439. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will address a matter relating to early years services (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48726/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Officials in my Department, along with our colleagues in Tusla, are currently compiling the information as requested by the Deputy. This information will be supplied to the Deputy in no later than 10 working days. I have asked my officials to follow up on this to ensure delivery as a matter of urgency.

Family Support Services

Ceisteanna (440)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

440. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the funding process for family support services through Tusla; the funding provided to Tusla in each of the years 2014 to 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form; the funding provided to family support services by Tusla in the same period in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48805/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency allocates funding to a wide range of programmes in the area of family support. Family Support is defined as a style of work that strengthens positive informal social networks through community-based programmes and services. The main focus of these services is on early intervention, which aims to promote the health, wellbeing and rights of all children, young people and their families. 

Tusla receives annual funding from the Exchequer under my Department's Vote (Vote 40). The following table outlines the gross core budgetary allocation to Tusla from my Department for the years 2014 to 2019.

Year

Funding Provided (€m)

2014

609.124

2015

658.401

2016

676.042

2017

712.895

2018

753.526

2019

784.619

Each year after the budget announcement, I issue Tusla with its annual Performance Statement in line with the Child and Family Agency Act, 2013. The Performance Statement outlines Tusla's overall gross and net current and capital expenditure budget for the following year under the broad headings of pay, non-pay and capital  expenditure. In response to the Performance Statement, Tusla prepares a Business Plan, which is submitted to me for consideration.

The precise level of funding to be allocated to specific services including family support services is considered by Tusla, in preparing its Business Plan, having regard to its statutory remit and taking account of the totality of funding available each year. 

I have asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to respond to you with further details regarding its family support services funding and process.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Childcare Services

Ceisteanna (441)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

441. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention or that of a body under the aegis of her Department has been drawn to the reason a childcare facility (details supplied) in County Cork is closing; the steps she is taking to resolve the situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48952/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Na Páistí Beaga – Magnet Community Group CLG is a community not-for-profit childcare service in County Cork. My Department has been informed that the service intends to close on 31st December 2019. I am acutely aware of the difficulties this future closure may impose on the families and children who attend the facility, as well as the staff who work there.

My Department does not own or operate childcare services; instead it provides funding to subsidise the cost of childcare to parents through a number of schemes. As such, Magnet Community Group is a private organisation and this decision to close the service remains within the remit of its Board.

Both Pobal and Cork City Childcare Committee (CCC) are working on my Department’s behalf with Magnet Community Group CLG; and with parents, the local community, and service providers to find a viable solution which will enable families to access quality childcare following this closure. 

If an alternative service provider intends to provide services in this community served by Na Páistí Beaga, they will be eligible to apply for the Early Learning and Care and School Aged Care programmes, once they have met requirements including registering with the Early Years Inspectorate of Tusla.

Parents who are concerned that they may be affected by this closure should contact Cork City Childcare Committee. Cork CCC may be able to assist them in locating alternative childcare places.

Departmental Funding

Ceisteanna (442)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

442. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if funding is available for groups (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48975/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The service that the Deputy refers to appears to be an in-school health promotion initiative around drugs and alcohol.  Accordingly I would advise the Deputy that he might refer the question to the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy for her consideration.

By way of background to work that my Department undertakes in this area, the Deputy may be aware of the significant work being done to reform the funding and provision of youth services.  Part of this reform involves the restructuring of four existing funding schemes into one funding scheme – the Targeted Youth Funding Scheme.  One of the previous four funding schemes was for projects under the Local Drug Task Force.  

21 youth related Local Drugs Task Force projects target young people under the various pillars of the National Drugs Strategy “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery”.  The funding is given to youth projects to provide a range of supports for young people by way of targeted drug prevention and awareness programmes as well as referrals.

The Targeted Youth Funding Scheme has been allocated €35.18 million for 2019 to provide out-of-school supports to young people aged 10 to 24 years of age who are described in the National Youth Strategy as marginalised, disadvantaged or vulnerable will be the primary target group for services available through the new scheme.

Child and Family Agency Data

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Ceisteanna (443)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

443. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of cases reported to Tusla in respect of a series of matters (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48987/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The Deputy is enquiring about an operational matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I have therefore referred the matter to Tusla, and asked that a direct response be provided to the Deputy.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Childcare Services Regulation

Ceisteanna (444)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

444. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the process open to a parent who wishes to make a complaint against a preschool, playschool or childminder; and if a parent does not in the first instance have to make a complaint directly to the facility involved (details supplied). [49017/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

In the first instance, if a parent/guardian is experiencing an issue with a service provider, my Department encourages both the parent/guardian and the service provider to seek to resolve the issue between themselves using the service provider's complaint policy. The local City/County Childcare Committee may also provide assistance to both the parent/guardian and the service provider in order to resolve the issue.

All early learning and care and school-age childcare services (including those childminders who are subject to regulation) must be registered with the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate, and the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 require services to submit to Tusla - as part of the registration process - a copy of their complaints policy. The registered provider must specify the procedure to be followed in making a complaint to the provider, the manner in which the complaint will be dealt with, and the procedures for keeping the complainant informed of the manner in which the complaint is being dealt with.

If the complaint is in relation to a breach of the DCYA childcare funding rules, the parent/guardian should contact their local City/County Childcare Committee or Pobal, who will escalate the issue to my Department if the issue cannot be resolved.

If there is a concern that a child may have been, or is currently at risk of harm or neglect, Tusla should be contacted immediately. 

If anyone has cause for concern that a child is at immediate risk they should contact An Garda Síochána immediately.

With the exception of cases of risk of harm or neglect to a child, the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate does not investigate individual complaints about the operations of an early learning and care or school-age childcare setting. However, Tusla welcomes information about services, and reviews and assesses all such information that it receives. Tusla may then use unsolicited information that it receives in this way to inform its decisions about the timing and focus of inspections of services that it carries out. Further information on the Tusla unsolicited information procedure can be found on the Tusla website (https://www.tusla.ie/services/preschool-services/where-to-get-advice-if-i-have-a-difficulty-or-a-complaint-about-a-service/ ’). 

Youth Services Funding

Ceisteanna (445)

Pat Casey

Ceist:

445. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to improve funding for youth services in County Wicklow. [49111/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Government investment in youth services has increased since 2016 by €8.5m.  In 2019 we have invested €63.6M in current and capital funding in clubs, services and young people.  In Budget 2020, I secured an additional €1.396 million in funding.  My officials and I are considering the final distribution of this funding and final approval will issue in due course following the publication of the revised estimates volume (REV).  

My Department and I are committed to ensuring that every young person in Ireland has access to the transformational power that participating in youth services can bring.  This is achieved through the provision of out-of-school supports to young people in their local communities to enable them to overcome adverse circumstances and achieve their full potential by strengthening their personal and social competencies.

The following tables detail the Department of Children and Youth Affairs funding for youth services in County Wicklow in 2019. 

Targeted Youth Funding Scheme (TYFS) (Wicklow)

Service

Amount

Connect Bray Neighbourhood Youth Project

€94,330

Connect Bray Neighbourhood Project 1

€118,997

Connect Bray Neighbourhood Project 2 

€101,503

Ballywaltrim Youth Project  

€48,277

Little Bray Special Project  

€48,277

Longstanding (Bray Youth Service)  

€48,277

At Risk Youth Project 

€14,215

Bray Adventure Sports Project 

€24,351

Adventure Sports  

€25,070

Bray Youth Service  

€107,091

FAI Football in the Community Officer

€24,477

Bray Travellers Project Ltd

€2,230

Wicklow Traveller Development Group Ltd

€824

TOTAL 

€657,918

Targeted Youth Funding Scheme (Wicklow and Kildare*)

Service

Amount

Football in the Community (4 new towns)

€8,262

Sports Access Program 2011

€1,813

Sports Promotion Unit

€120,080

TOTAL 

€130,155

Revised Youth Funding Scheme (Wicklow)

Service

Amount

East Wicklow Y.S. Arklow (Crosscare)

€206,844.00

West Wicklow Y. P. Inst 4

€144,538.00

TOTAL 

€351,382.00

One-off (2019) Capital Funding (Wicklow and Kildare*)

Service

Amount

Staff-led Capital Funding

€40,000.00

Local Youth Club Equipment Scheme

€56,386.97

TOTAL 

€96,386.97

* These are figures for funds allocated to KWETB as a whole.

As the Deputy may be aware my Department is currently managing the most significant reform of youth services ever undertaken.  Part of this reform involves the restructuring of four funding schemes into one funding scheme – the Targeted Youth Funding Scheme.

The Targeted Youth Funding Scheme has been allocated €35.18 million for 2019 to provide out of school Young people aged 10 to 24 years of age who are described in the National Youth Strategy as marginalised, disadvantaged or vulnerable will be the primary target group for services available through the new scheme.

Key to the reform is the new approach to identify need and to focus funding on young people most in need of intervention.  Future development and investment in youth services will be informed by the mapping exercise completed in 2017, which mapped youth service provision across the State, as well as an Area Profiling, Needs Assessment and Service Requirement tool which was designed in collaboration with the Education and Training Board (ETB) sector and was officially launched in January 2019. This mapping and tool will assist the Department and the relevant ETBs in developing a detailed social demographic profile in terms of both population numbers and deprivation levels. 

My Department is committed to working with ETBs to identify requirements in their area and facilitate decisions on service requirement by reference to evidenced need.

Childcare Services Provision

Ceisteanna (446)

Pat Casey

Ceist:

446. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to assist in planning for provision of further childcare places in County Wicklow. [49112/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I am committed to improving the provision of childcare throughout the State.  I have successfully secured a 138% increase in the level of public investment in Early Learning and Care and School Aged Childcare services over the past 5 budgets. This extra investment has supported a doubling of capacity in the sector, including both Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and the provision of childcare to the  0-3 age group.

One of the key priorities for my Department's capital programme is to support childcare providers to extend their existing services, or to establish new services, where need or demand exists.

My Department allocates capital funding on an annual basis.  Providers are invited to submit applications setting out their grant request.  All applications are appraised in a fair and impartial manner and on the basis of the quality of their application.  Four providers in Co. Wicklow were allocated capital grants in 2019 to enable them to extend their services.

Finally, if the Deputy is aware of any specific cases of parents having difficulty accessing childcare places, the Wicklow County Childcare Committee will be pleased to assist them.

Childcare Services Regulation

Ceisteanna (447)

Pat Casey

Ceist:

447. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to ensure quality and safety in childcare providers in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49113/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department has made significant strides over the last number of years in progressing the quality agenda both nationally and locally, to enhance quality and safety in early learning and care and school-age childcare. Measures already undertaken and which will continue over the years ahead include:

- Introducing a minimum qualification requirement in law which ensures that all staff must have at least a Level 5 qualification in early childhood care and education

- Incentivising the recruitment of graduates. 25% of those working in the sector now have degrees in early childhood education and care 

- Establishing the Better Start Quality Development Service that provides mentoring and training to services all across the country.

- Providing Learner Fund Bursaries and payments for participation in Continuing Professional Development, to support the upskilling of those working in the sector. 

- Funding the provision of training in areas such as the curriculum and inclusion. 

- Expanding and strengthening the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate, which is the statutory regulator of the sector. The number of inspections carried out by Tusla each year is nearly double what it was 5 years ago.

- Creating a register of providers, and giving Tusla the power to deregister providers and to attach conditions to their registration.

- Introducing “education-focused inspections” for the ECCE programme that are carried out by the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate on behalf of my Department.

- Supporting the 30 City and County Childcare Committees - including Wicklow County Childcare Committee - to assist my Department in ensuring that schemes and other initiatives we operate nationally meet local needs. 

- Introducing (in 2019) the regulation of school age childcare for the first time.

- Consulting on a Draft Childminding Action Plan (published in August 2019 for the purpose of public consultation), which sets out how we propose to introduce the regulation of childminding over the years ahead and to open up a full range of supports for childminders, including supports for quality and safety. 

In addition, First 5, our Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, which I published last year, sets out a wide range of further measures that I - working in collaboration with my colleagues in Government - intend to take. These include, for example, the Workforce Development Plan, work on which began earlier this year and which will set out a detailed plan of actions to achieve a graduate-led workforce in early learning and care settings by 2028. In relation to school-age childcare, following the initial Regulations introduced earlier this year, a public consultation took place in summer 2019 which will inform the development over the period ahead of comprehensive Regulations and a quality improvement framework for school-age childcare settings.

Following the recent broadcast of the RTÉ investigation, Behind Closed Doors, I wrote to the Chair of Tusla to ask what additional powers the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate might need. Following Tusla’s reply, my Department is now examining legislative options, which may include mechanisms to inform parents of inspection findings at an earlier stage, to require services to display prominently their inspection status, and to alert parents in relation to the operation of unregistered services.

Additional powers for Tusla must form part of a multi-faceted approach that also includes: additional training for those working in the sector, with a renewed focus on the child protection training that is already under way; strengthened advisory supports before and after inspections; supporting the Garda Vetting process for the sector; and additional information for parents. In short, we need to keep strengthening the quality agenda we have been successfully pursuing over recent years.

Archival Material

Ceisteanna (448)

James Browne

Ceist:

448. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he has considered making data storage available to local historians and folklorists who require a large amount of data storage to preserve their material; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48662/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The Department recognises the valuable local resource that archives represent and the importance of their proper management. Under Section 80 of the Local Government Act, 2001, it is a matter for each local authority Chief Executive, in the first instance, to ensure that the proper arrangements are in place for the proper management, custody, care and conservation of local records and archives and for their inspection by the public.

In that context, my Department is considering providing funding towards the Decade of Centenaries commemoration programme next year which will encompass the digitisation of relevant archives across the country.

Town and Village Renewal Scheme

Ceisteanna (449)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Ceist:

449. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the request (details supplied) for consideration to request an amendment to a grant allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48597/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The project referred to by the Deputy was approved for funding under the 2018 Town and Village Renewal Scheme.  This project contained a number of complementary elements that were to be delivered through the grant funding provided.

My Department subsequently received a request to amend and/or remove a number of these elements. The requested changes were not approved by my Department as they represented a significant modification to the proposed project as assessed and approved. 

In recent days I have directly received a request from the community group concerned to reconsider their proposal to alter the scope of this project. Following on from this request I have asked my officials to consider the matter further.

CLÁR Programme

Ceisteanna (450)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

450. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the way in which an area can seek to be included as a CLÁR designated area. [48622/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of de-population.   

The areas originally selected for inclusion in the programme in 2001 were those which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 1996.  The Cooley Peninsula was also included on the basis of the serious difficulties caused in that area by Foot and Mouth disease. The average population loss in the original CLÁR areas over the period 1926 to 1996 was 50%.

In 2006, an analysis of the 2002 Census data was carried out by the NIRSA Institute at Maynooth University and the programme was extended to include areas with an average population loss of 35% between 1926 and 2002.  The analysis of the Census data was carried out at a District Electoral Division (DED) level and all areas designated as being 'CLÁR' areas are at that level. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the CLÁR programme was closed for new applications in 2010.  However, I re-launched the programme in the second half of 2016, using as a base-line the areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA in 2006. 

I have initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to the 2016 Census of Population data.  It will also consider whether there are any other factors that should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under CLÁR in the future. 

My officials have been in contact with NIRSA in relation to review.  I envisage that a wider stakeholder consultation will also take place as part of the process.  Once completed, the review will help to inform the design of future CLÁR programmes and the areas covered.

Community Services Programme

Ceisteanna (451)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

451. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of an application for a manager by a company (details supplied) under the community services programme; when the applications will be decided upon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48727/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

My Department's Community Services Programme, or CSP, supports community organisations to provide local services through a social enterprise model.  CSP funding is provided as a fixed annual contribution towards the cost of an agreed number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions including a manager where appropriate.  Some €46m is available to support community organisations under the programme in 2019.

CSP funding and other relevant supports, for new organisations are considered in light of qualification criteria and available budgets.

In that context, I can confirm that the organisation in question submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) seeking support under the CSP on 11 March 2019.  The EOI was reviewed for suitability and fit with the CSP and the organisation was approved for further Pobal engagement and support.  The organisation has recently submitted a business plan for appraisal to Pobal, who manage the programme on behalf of my Department, and I expect that my Department will be in a position to make a decision on the application in the coming weeks.

CLÁR Programme

Ceisteanna (452)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

452. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if correspondence (details supplied) will be reviewed; the steps the school can take in its CLÁR application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48808/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

The CLÁR programme provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of de-population.   

As I have pointed out previously, the areas included in the programme are based on an analysis of population loss in the Census of Population data at District Electoral Division (DED) level.  The current designated CLÁR areas are based on work carried out by the NIRSA Institute at Maynooth University in 2006.

As the Deputy will be aware, I re-launched the CLÁR programme in 2016, after a period of some years when the programme was closed for new applications.  The areas identified in the work carried out by NIRSA in 2006 were used as a base-line for the re-launched programme. 

I have now initiated a review of the CLÁR programme which will examine CLÁR areas by reference to the 2016 Census of Population data.  It will also consider whether there are any other factors that should be taken into account in designating areas for eligibility under CLÁR in the future.  My officials have been in contact with NIRSA with a view to progressing the review.

I envisage that a wider stakeholder consultation will also take place as part of the process.  Once completed, the review will help to inform the design of future CLÁR programmes and the areas covered.

I can confirm from the details supplied by the Deputy that the village referred to in her correspondence is not currently located in a CLÁR area and is therefore not eligible under the CLÁR programme at present.  If the prospective applicant has not already done so, enquiries could be made to the Department of Education about the possibility of funding for the proposed project.

Rural Social Scheme

Ceisteanna (453)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

453. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he or his officials have had or are having discussions on the future of the RSS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49043/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Rural)

A series of bilateral meetings have taken place between my Department and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in the context of the work of the Interdepartmental Group (IDG) on Social Inclusion Work schemes, which included consideration of the RSS.

The report of the IDG is currently being finalised and I expect my colleague Minister Doherty will present it to cabinet in due course.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (454)

Mick Barry

Ceist:

454. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to ensure that workers (details supplied) are able to access their social insurance benefits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48860/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I am advised that the matter raised by the Deputy is being investigated by my Department. Any workers affected should attend their local Intreo Centre where they can discuss their entitlements.

 I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Budget 2020

Ceisteanna (455)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

455. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the date on which she declared an increase of €5 to welfare recipients across the board during her budget 2020 speech; if it includes all contributory and non-contributory pensions; her views on whether many pension recipients are receiving only a percentage of that increase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49085/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

As part of Budget 2020, I announced, on 8th October this year, that I was directing the resources available to me towards a series of targeted measures to ensure that the social welfare system supports the most vulnerable people in our society.

These measures include:

- A €5 increase to the living alone allowance for over 160,000 pensioners, widows and widowers and over 40,000 people with disabilities;

- Increases in the qualified child payment by €3 per week for children aged 12 and over and by €2 per week for under 12s, in recognition of the need for greater income support for welfare-dependent households with children;

- A further increase in the earnings disregard for the one parent family payment and jobseeker transition payment by €15 per week, increasing the incomes of working lone parents;

- Enhancement of the school meals programme to deliver hot meals instead of cold lunches to up to 35,000 children;

- Restoration of the full-rate of jobseeker’s allowance for 25-year-olds; and, for 18-24 year olds, payment of the full rate for young people living independently and in receipt of state housing supports;

- An increase of €10 per week in the income thresholds for the working family payment for families with up to 3 children;

- An increase in the fuel allowance payment by €2 per week, bringing its value to €686 over the course of the fuel season for 370,000 households.

I also introduced a disregard for Blind Welfare Allowance in social assistance schemes means tests and  provided for an increase in the hours that carers can work or study outside the home from 15 hours to 18 and a half hours per week. 

These increases and improvements to social welfare payments will take effect from week beginning 6th January 2020.

Illness Benefit Appeals

Ceisteanna (456)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

456. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an illness benefit appeal by a person (details submitted); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48528/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred on 27 September 2019 to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.  I have also been advised that, following initial consideration of the appeal, the Appeals Officer requested additional medical evidence from the person concerned on 7 November 2019.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Ceisteanna (457)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

457. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an invalidity pension application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48529/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The department received a claim for IP for the lady concerned on 23 July 2019.  Her application was disallowed on the grounds that the medical conditions for the scheme were not satisfied.  She was notified on 19 November 2019 of this decision, the reasons for it and of her right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Fuel Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (458)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

458. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a fuel allowance application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48540/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Fuel allowance is a means-tested payment to assist householders on long-term social welfare payments towards the cost of their heating needs. 

The main eligibility conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, must satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or with other qualifying persons.  The fuel allowance means test is linked to the maximum rate of the state pension (contributory).  The applicant and their spouse can have a combined weekly household income of €100.00 above the maximum rates for state pension (contributory) and Increase for qualified adult and still be eligible for a fuel allowance. 

The person concerned applied for this allowance on 7 August 2019.  Since it is a means-tested payment, additional information regarding means held by the couple was requested on 26 August 2019.  A further request issued on 21 October 2019.  There is still information outstanding, regarding a bank account and rate of UK pension, which is required for the means test to be completed.

The application for fuel allowance was disallowed based on non-disclosure of means and the person concerned was notified in writing of this decision on 20 November 2019.  However, if the requested information is provided, a Deciding Officer will review the application and notify the person of the outcome.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Ceisteanna (459)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

459. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an invalidity pension application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48541/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was referred on 4 November 2019 to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing. 

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.