Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ceisteanna (285)

John Curran


285. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the specific interventions and alternative education programmes created to address vulnerable children at risk of becoming gang recruits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53277/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

My colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is leading on the design of a community-based response to this issue, known as the "Greentown” project.  This is a research project led by the REPPP Project (Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice) at the School of Law in the University of Limerick. The REPPP project is a strategic research partnership with the University of Limerick which is funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and also supported by my own Department. Its specific focus is on examining the recruitment by criminal networks of children in Ireland and to make recommendations for interventions to disrupt this.

In the absence of international models of intervention that could be readily deployed, the original Greentown report (December 2016) recommended the design of a programme to include interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks. This new “Greentown Programme” has been designed with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has secured Dormant Account Funding a trial of the Greentown Programme approach, on a pilot basis, and I understand that arrangements in that regard are being finalised currently.

Education programmes and education welfare services are the responsibility of the Department of Education and Skills and Tusla respectively.

 Other initiatives to protect, prevent and free vulnerable children from recruitment into gangs include the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. This is a statutory programme under Part 4 of the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which focuses on preventing criminal behaviour as well as diversion from the criminal justice system and rehabilitation of children between 10 and 18 years of age.  The programme is an essential part of Government strategy to help tackle youth crime, administered by An Garda Síochána, and it is very important that it operates effectively.  

The operation of the programme by An Garda Síochána is strongly supported by a nationwide network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects, which are funded by this Department and operated by community-based organisations.  The projects receive referrals from a number of sources, but primarily from the Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers. 

Other developments in the operation of GYDPs include ongoing initiatives relating to personal mentoring, employment support and restorative practices. There is also important work to enhance service standards, including formal risk assessment of children referred.

In the last year, the operation of GYDPs has been the subject of extensive consultation with service providers and community stakeholders. The intention is to devise an ongoing programme of development, backed up by evidence of effectiveness, which will ensure that high-quality GYDP services are available to every child in the State who could benefit from them. It is intended to support this process with an Action Research Project, working with selected GYDPs, to describe and clarify key actions and strategies to enhance the effectiveness of local projects.

Garda Youth Diversion Projects are co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.

The Deputy may also wish to be aware that an expert Steering Group is currently developing a new Youth Justice Strategy, including a review of the Children Act. The Steering Group commenced its work in February and has had a series of meetings during this year which will continue into next year.  

The Group is tasked with advising and guiding the development of the new Strategy, including consideration of the full range of issues connected to children and young people at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system, from early intervention and preventative work, including family support, diversion from crime, through to court processes and facilities, supervision of offenders, detention and reintegration and support post release.  It is intended that the Strategy will be finalised in the first half of 2020.

As the Deputy may be aware, the operation of the Garda Diversion Programme is monitored by a Committee established under Section 44 of the Children Act 2001, whose annual reports are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I understand that the 2018 Report will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible.