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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 126-140
 Header Item Bullying of Children
 Header Item Children in Care
 Header Item Youth Homelessness Strategy
 Header Item Children's Strategy
 Header Item Preschool Services
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Child Care Costs
 Header Item Government-Church Dialogue
 Header Item Child Protection Services
 Header Item Legislative Programme
 Header Item Preschool Services

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 799 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 126-140

Bullying of Children

 126. Deputy John Browne Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the role her Department will play in the action plan on bullying; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17367/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, I am committed to working with colleagues in Government to ensure that integrated policy responses to combat bullying are high on our agenda.

Recent research confirms the scale and impact bullying has on our young people.

- My Department’s 'Growing Up in Ireland' study has found that over 24% of 9 to 17 year olds have reported been bullied.

- UNICEF’s recently published “Child Well being in Rich countries” (Report Card 11) highlighted a rise in bullying among Irish young people, the report stated that 28% of children in Ireland aged 11, 13 and 15 reported “being bullied at school at least once in the past couple of months.” Ireland is only one of five countries detailed in the report to show a rise in bullying.

- Research commissioned by the GLEN (Gay & Lesbian Equality Network) & BeLonG To on the experiences of young LGBT people in Irish schools has found that 58% reported the existence of homophobic bullying in their schools.

My Department will continue to support research on bullying and hold consultations with young people to promote further research in this area.

Last January Minister Quinn and I launched the Action Plan on Bullying. This is the first plan of its kind and aims to address the serious impact of bullying on our children and young people. The publication of this plan is an important step in the Government’s absolute commitment to working with a broad base of interests to protect children and ensuring a safer childhood. To successfully tackle the underlying causes of bullying behaviour we must ensure all relevant policies and services are fully engaged with this agenda; it cannot be regarded as a standalone issue.

Although schools have a lead role in tackling bullying the plan recognises the need to have a broader approach recognising that bullying is no longer limited to classrooms. This means making sure that wherever young people are, they are protected by safety guidelines. It means making sure that wherever young people are, they are supported by an anti-bullying ethos and an Anti Bullying Framework.

In line with the Action Plan, the development of the Anti Bullying Framework is being prioritised in the context the new whole-of-government Children and Young People’s Policy Framework. This work is being led by my Department with a view to publication later this year.

The Action Plan itself provides for a number of awareness raising measures including the development of an anti-bullying website to provide a single point of access to practical advice and support in tackling and reporting bullying behaviours. I am advised that preliminary scoping work is under way in the Department of Education and Skills towards this development.

My Department is also working to place the Children First Guidelines on a statutory footing. Within this process we will explore any additional clarifications that may be required to assist schools in their response to bullying.

In recognising the lead role of schools in tackling bullying and their need for support and guidance, the National Education Welfare Board, which now comes under my Department’s remit, has issued guidelines requiring each school to have policies to prevent or address bullying and schools must make clear in their code of behaviour that bullying is unacceptable.

Compliance by schools with this requirement is inspected by Department of Education Inspectorate during Whole School Evaluations.

In conclusion, my Department is committed to the fight against bullying and we will work with other Departments, childcare services, education welfare services and the youth sector to raise awareness about bullying, its impact on children and young people and the measures to be taken to tackle prejudice, combat bullying and promote a safer environment for our young people.

Children in Care

 127. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if all children in care now have a care plan; if not, the number of the total who do not; the reason for same; if every child in care now has a social worker; if not, the number of the total who do not; the reason for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17284/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The HSE compiles monthly performance reports which include statistics in relation to children in care. These reports are published on the HSE website. The latest published report shows that there were 6,353 children in the care of the HSE in January 2013. 87.3% (5,549) of these children had a written care plan and 12.7% (804) did not, while 91.6% (5,810) of children had an allocated social worker and 8.4% (543) did not.

The HSE has stated that it is their policy to ensure that all children in care have a Care Plan and that the Care Plan is reviewed as required by the Child Care Regulations. The HSE has advised me that day to day exigencies of service provision, such as staff absence due to annual, maternity and sick leave, can impact on services. The HSE further advised that there may be circumstances in which local decisions are made in regard to work planning within the context of service priorities, such as child protection workloads within an area or staff availability. In these circumstances, it may be determined that a ‘child in care review’ can be deferred for a short period. Such a decision will be made on the basis of risk assessment and would apply to particularly stable care placements. Special Care, High Support, Residential care and short term foster care are all prioritised for an allocated social worker. Ongoing provision of social work to children and foster families is ensured in these circumstances.

The HSE has also advised that where there are immediate operational difficulties in assigning one social worker to a child, social workers are assigned based on a needs assessment and prioritisation. Some of these cases can relate to children in very stable fostering placements, provided, perhaps, by a relative. Where a social worker is not assigned for a period, practice has been to support foster placements through the regular social work duty system where the child can contact the social worker on duty. It is also important to note that cases are subject to ongoing review and, where appropriate, the level and nature of the support being provided to foster carers and children in care will change depending on the needs of the child.

In relation to the recruitment of social workers, the HSE has advised me that as of 15th April, there are currently 123 vacant posts being filled. Of this number, 27 posts are completed and candidates have commenced in post while 8 candidates are due to start in April/May 2013. A further 39 candidates have accepted posts and are currently agreeing start dates. In addition, 49 posts are at an early stage of the process overseen by the National Recruitment Service.

Youth Homelessness Strategy

 128. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if the reviews undertaken by the Centre for Effective Services of the 2001 youth homelessness strategy has concluded; if she has received a report and recommendations from the Centre for Effective Services in this regard; and if she will publish its findings.  [17276/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department has engaged the Centre for Effective Services (CES) to undertake a high level review of the implementation of the 2001 Youth Homelessness Strategy.

The purpose of the review is to establish the extent that the strategy has been successful, to identify blockages and challenges to its implementation in respect of any outstanding actions and to make recommendations for future action. Consultations were held with the relevant service providers, non-Government agencies and young people as part of this process. This review will inform the development of a framework to address ongoing problems identified for children out of home over the next five years.

The review is at a very advanced stage of completion. It is my intention to publish the report, in full, in the coming weeks.

Children's Strategy

 129. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will include specific commitments to Traveller children in the national children and young people's policy framework, due to be published mid-2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17307/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department is developing a new strategy for children and young people. It will build on Our Children - Their Lives, Ireland’s first children’s strategy which was published in 2000 and it will cover the 5-year period from 2013 to 2018.

  In keeping with my Department’s responsibilities for children and young people, the new Children and Young People’s Policy Framework is being developed in a holistic way which will comprehend the continuum of the life-course from infancy through to early and middle childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. It will be the overarching Framework under which policy and services for children and young people will be developed and implemented in the State.

  The Framework will address the broad issues of child deprivation and the social inclusion of marginal groups including members of the Traveller Community, children in immigrant families and children with special needs.

  I anticipate that the final draft of the Framework will be presented to Government for approval by the middle of the year.

Preschool Services

 130. Deputy Michelle Mulherin Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will examine the operation of the ECCE scheme which allows payment for three hours a day in respect of tuition but nothing for planning the practical detail and implementation of the curriculum for the children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16018/13]

 132. Deputy Michelle Mulherin Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will consider re-instating the choice for parents of extending the ECCE scheme to 50 weeks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16019/13]

 144. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the way she is helping children with special needs access crèche and preschool care; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17288/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 130, 132 and 144 together.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides for one free pre-school year for all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. The Government has made a very significant commitment in maintaining the pre-school year on a universal and free basis despite the current budgetary situation. The universal nature of this programme is critical for childhood development by providing every child with early learning and preparation for school.

The objective of the ECCE programme is to make early learning in a formal setting available to eligible children in the year before they commence primary school. Services participating in the programme are required to promote age-appropriate activities and programmes. The payment made to a service is for the provision of services, including preparatory and supportive work such as engagement with parents, training and organisation.

Issues relating to workforce development, curricular support and capitation will be considered as part of Ireland's first-ever Early Years strategy, work on which is at an advanced stage.

When the ECCE programme was introduced in January 2010, a number of transitional measures were included to make it more acceptable to the childcare sector. One of these measures related to the number of weeks over which the free pre-school year could be provided. At that time, approximately 30% of children in the relevant age-cohort were in full daycare. Therefore, in order to facilitate full daycare services in the early years of the programme, services were permitted to choose between providing a 38 week or a 50 week model.

I should emphasise that the ECCE programme is designed as an educational programme for children. It was always intended, once the programme had bedded-down, to introduce a standard 38 week model. This is primarily because this is the optimal model in terms of ensuring a high-quality early years experience for pre-school children. The Síolta and Aistear frameworks were developed to support this objective. The ECCE programme is designed to be delivered across 38 weeks. It is difficult to see how the curriculum can be delivered across a 50 week period when the children spend less time (generally 2 hours 15 minutes per day) availing of it.

My focus is on improving the quality of childcare services. For this reason, therefore, services participating in the ECCE programme are now required to provide the programme on the basis of 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, over 38 weeks. It is not mandatory that children attend every day but, where they do not, the capitation fee is reduced accordingly.

The change to the 38 week model only was introduced in September 2012 and all participating services have successfully made the transition to the new arrangement. There are no proposals to re-introduce the 50 week model.

The ECCE programme includes a number of additional provisions to take account of children with special needs. These include an exemption from the upper age limit for qualification under the programme where a child is developmentally delayed and would benefit from starting primary school at a later age. In addition, children with special needs can apply to have the pre-school year split over two years on a pro-rata basis, for example availing of the programme for 2 days a week in the first year and for 3 days a week in the second year. Application for these exemptions must be made prior to the child commencing the programme.

My Department is currently having discussions with the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills with a view to providing a more integrated approach to the delivery of pre-school care and education services to children with disabilities.

Child Care Services Provision

 131. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will provide a progress report on the new after-school child care scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17358/13]

 148. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will provide a progress report on preparations for the roll-out of the new school age child care scheme, announced in budget 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17278/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 148 together.

As part of Budget 2013 I, together with my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, was pleased to announce a new School Age Childcare initiative which will be targeted at low-income parents availing of employment opportunities.

The initiative is expected to receive full year funding of €14 million to provide over 6,000 after-school places for children attending primary school in order to support parents to take up employment. Lack of access to affordable, quality childcare is a significant barrier to many low income and disadvantaged families seeking to avail of work opportunities.

This initiative will provide an important support measure to enable parents to avail of job opportunities. This is in line with the Government's overall strategy to support parents of low income families to take up employment and demonstrates how Departments are working together to deliver the Government's agenda on promoting employment and supporting children's development.

The School Age Childcare programme will further augment my Department's programme of childcare supports for low income families. These include the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programmes, both of which provide subsidised childcare for low income parents, including qualifying parents who are on approved VEC and FÁS education and training courses. In 2013, my Department expects to spend over €70 million on the CCS and CETS programmes, supporting over 30,000 childcare places.

Eligibility for the new School Age Childcare programme is a matter for the Department of Social Protection (DSP). Officials from the DSP and my Department are continuing to liaise and are currently considering the operational details of the programme. As is the case with the CETS scheme, the new programme is expected to be open to both community and commercial childcare providers across the State. Preparations are under way for the introduction of a pilot project which is expected to be launched shortly and which will assist both Departments in determining the procedures necessary for the full roll-out of the programme in September 2013. Further information will be made available as the work progresses.

  Question No. 132 answered with Question No. 130.

Child Care Costs

 133. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the additional steps she will to take to address the availability and affordability of regulated child care services; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17260/13]

 135. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the proposals she has to improve the level of child care and early education cost supports, particularly for parents on low to middle incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17269/13]

 139. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald in view of her statement that the increased population figures strengthen the need for a much sharper focus in Ireland on early intervention and early year’s services with a view to improving children outcomes and future prospects, the actions she is taking to boost intervention and services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17291/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 133, 135 and 139 together.

  My Department is currently developing a new Children and Young People’s Policy Framework which will set out high-level goals for both my own and other Departments for the next five years. The Policy Framework is expected to be published in mid 2013 and will build on Our Children - Their Lives, Ireland’s first Children’s Strategy which was published in 2000. This is relevant to the National Early Years Strategy as the Strategy is one of three, more detailed strategies which will be developed under the Framework.

  The Early Years Strategy, which will be Ireland's first ever national strategy for early years, is already under development and is expected to be completed and published later this year. It is expected that it will cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as health, including physical and mental development, vaccination programmes and population health issues such as nutrition and exercise, as well as parenting and family support, learning and development, play and recreation and early childhood care and education, including literacy and numeracy.

  The Strategy will bring together and consider a significant amount of international and domestic research on the importance of early years for child development, including findings from the 'Growing up in Ireland' study. It will also be informed by the evaluations from the Prevention and Early Interventions Projects which have been funded jointly by my Department and philanthropic organisations, as well as an analysis of existing service provision and associated resources. The major programme of institutional change which is currently under way, including the establishment of the Child and Family Support Agency, will also be taken into account.

  The results of a public consultation, undertaken as part of the development of the Children and Young People’s Policy Framework, is currently being analysed and will inform both the Framework and the Early Years Strategy.   A further, focused consultation with key stakeholders in relation to the Early Years Strategy, is also proposed.

  My Department continues to provide significant support to parents to assist them with the cost of childcare. This support is provided through the provision of two targeted childcare support programmes - the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme - and the universal Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.

  The CCS programme provides funding to community-based childcare services to enable them to provide childcare at reduced rates to parents in receipt of social welfare payments or on low incomes.

  The CETS programme provides €145 towards the weekly cost of full time childcare places to participating childcare services for trainees and students who are deemed qualified by FÁS or the VEC. Students on part-time courses are funded on a pro rata basis.    

  The ECCE programme provides one free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. Children aged between 3 years 2 months and 4 years 6 months at 1 September in the relevant year qualify for a maximum of 15 hours per week free pre-school provision over a 38 week period. This is a universal programme to which all children have access.

  You may also be aware that, as part of Budget 2013, I announced with my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, a joint school age childcare initiative. This initiative, which represents an annual full year investment of €14 million, will provide important support to parents in low income families wishing to take up employment, along with ensuring that quality after-school care is in place to support children's development.

  In 2013, the total expenditure by my Department on these support programmes is expected to be in the region of €260 million. These programmes have been maintained and expanded despite the ongoing need to reduce Government expenditure and they represent a significant investment in supporting parents with the cost of childcare.    

Government-Church Dialogue

 134. Deputy Jerry Buttimer Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will report on her visit to India; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16012/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald On March 14th I lead a delegation to India which included Dr G Shannon, Chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland and a Departmental Official. The visit, which was in conjunction with representing the Irish Government at official functions in India for St Patrick's Day, afforded me the opportunity to assess the position in relation to inter country adoption in India.

During the visit myself and members of the delegation, accompanied by the Irish Ambassador to India, spoke with senior Ministers from the Indian Government with responsibility for child welfare, including adoption, and with Government officials and agencies involved in areas related to child welfare. These included a very constructive meeting Dr Pati, head of the Indian state adoption agency, CARA. I visited the Palna Orphanage from which a number of Indian children have been adopted by Irish families.

These meetings afforded me the opportunity to clarify issues in relation to inter country adoption between Ireland and India and the requirements of the Indian authorities in that regard. I was advised that, while India has placed a moratorium on standard inter country adoption, registration is now open with CARA for special needs cases; this includes children with intellectual or physical disabilities, siblings including twins, and over 5s. The issue of the Indian authorities' acceptance of an Irish accredited agency was also discussed and the Indian authorities were positively disposed in this matter. It was explained that Indian currently operates inter country adoption with other Hague countries without the need for any specific administrative agreements of the type envisaged in Article 72 of the Adoption Act 2010.

My engagement with the officials in India gave me an insight into the changing patterns in inter country adoption especially in relation to the rise in domestic adoption and the efforts being made by the Indian authorities to develop and maintain adoption procedures in the Indian sub-continent.

I intend to meet with the Indian Adoption Group shortly to update them on my visit.

  Question No. 135 answered with Question No. 133.

Child Protection Services

 136. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the number of children whose emergency out-of-hours needs were addressed through the crisis intervention service and the emergency place of safety service throughout 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17274/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald At present the Health Service Executive provides out-of-hours emergency services for children at risk in the greater Dublin area through the Crisis Intervention Service (CIS), and outside the greater Dublin area through the Emergency Place of Safety Service (EPSS). The Crisis Intervention Service provides out-of-hours emergency social work assistance to young people aged under 18 years. The service operates across the greater Dublin area (Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow). Referrals are made by service providers outside of normal working hours i.e. Gardaí, hospital and ambulance service personnel. The Emergency Place of Safety Service, operates outside the greater Dublin area, whereby Gardaí can access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out-of-hours. This service involves the placement of a child in a family setting until the next working day, when the local social work service assumes responsibility for the case. As part of this service Gardaí have access to advice and information from a non-HSE social work off-site resource which is provided on a contract basis.

The latest available information from the HSE indicates that 494 referrals were made to the CIS and EPSS up to the end of Quarter 3 2012. End year data is currently being validated.

Legislative Programme

 137. Deputy Sandra McLellan Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald having published the heads of the Children First Bill more than 12 months ago, when she expects to be in a position to instruct the drafting of the new legislation to underpin the Children First national guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17270/13]

 143. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald when statutory footing will be provided for Children First guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17366/13]

 156. Deputy Billy Kelleher Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she considers that children’s rights to safety and protection would be compromised if childminders, who provide the majority of child care places, are not named as required to report concerns under the forthcoming Children First Bill, particularly as childminder adviser posts throughout the country have been withdrawn by the Health Service Executive.  [17365/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 137, 143 and 156 together.

The Deputy will be aware that I published the Draft Heads and General Scheme for the Children First Bill 2012 on the 25th of April 2012 and immediately referred the Heads of Bill to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for consideration and advice. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children published their report in July 2012.

As part of the Joint Committees consultation process a number of submissions were received. Overall there was a welcome that the legislation would increase the focus on child protection. The contributions in the main came from organisations already implementing Children First.

Submissions were not all in agreement and many points emerging needed to be considered and reconciled. This involves consideration of policy and operational issues, including those pertaining to childminders, as well as the best legal approach to achieving Children First objectives. In this regard, officials within my Department have consulted with a number of organisations and individuals and I recently met with a number of key stakeholders to discuss the complex issues that have arisen. I have also taken the opportunity to consult with a number of experts in relation to the development of the policy in this area. These discussions will inform the preparation of enhanced policy proposals that is currently underway.

The framework is now focused on the safety and protection of children generally; the provision of safe services for children; co-operation amongst professionals and organisations where children are at risk of neglect and abuse and finally mandating key individuals to report child abuse known to them. The latter objective is aimed at removing ambivalence, reluctance or refusal by people and organisations in positions of trust and authority to report child abuse and cooperate with the relevant authorities.

A further reason for reviewing the policy is to ensure that the related and relevant legislation will be compatible with and will complement the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Act.

It is my intention to submit further proposals to Government as soon as possible with a view to the drafting of the Children First Bill as a priority.

Preschool Services

 138. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she will provide Dáil Éireann with details regarding the extension of the free preschool year; if a cost analysis of such a proposal has been completed, if she will provide this to Dáil Éireann on the record; if not, if she will commit that such an analysis will take place; if she will provide a timeline to Dáil Éireann on the length of time it would take to roll out such an additional free preschool year; and her plans for same. [16015/13]

 145. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to introduce a second free preschool year; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [17299/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 and 145 together.

The free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. In line with the Programme for Government, my Department has made a significant commitment to maintaining this universal programme. It is expected that the programme this year will cost up to €175 million when all of the costs are taken into account.

No specific cost analysis has been commissioned in relation to the provision of a second free pre-school year. However, it is estimated that the additional costs of providing a second year would be similar to the costs incurred in providing the one year free pre-school provision. In the region of 65,000 children, that is approximately 95% of children who are eligible, have availed of the free pre-school provision each full year since the introduction of the programme. It is not anticipated that the participation rate in a second pre-school year would be as high as that currently experienced and on this basis it is estimated that the cost of the second year would be in the region of €150m to €175m.

While I am aware of the need to further develop the early childhood care and education sector the requirement for considerable additional funding in a time of financial constraints means that it is not possible to expand the programme at this time. I am very conscious that work is continuing on improvement of quality within the pre-school year. All of the available evidence indicates that the quality of the provision is key to good outcomes for children. In particular, I would like to see further progress in workforce development within the sector given the demands which expansion would place on the current pool of trained staff.

Future developments relating to early years care and education are being considered in the context of the National Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to six years, which is being developed by my Department and expected to be completed later this year.

  Question No. 139 answered with Question No. 133.

  Question No. 140 answered with Question No. 114.


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