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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 34-44
 Header Item Traveller Community Issues
 Header Item Children and Young People's Policy Framework
 Header Item Child and Family Support Agency Funding
 Header Item Departmental Funding
 Header Item Child Care Services Regulation
 Header Item Child Protection Services
 Header Item Child Protection Services
 Header Item Children in Care

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 4

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Written Answers Nos. 34-44

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 17.

Traveller Community Issues

 35. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to address the very poor E grade awarded to the Government in the Children's Rights Alliance Report Card 2013 for its unsatisfactory performance in relation to Traveller children; the positive plan of action she will put in place to improve the Government's performance regarding same; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [32354/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Children’s Rights Alliance’s Report Card 2013 comments on the Government’s commitment to improving the lives of all Travellers including Traveller children. The Programme for Government commits the Government to promoting greater co-ordination and integration of delivery of services to the Traveller community across Government, using available resources more effectively to deliver on principles of social inclusion, particularly in the area of Traveller education.

In so far as my Department is concerned, the report card is being considered in the context of the National Children and Young People’s Policy Framework which follows on from the National Children’s Strategy 2000-2010. The Framework is expected to cover the 5 year period from 2014 to 2018. In this regard, the views of the Children’s Rights Alliance, including those contained in the Report are being taken into account in the development of the Framework, and indeed the Children's Rights Alliance are members of the National Advisory Council (NCAC), which has advised my Department on the Framework.

With regard to education, the Government, through its various interventions in the education sector, is committed to improved retention rates, better learning experiences and improved outcomes for all children, including children who are members of the Travelling community. Recorded overall Traveller participation rates in education in recent years show a steady increase, as do rates for participation in the junior cycle and for progression to senior cycle.

Current policy in relation to Traveller education is underpinned by the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy which was developed following wide ranging consultation with Traveller representative groups. The Strategy covers, in a very comprehensive manner, aspects of Traveller Education from pre-school right through to further and higher education within a lifelong learning context. The principle of inclusion is at the core of the Strategy and, accordingly, the focus of both current and future provision is on the development of a more inclusive school environment through the whole school planning process, teaching practice, admissions policies, codes of behaviour and whole school evaluation. Additional resources are allocated, therefore, on the basis of individual educational need rather than that of ethnic or cultural background.

Implementation of the Strategy is undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills in consultation with representatives of the Traveller community through the Traveller Education Strategy Advisory and Consultative Forum.

Children and Young People's Policy Framework

 36. 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 progress made to date on the development of the new five year Children and Young People's Policy Framework; when she expects its completion and publication; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32582/13]

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 is expected to cover the five year period from 2014 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 views of a wide range of interests including children themselves will shape the development of the Policy Framework and it will be informed by the following inputs:

- the results of a consultation in 2011, which focused on children and young people, in which almost 67,000 people throughout the country participated and the results of the analysis of the consultation were published last November;

- a public consultation of the general public conducted during in 2012. Over 1,000 submissions were received as part of that consultation. An analysis of the submissions was completed last April;

- the advice of the National Children’s Advisory Council which represents a range of statutory and non-statutory organisations working with children and young people; and

- the views of the National Children’s Strategy Implementation Group which includes nominees of Government departments and State agencies which develop policies and deliver services for children and young people.

My Department is also in the course of meeting with other Government departments to discuss aspects of the Framework which will impact particularly on their areas of policy responsibility. The Policy Framework is expected to be finalised and published later this year.

Child and Family Support Agency Funding

 37. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the extent to which she is satisfied regarding the availability of adequate resources within her Department to meet the full scale of responsibilities likely to fall within her remit with particular reference to the welfare of children and young adults; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32497/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department was set up to drive the delivery of key commitments in relation to children and young people and to put in place a unified framework of policy, legislation and provision across Government in respect of children and young people.

The 2013 estimate includes an allocation of €443m for my Department which represents an increase of €16m over the 2012 allocation and this clearly demonstrates the continuing commitment of this Government to the ongoing development of quality and effective services to support children and families.

Since establishment, I and my Department have the responsibility for the welfare of children and young adults. The resources associated with those services include those attaching to the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board both of which are already under my remit. By agreement with my colleague the Minister for Health, the Child Protection and Welfare services of the HSE has been operating as a shadow agency over the period of 2012 in preparation for the transition to the new Agency. The resources relating to these services and any other services proposed for transfer will also come under my remit. Processes regarding the transfer of the related staff are largely finalised and the final budgetary transfers will be subject to an agreed due diligence process. Control of this Voted expenditure will transfer to my Department on establishment day.

There is no doubt that this is a substantial programme of reform which does not end on establishment day. The setting up of the Child and Family Agency is at the heart of the Government's reform of child and family services. The Government decided that it was essential and appropriate that child welfare and protection services transfer from the Health Service Executive to a new, dedicated Agency. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health are working jointly on an impact analysis of proposed future arrangements for this service as they relate to children and family services covered by the Child and Family Agency and to services provided by the HSE. The establishment of a single agency incorporating key children's services will provide a focus for the major reforms already underway within Children and Family Services. In addition to this large scale structural reform programme, the HSE Child and Family Directorate is also implementing a significant programme of ongoing reforms. These reforms at operational level respond in detail to many identified gaps and changes needed to ensure a more consistent, effective and quality service delivery.

The Department is currently examining its internal structures to ensure they are aligned and resourced to continue and enhance its oversight and performance management function as regards the new Agency. I will be continuing to work with my colleagues the Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (in the context of the budgetary process) on the resources issue as we progress towards establishment of the new Agency.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 28.

Departmental Funding

 39. Deputy John Halligan Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she has undertaken or intends to undertake an analysis or impact study on the cumulative effects of the cuts in family support services, health services, guidance and mental health services, special needs assistants and resource hours and school completion programme on children and young persons in the areas catered for by the City of Dublin Youth Service Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32605/13]

 52. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald if she has undertaken or intends to undetake an analysis or impact study on the cumulative effects of the cuts in education, family support services, health services, guidance and mental health services, special needs assistants and resource hours and school completion programme on young persons in the areas catered for by the City of Dublin Youth Service Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32606/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 52 together.

My Department supports a range of programmes to support services for children and young people, including family support services currently provided by the Family Support Agency and the School Completion Programme which supports school attendance, participation and retention. My Department also implements a number of other areas of programme spend, including funding for youth services and funding for services in the early childhood care and education sector.

As the Deputy will be aware, along with all other Government Departments, my Department undertook a Comprehensive Review of Expenditure in November 2011. This has required savings to be found across almost all areas of expenditure in my Department's Vote. The funding for family support services and the School Completion Programme is not broken down by reference to City of Dublin Youth Service Board and I am not in a position to state the cumulative effect of the savings on children and young persons in the areas within the remit of the Board.

The Family Support Agency, which is under the remit of my Department, provides support services for children and families through a network of some 106 Family Resource Centres. Under the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, funding for the Family Resource Centres has been reduced in 2012-2013 by 5% per annum which amounts to some €1.6m in total. The merger of the functions of the Family Support Agency with the new Child and Family Agency in the coming months should provide opportunities for some administrative savings and cost efficiencies.

The School Completion Programme (SCP) is one of three educational welfare strands under the remit of the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) for which my Department has responsibility. The SCP is also a key part of the Department of Education and Skills DEIS programme. The SCP supports 124 projects and related initiatives which operate in 470 primary schools and 224 post-primary schools across the country to provide targeted supports to approximately 36,000 children and young people. As a result of the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, the SCP was subject to a funding reduction of 6.5% per annum in 2012-2013 amounting to some €3.8m. An operational review of the SCP will be undertaken in the coming academic year to enable my Department to target support to the pupils most at risk of educational disadvantage and early school leaving.

Funding for youth services and organisations which is provided by my Department to support youth services and projects in the Dublin City area, and which is administered by the City of Dublin Youth Service Board, amounts to almost €12m this year. Since 2012, this funding has been reduced by €2.895m. This is in line with the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure which required funding reductions for youth services of, on average, 5% in 2012 and 10% in 2013. To minimise the impact of the savings required, my Department is undertaking a comprehensive Value for Money and Policy Review of youth funding to inform the future provision of youth programmes and services.

Child Care Services Regulation

 40. Deputy Derek Keating Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald when she plans to introduce regulations for childminders in the home. [32349/13]

 42. 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 the penalties she believes must apply where breaches of childcare regulations are detected; when she expects that said penalties will be introduced; if legislation is required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32581/13]

 54. Deputy Derek Keating Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald when she plans to introduce regulations for childminders including childminders in the home; if they will be included in the Children First legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32348/13]

 56. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the action she has taken on crèches that are currently in breach of regulations in 2013; if they are to receive continued funding in 2013 if the breaches in regulations persist; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [32344/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 40, 42, 54 and 56 together.

Pre-school services are subject to the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No.2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991. The inspection of pre-schools and the enforcement of the Regulations are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

My Department is undertaking a review of the penalties currently in place for breach of the Child Care (Pre-School) Regulations, as provided for under the Child Care Act 1991. The review will look at increasing the range and severity of the existing penalties including the actions which can be taken by Inspectors without recourse to court prosecution, as is currently the case.

In addition, my Department is working with the Pre-School Inspectorate to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance so that there is greater clarity and consistency of approach as to how inspection reports deal with findings of serious non-compliance vis a vis minor breaches and full compliance. The protocols will also inform the future suspension or termination of funding in the case of serious non-compliance.

At present childminders taking care of more than three pre-school children from different families, and after-school care for children, are not subject to the Child Care Regulations. These are issues which I am reviewing and will consider further in the coming months in the context of both the Early Years Strategy, which is being developed by my Department, and other amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 which are being considered.

Childminders who are not subject to the Childcare Regulations are encouraged to voluntarily notify their service to their local City or County Childcare Committee. Both notified and voluntarily notified childminders can avail of the Childminders Tax Exemption which exempts childminding earnings of up to €15,000 from income tax.

My Department is currently piloting a new School Age Childcare scheme in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection. When fully operational, the scheme will provide 6,000 subsidised, after-school places for primary school children, to assist qualifying parents to avail of employment opportunities. Eligibility for the scheme will be determined by the Department of Social Protection. Parents qualifying under the scheme will be able to access after school childcare at a weekly cost of €20. My Department will subsidise each of these places with weekly payments of €35 during term time and €100 in school holidays. Pending any change to the Child Care Act 1991 to extend regulatory control to after-school childcare, all services participating in the scheme will be subject to strict contractual requirements drawn up by my Department.

One of the specific issues of policy which I have identified for consideration in the preparation of Ireland's first ever Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to 6 years, is the future role and regulation of the childminding sector. I expect work on the Strategy to be completed later this year and I will review the future regulation of childminders in that context.

Child Protection Services

 41. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her views on the horrific occurrence of child abuse catalogued by Women's Aid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32356/13]

 53. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the extra funding she will make available to women and children refuges and advocate groups on behalf of abused children. [32357/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 53 together.

The Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, which I published in 2011, provides clarity and guidance for individuals and organisations in identifying and responding appropriately to child abuse and neglect. It also sets out what organisations that care for or work with children should do to ensure they are safe whilst in the care of the organisation. All child protection concerns should be reported in the appropriate manner, including those identified where a child has been in a home where there was domestic abuse.

Statutory responsibility for the delivery of child welfare and protection services rests with the HSE, which is the appropriate body to receive all reports of concerns relating to all forms of child abuse. Under Section 3 of the Child Care Act, 1991, the Health Service Executive has a duty to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care or protection.

  Child Welfare and Protection Referrals and Assessment

Once a referral has been made to the HSE Children and Family Services all cases are managed through a standardised business process. All reports of concern for the safety or well-being of a child are handled initially by the Duty/Intake team for the purposes of assessment. All staff receiving such a referral are trained in the duty system and are obliged to treat seriously all child welfare and protection concerns whatever their source. Once a report has been made the screening stage deals with the information reported and preliminary enquiries are concerned with formulating an appropriate response.

  Children First Legislation

The Deputy will be aware the Government is committed to putting aspects of Children First on a statutory basis. In this regard, I published the Draft Heads and General Scheme for the Children First Bill 2012 in April last year 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 Committee's consultation process a number of submissions were received. Overall there was a welcome for the fact that the legislation would increase the focus on child protection. The contributions in the main came from organisations already implementing Children First. The historic nature of the proposals and their implications for those providing services to children were acknowledged, as was the importance of the precise nature of the duties, responsibilities and sanctions contained in the legislation for successful implementation.

Submissions were not all in agreement and many points emerging needed to be considered and reconciled. This involves consideration of policy and operational issues, 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 have 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. In addition, my Department commissioned a detailed academic study on key aspects of the relevant mandatory legislation in place in this area internationally. All of these factors are informing the preparation of enhanced policy proposals that is currently underway.

The framework is now focussed on the safety and protection of children generally; the provision of safe services for children; cooperation 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.

I note that the vast majority of reports of abuse against children, reported in the Women's Aid Annual Report were in respect of emotional abuse. This is an issue that I take seriously and it is my intention that it is dealt with in the context of this legislation. It is my intention to submit further proposals in the form of a revised general scheme and Heads of Bill to Government as soon as possible with a view to the drafting of the Children First Bill as a priority.

  New Child and Family Support Agency

The establishment of the Child and Family Agency is central to the Government's reform programme in respect of child and family services. In order to achieve genuine improvements for children and families, the Agency will have a broader focus than child protection. Prevention, early intervention, family support and therapeutic & care interventions are all key to the provision of integrated multi-disciplinary services for children and families based on identified need.

It is my intention that the new Agency will address the persistent issues which have been raised regarding the standardisation of services, communication, coordination and sharing of risk assessment, management and treatment for many of the children and families with the most complex needs. At the same time, the Agency will have a role in supporting families - providing less complex, less intrusive and less expensive responses which have a preventive function.

My Department does not provide funding for women's refuges. However, from its establishment the child and family-related services for which the HSE currently has responsibility including pre-school inspections and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services will transfer to the agency.

The establishment of a single agency incorporating key children's services will provide a focus for the major reforms already underway within Children and Family Services. The new Child and Family Support Agency and the wider transformation of children's services represents one of the largest, and most ambitious, areas of public sector of reform embarked upon by this Government.

Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 40.

Child Protection Services

 43. 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 the new national co-ordinator for the Children's Services Committees has taken up office as anticipated before the end of last month; if she will provide an up-to-date report on the development of the 16 CSCs already established; her plans to continue to establish CSCs where they are not currently in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [32584/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department is leading an initiative to develop and implement a planning model for local interagency working to improve outcomes for children. The purpose of this initiative is to work towards better developmental outcomes for children through more effective integration of policies and services, in particular through the Children’s Services Committees at local level.

Children’s Services Committees (CSCs) bring together a diverse group of agencies in local county areas to engage in joint planning of services for children. These include representatives from the HSE, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, VECs, National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, Irish Primary Principals Network, NEWB, and other organisations who provide services to children and young people. There are 16 CSCs at various stages of development, as follows: Dublin City, South Dublin, Limerick City, Donegal,   Kerry, Fingal, Kildare, Longford/Westmeath, Carlow, Louth, Wicklow, Waterford, South Tipperary, Meath, Sligo/Leitrim, Cavan/Monaghan.

Following the publication of the Children & Young People’s Policy Framework later this year it is hoped to extend the initiative further with the aim of developing a CSC in every part of the State.

I am very pleased to say that the Centre for Effective Services (CES) has recruited a National Coordinator for Children’s Services Committees, to work with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the new Child and Family Agency and other statutory agencies, who will provide leadership to the Children’s Services Committees (CSCs) Initiative for the next 3 years. She took up duty on Monday 17th June last.

Children in Care

 44. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans to allocate funding for increased provision of specialised services for children with severe behavioural difficulties here, such as those with very severe behavioural disorders, many of whom continue to be placed in specialist facilities outside Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32353/13]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald A very small minority of children under 18 years of age have highly specialised needs that require specialised interventions in Special Care Units (0.4% of children in care).

Special Care involves the detention of a child for his or her own welfare and protection in a Special Care Unit with on site educational and therapeutic supports. A Special Care Unit provides secure residential service to children and young people who are in need of specialised targeted intervention. Children are detained in special care if their behaviour is deemed to pose a risk to themselves. The detention, by order of the High Court of a child in a Special Care Unit is considered as a last resort, for as short a time as possible, and when other forms of residential or community care are considered to be unsuitable. Special Care Units are inspected by HIQA under Section 69 of the Child Care Act, 1991 on an annual basis, and the inspection reports are published.

A subset of this cohort do not meet the criteria for placement in Special Care facilities, or their needs are too specialised to be met in the Units and in exceptional cases, arrangements are required to be made for some of these young people to be placed into care and treatment facilities outside of the State in units that provide a specialist individually tailored mix of care and therapeutic services and/or psychiatric treatment not available in Ireland.I am advised by the HSE that there are currently 10 children in secure placements outside of the State.

The placement of Irish children in secure facilities outside of the Irish jurisdiction by Order of the Irish High Court occurs within the framework of Council Regulation (EC) – otherwise known as the Brussels 11 bis Regulation. The High Court retains oversight of these placements through regular intensive welfare review. The HSE maintains governance and oversight via its statutory obligations to children in the care of the HSE.

The HSE ensures that these placements are suitable. The units in which the children are placed are inspected and monitored by their national authorities and the HSE is attentive to the standards of care delivered in these specialised units. The level of requirement for these services is closely monitored by the HSE's National Director for Children and Family Services and my officials.

As part of the overall ongoing review of services to meet the needs of children in care, the HSE are reconfiguring some services for children with behavioural difficulties to reflect demand in keeping with best practice and international evidence.


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