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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 572-592
 Header Item Preschool Services
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision
 Header Item Child Care Costs
 Header Item Youth Services Provision
 Header Item Child and Family Support Agency Remit
 Header Item Children and Family Services
 Header Item Child Protection Issues
 Header Item Children and Family Services
 Header Item Children and Family Services
 Header Item Child Poverty
 Header Item Youth Services Provision
 Header Item Mobility Allowance Applications
 Header Item Food Labelling
 Header Item Hospital Services
 Header Item Social Workers Register
 Header Item Public Sector Staff Issues
 Header Item Ambulance Service Staff

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 96 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 572-592

Preschool Services

 572. 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 proposals to extend the provision of free early childhood education for a second year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49771/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The 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 the universal free pre-school year. In the region of 66,000 children are availing of the free pre-school provision at this time.

In 2011, the ECCE programme cost approximately €163 million. Additional funding was made available for 2012 when the cost of the programme is expected to rise to €176 million to cater for changing demographics and provide for the increased number of children in the relevant age cohort.

I am aware of the need to further develop the early childhood care and education sector. However, any development that involved further pre-school provision would require considerable additional funding and given the financial constraints under which the Government is currently operating it is not possible to provide for any enhancements to the programme at this time. I am also 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. I would therefore hope to invest further in quality before expanding the programme.

Future developments relating to early years care and education are being considered as part of the preparation of the National Early Years Strategy which is expected to be completed in the first half of 2013.

Child Care Services Provision

 573. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald the position regarding the community childcare subvention programme in respect of an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 11; if she will consider an application to facilitate the early payment of the subvention from 1st February 2013, which would enable the opening of a much needed new baby and toddler unit. [56901/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme provides funding to community childcare not-for-profit services to enable them to charge reduced child care rates to parents in receipt of social welfare payments or on low to middle incomes. The child care service referred to by the Deputy is currently participating in the CCS programme.

Community childcare services participating in the CCS programme qualify for grant aid on the basis of the level of service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. The level of funding provided to services for the year is based on the information in the parental declarations which are submitted in the Autumn each year to my Department. The information provided is verified by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) and the HSE.

No further funding is made available over and above what is generated by the parental returns which, this year, would have included all the eligible children enrolled in the week commencing the 15th October 2012. Children wishing to enrol for the programme but who did not meet the deadline for enrolment can only be accommodated if they are replacing a child that has opted out of the programme.

Parental returns have been submitted by the service provider referred to by the Deputy and provisional payment has been made with a further payment due to issue in January 2013. The next opportunity for enrolment in the programme is expected to be in October 2013.

Child Care Costs

 574. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald her plans for the provision of quality affordable childcare throughout the country; the assistance that is in place for parents availing of childcare services in their own homes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56923/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department currently provides 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. These support programmes are only available to parents who enrol their children in childcare services which are approved to participate in the programmes.

  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. For the purpose of the CCS programme, eligibility is determined by reference to a range of means-tested allowances and payments including receipt of a social welfare payment, Family Income Supplement (FIS) and qualification for a medical or GP visit card. Eligibility for a GP visit card is based on net income and takes account of outgoings such as rent and mortgage repayments and other expenses including childcare costs and travelling expenses. As a result, middle and low income working parents may also qualify for support. Parents who qualify for the top rate of subvention under the programme receive €95 per week towards full-day childcare costs.

  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.

  In 2012, the total expenditure by my Department on these three programmes is expected to be in the region €240 million. These programmes have been maintained despite the ongoing need to reduce Government expenditure and they represent a significant investment in supporting parents with the cost of childcare.

  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 which will provide further additional support to both the community and private childcare sector. This initiative, which represents an annual 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.

  Future developments relating to early years care and education will be considered during preparation of the new National Early Years Strategy which is currently being developed by my Department and is expected to be completed in the first half of 2013. This Strategy will cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as health, family support, learning and development and care and education and will identify the structures and policies needed to improve early year's experience in Ireland.

Youth Services Provision

 575. 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 if she is satisfied in regard to the extent to which her Department has put in place the necessary services, including outreach services, to meet the current and ongoing requirements of youth with particular reference to the young and-or at risk or vulnerable; if she expects her Department to operate in conjunction with the Health Service Executive or separately in such matters, particularly in relation to young people with stress, depression or psychological issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [57033/12]

 576. 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 her Department has identified the issues currently most likely to affect young people; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57034/12]

 577. 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 if in the context of youth services for the future, she has in mind any particular proposals to identify, address and resolve the concerns of young people most likely to be affected by feelings of isolation or depression; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57035/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I propose to take Questions Nos. 575 to 577, inclusive, together.

  The Youth Affairs Unit of my Department provides a range of funding schemes, programmes and supports to the youth sector including programmes that specifically target young people who are at risk of substance misuse or are socially and economically disadvantaged. Some €53m in funding is being provided by my Department in 2013 for the provision of youth services. In addition, in 2012/2013 capital funding is being made available for the development of youth facilities including Youth Cafés which are proving particularly beneficial in engaging young people who may not traditionally access youth services.

  My Department provided grant aid of €88,358 for 2012 towards the administration of the National Youth Health Programme.  This programme is a partnership between my Department, the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) and the Health Service Executive. The aim of the programme is to provide a broad-based, flexible health promotion /education support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in out-of-school settings. The programme has sought to develop the capacity of the sector and organisations to advocate on issues that affect young people and develop evidenced based resources and training to support that work. The advantage of this training is evident in the fact that Youth Work often acts as the first point of contact and referral in the interface with other youth-related services spanning the realms of care, health and welfare.

  My Department is also represented on the Anti-Bullying Working Group which is being led by my colleague Deputy Ruairí Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills. The core task of this group is to develop a plan that will identify priorities to combat all bullying in schools including actions to be taken by the Department of Education and Skills, other government departments and agencies and schools communities. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am committed to placing children, young people and families at the heart of the work of my Department. In this regard, my Department supports the provision of a wide range of services and supports for children, young people and families. To further enhance this work, a new children’s strategy and youth policy framework are currently being progressed by my Department; these will place outcomes for children and young people at the centre of policy and service delivery and will aim to support children and young people to an even greater extent as they progress through important life stages.

  One of my key aims for policy development within my Department will be to ensure optimum use of all the financial and human resources available. Accordingly, the development of my Department’s policies in relation to children and young people will focus specifically on ensuring greater coordination and impact in policy and services so as to ensure quality outcomes in terms of young peoples safety, health and wellbeing, their participation in education, in their community and in social and economic life.

Child and Family Support Agency Remit

 578. 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 based on the experiences of her Department over the past year and a half, the extent to which she has identified the most issues affecting children and youth; her plans to address these matters in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57036/12]

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. The Department was established in June 2011 with a mandate to put in place a unified framework of policy, legislation and provision across Government in respect of children and young people.

Following on from the work done to date I will continue my work to implement the relevant Programme for Government commitments including:-

- The establishment of a Child and Family Support Agency on a statutory basis in order to fundamentally reform the delivery of family support, child welfare and protection services and remove responsibility for these from the Health Service Executive (HSE).

- Implementing the recommendations of the Ryan Report, including the inspection of child protection services and putting Children First: National Guidance on a statutory footing.

- Maintaining the free Pre-School Year in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and improving its quality as resources allow.

- Enacting legislation to consolidate and reform the law on adoption.

- To adopt a new area based approach to child poverty, which draws on best international practice and existing services to tackle every aspect of child poverty.

- Continued progress on ending the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution through the project to develop new children detention facilities at Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin.

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

Ireland will assume the Presidency of the European Union in January 2013 and in my role as Chairperson of the EU Youth Council, Ireland’s national priority themes for the Youth Council Presidency will aim to promote understanding of the contribution of quality youth work to young people’s development, well-being and social inclusion and maximise the potential of youth policy and youth services in attaining the goals of Europe 2020, in particular in addressing youth employment.

Subject to finalisation of matters in relation to the constitutional amendment of children a top priority for my Department for 2013 will be to implement the necessary changes to policy and legislation arising from the amendment, both within my own Department and, in consultation with my Cabinet colleagues, across all relevant Government Departments. Finally, the Deputy will be aware that the recent Budget made additional provision for two new initiatives in relation to an area based approach to child poverty and provision for a new school age childcare scheme. My Department will be working on the detailed arrangements to support the roll out of these initiatives next year.

Children and Family Services

 579. 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 degree to which she and her Department has identified the full extent and range of children’s and youth support services required now and in the future having regard to the experience of the past; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57037/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald My Department supports the provision of a wide range of services and supports for children, young people and families. The overall budget for my Department for these services for 2012 is €406.407 million in current funding and €8.350 million in capital funding giving a total of €414.757 million.

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs improving outcomes for children and young people is my primary objective. Early childhood care and education programmes are priorities to enhance children’s opportunities for social and educational development. This year some €175.8 million has been provided for the free preschool year which will benefit some 64,500 children.

The Youth Affairs Unit of my Department provides a range of funding schemes, programmes and supports to the youth sector. Funding of some €58.306 million is available in 2012 to support the provision of youth services and programmes to young people throughout the country including those from disadvantaged communities. These programmes and services are delivered to over 500,000 young people by some 1,400 youth work personnel, who in turn support a large volunteer base estimated by the National Youth Council of Ireland at some 40,000.

The services provided by the National Educational Welfare Board to support children and young people to benefit from and remain in the education system, the care and education services provided in the Children’s Detention Centres for children referred by the Courts and the services provided by the local family resource centres with the support of funding from the Family Support Agency are all important priorities in my Department to support the most vulnerable children and young people.

Child Protection Issues

 580. 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 current procedures to deal with children at risk; the sequence of events following a report from whatever quarter in such matters; the average length of time taken to deal with any issues arising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57038/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald 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. Work is ongoing in my Department to put the relevant elements of Children First on a statutory footing.

  The Deputy is advised that in cases where there is concern for the welfare and protection of a child, a report should be made at the earliest opportunity to the HSE and/or An Garda Síochána as set out in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.

  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 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. At this stage teams will also screen out those enquiries, reports, requests for service etc that do not fall within the responsibility of the Child Welfare and Protection team.

  Once it is agreed by the Duty Team Leader that it is a correct referral the case is allocated immediately for an Initial Assessment. This is a time limited process to allow that gathering of sufficient information on the needs and risks within a case so that informed decisions and recommendations can be made and actions that will result in better outcomes for children are taken. In identifying risk it is the professional judgement of the duty team leader to assess if immediate action is required. Risk is assessed if the child is at ongoing significant risk. This is decided based on the information received with the referral, the seriousness of the abuse reported, the likely level of risk to the future safety and welfare of the child and the degree of professional confidence in the information that either the abuse has occurred and is likely to be repeated or that the child is at immediate risk. An ongoing process of risk analysis continues throughout the period of the initial assessment.

  The duty team leader, together with members of the team, will categorise the information received under the following categories:-

- level 1 - child and family must be seen immediately

- level 2 - child and family must be seem within 3 days

- level 3 - child and family must be seem within 7 days

  Comprehensive information on the extensive process is available on the HSE website under the Standardised Business Process documentation.

  As regards the average length of time to deal with issues arising, the Deputy will be aware that the HSE compiles monthly performance reports which provide an overall analysis of key performance data. In the area of children and family services this suite of indicators has recently been expanded to include new indicators aimed at capturing the responsiveness of services to referrals of concerns. These indicators include details of the number of referrals to child welfare and protection teams in the reporting period, the number of such referrals where a preliminary assessment took place within 24 hours, the number leading to initial assessments and the number of such assessments completed within 21 days.

  In addition, the new Child and Family Support Agency with dedicated responsibility for the delivery of child welfare and protection services is to be established. Currently, HSE Children and Family Services are engaged in a major programme of reform. A major element of which involves implementing consistent and timely child protection procedures in line with the revised national guidelines, published last year-Children First 201, through a single, national, service delivery model, which is in development, and through the introduction of a National Child Care Information System (NCCIS).

  The NCCIS will be the central system supporting Social Work services. As a social work case management system, it will be used to record and store the case history of every child and other clients of the service. Management information will be derived automatically from the case management system. The introduction of the NCCIS is a high priority and will help in the management of social work case management and will significantly improve the level, quality and accessibility of information in respect of Children and Family Services.

Children and Family Services

 581. 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 expects to be in a position to provide the necessary legislative and/or support services for children and their parents in the aftermath of the Children’s Referendum; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [57039/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As a result of Budget 2013 I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the gross funding allocation for my Department next year will amount to €443 million which represents an increase of €16 million or 4% over the 2012 Estimate provision of €427 million. This includes €417 million in current expenditure and €26 million in capital expenditure. I am satisfied that the significant resource allocation demonstrates the priority and commitment which this Government attaches to the delivery of programmes and services for children and young people.

There are implications in terms of both policy and legislation attaching to the proposal to amend the Constitution, with a significant body of work likely to be involved in amending existing legislation, introducing new legislation, and review of policies and procedures to ensure that they comply with the new improved standards for children. It is not just my Department that will be required to do this, any Department offering services to children and young people will also be affected. For example, the Department of Justice and Equality, which holds responsibility for custody and guardianship legislation, will also face a significant body of work.

Some of the principles in the Constitutional amendment are already reflected in statute law, such as the principle of “best interests”. This ‘best interest’ principle is already well-established in Irish statute law, for example in the Child Care Act 1991 and the Adoption Act 2010. This principle is now reflected in the Constitution as the paramount consideration for judges in making decisions in certain critical court proceedings relating to the care of children. As part of the Constitutional proposal I published the Adoption Bill 2012 which it is envisaged will be introduced to the House subject to a successful outcome to the Referendum. This will place new obligations on the Adoption Authority of Ireland amongst others, and I am satisfied that the budget allocation for 2013 will be adequate to meet expenditure that arises in this context.

In terms of the Deputy’s core question, the question of resources, everyone in this House will be aware that we are all operating in an environment of very constrained resources. This is the reality of the context in which I seek to deliver on all my commitments in relation to children and young people. As part of our efforts to address Ireland’s deficit, my Department, like all others, has had to find savings. However our overall approach has been to prioritise investment in child and family services and to reform funding streams and delivery mechanisms in order to make the best possible use of resources. The Deputy will be aware of the wide - ranging reform of children's services that is underway and will see the establishment next year of the Child and Family Support Agency dedicated to the improvement of these services through the combination of the activities and resources of the Family Support Agency, the National Education Welfare Board and the child and family services of the HSE. The Agency will have available to it a much stronger and more comprehensive range of resources and expertise than heretofore.

The focus of the Agency will be on early intervention and family support services, aimed at delivering 'proportionate' responses to child welfare concerns and to protect children in the home, as envisaged by the Constitutional amendment. This approach will be supported by the inclusion of the existing Family Support Agency and its nationwide network of 106 Family Resource Centres.

In addition, I am pleased to say that the new ‘Area Based Approach to Child Poverty’ initiative for which €2.5 million has been provided for in the 2013 Estimates, will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale. These projects involve a range of pilot programmes to improve outcomes in areas such as literacy, speech and language, parenting, health and pro-social behaviour.

In conclusion, I can assure the Deputy that follow through on the proposal to amend the Constitution is a top priority for me, and I will make the necessary resources available within my Department to do so effectively.

Children and Family Services

 582. 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 had identified deficiencies in services for children and youth; her proposals to address such matters in the short, medium and long-term; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57040/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Under Section 8 of the Child Care Act, 1991 the Health Service Executive (HSE) prepares an annual report on the adequacy of child care and family support services, known as the "Review of Adequacy for HSE Children and Families Services Reports". These reports provide information and analysis about reports of child abuse and neglect and detailed information about children in care. The report for 2011 is at an advanced stage and I am advised that it will be published shortly.

The Health Service Executive also compiles and publishes monthly, quarterly and annual performance reports which include statistics in relation to child welfare and protection.

The annual Review of Adequacy Reports, along with the ongoing performance monitoring provide a detailed picture of service delivery and serve to highlight deficiencies in services and inform policy development.

Child Poverty

 583. 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 degree to which lack of adequate housing and/or poverty is deemed to impact most particularly on children and adolescents; the extent to which it is anticipated such issues can be isolated and resolved; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [57041/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Tackling child poverty is a priority for Government and a goal of the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007- 2016, coordinated by the Department of Social Protection. Children are more likely to be poor if they are living in lone parent households with low labour market participation and dependant on income support. The departments of Social Protection, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Education and Skills, are working to deliver a range of measures aimed at getting people back to work.

My Department works closely with the Department of Social Protection in a ‘whole of Government approach’ to tackling poverty in the population. The Department is represented on the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare established by the Minister for Social Protection to examine issues to do with the interactions of the tax and welfare systems so that they provide good incentives for parents to take up and remain in work and thereby contribute to the reduction of poverty and child poverty, in particular. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, improving children’s outcomes is my primary objective. The development of the Children and Young People’s Policy Framework as the overarching framework under which policy and services for children and young people will be developed and implemented in the State, is an important initiative for cross departmental collaboration to secure this objective. Early childhood care and education programmes, in particular those that are aimed at low income families, are priorities to enhance children’s opportunities for social and educational development and to support parents undertaking training and participating in employment. The network of 107 family resource centres that are funded by the Family Support Agency, under the remit of my Department have an important role in this regard.

The Programme for Government committed to reviewing the homeless strategy, The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008-2013, and to implementing a housing led approach to homelessness. Work on the review is almost complete and my colleague the Minister for Housing & Planning, Deputy Jan O Sullivan, intends to issue a policy statement on homelessness shortly. That statement will take account of demands on existing housing and will assess how best to continue providing services in a manner consistent with the elimination of existing homelessness and to ensure more effective prevention strategies. The Minister will be indicating what she expects from housing authorities and other stakeholders in accelerating progress towards realising the ambition of eliminating involuntary long-term homelessness.

With regard to my own responsibility, my priority, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is to enhance the role of early intervention and support programmes for the most vulnerable children and their families in the context of the new Child and Family Support Agency. As announced in Budget 2013, the Government recently committed to an Area-based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative, for which €2.5 million has been provided for in the 2013 Estimates.

This initiative will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which has supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale, co-funded by my Department and Atlantic Philanthropies. These projects involve a range of pilot programmes to improve outcomes in areas such as literacy, speech and language, parenting, health and pro-social behaviour and are currently being evaluated by national and international experts. It is important that we mainstream the learning from these pilot projects so that proven and effective supports for children and families can be delivered right through the country, including through the range of services to be provided by the new Child & Family Support Agency.

The new initiative reflects the Programme for Government commitment to adopt an area based approach to child poverty in co-operation with philanthropic partners, drawing upon best international practice and existing services, to break the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched.

In line with this commitment, my Department, in conjunction with officials of the Tánaiste, the Ministers for Social Protection, Environment, Community & Local Government, and Education & Skills, will begin working early next year with a view to expanding the number of project sites from 3 to 6.

The new initiative will not simply be a continuation of the PEIP scheme but will instead seek to implement programmes which have already been evaluated and proven to work in improving outcomes for children and families at risk of disadvantage.

Youth Services Provision

 584. 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, if any, she has had discussions with other Departments in the context of the co-ordination of children and youth services and support of parents in such a context; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [57042/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, it is part of my remit to work with other Ministers to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people.

Budget 2013 announced two new areas where this partnership approach has been adopted. One of these concerns the provision of subsidised after-school childcare places for low income parents entering the workforce, and this will be the result of a collaborative approach between my Department and the Department of Social Protection.

This joint initiative will provide over 6,000 afterschool childcare places for children in primary school. This will begin with a pilot scheme in early 2013. The places will be targeted at low-income families and will support parents availing of an employment opportunity. The funding provision for this initiative will be €14 million in a full year. Officials of both Departments will work closely on the operational details of the scheme and the estimated costs in 2013 will be reviewed in this context.

The second cross-departmental initiative announced in the Budget that I have been involved with, and which will be led by my Department, is an Area-based Approach to Child Poverty, for which €2.5 million has been provided for in the 2013 Estimates.

This initiative will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which has supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale, co-funded by my Department and Atlantic Philanthropies. These projects involve a range of pilot programmes to improve outcomes in areas such as literacy, speech and language, parenting, health and pro-social behaviour and are currently being evaluated by national and international experts. It is important that we mainstream the learning from these pilot projects so that proven and effective supports for children and families can be delivered right through the country, including through the range of services to be provided by the new Child & Family Support Agency.

The new initiative reflects the Programme for Government commitment to adopt an area based approach to child poverty in co-operation with philanthropic partners, drawing upon best international practice and existing services, to break the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched.

In line with this commitment, my Department, in conjunction with officials of the Tánaiste, the Ministers for Social Protection, Environment, Community & Local Government, and Education & Skills, will begin working early next year with a view to expanding the number of project sites from 3 to 6.

The new initiative will not simply be a continuation of the PEIP scheme but will instead seek to implement programmes which have already been evaluated and proven to work in improving outcomes for children and families at risk of disadvantage.

At a local level, my Department has responsibility for the development of Children’s Services Committees (CSCs). These 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, the VECs, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, the Irish Primary Principals Network, the NEWB, and other organisations which provide services to children and young people. There are a total of 16 such committees at various stages of development.

The membership of CSCs includes senior managers from the major statutory providers of services for children and families. The Chairperson of each CSC is either the HSE Local Health Area Manager or the Area Manager for Children and Family Services and it is their function to ensure that the CSCs secure better developmental outcomes for children through more effective integration of existing services and interventions at local level.

The forthcoming Children and Young People's Policy Framework will address the further development of these Committees.

Mobility Allowance Applications

 585. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly if and when mobility allowance will be paid in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56241/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch As the Deputy's question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Food Labelling

 586. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the extent to which food labelling continues to be enforced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56264/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly The labelling of prepackaged food is currently governed by Council Directive 2000/13/EC, transposed in 2002, with several amendments since. The principle underlying this Directive is that the purchaser must not be misled and it has helped to ensure that the consumer is provided with the information required to make healthy consumption choices.

Responsibility for the enforcement of food labelling legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and its official agents, which include the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Local Authorities (LAs) and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).

The HSE follows up on all non-compliances with the food business operators to ensure future compliance. In the other official agencies, food labels are checked at production level as part of routine food controls. DAFM Egg and Poultry Inspectors verify compliance with labelling and the marketing standards for eggs and poultry from primary production through to retail.

Hospital Services

 587. Deputy Billy Timmins Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the position regarding a hospital appointment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56271/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly As this query relates to a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient's general practitioner consider that the patient's condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and hospital involved.

Social Workers Register

 588. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly his plans to reduce the registration charge for social workers in view of its very high rate when compared with other professionals. [56606/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Under the provisions of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, there is a two-year transitional period from the date on which the register of the members of that profession is established, during which existing practitioners may apply for registration.

The Health and Social care Professionals Council (the Council) is an independent statutory body and is responsible for setting the level of fees.

The Council has set the following fee structure:-

- A registration fee of €100 for new graduates, who have obtained recognised professional qualifications within two years of applying for registration;

- An annual retention fee of €295 for registrants, including those who paid the lower rate on graduation, is payable on the annual renewal date.

All health regulators are self funding by way of annual fee income with operational costs being determined by the complexity and breadth of statutory functions specified in its legislation. The greater the registrant base the lower the annual fee charged. Given the enormous registrant base in teaching and nursing, for example, the annual fee charged amounts to less than €100 per annum. Health regulators are single profession regulators whereas the Council is charged with regulating twelve disparate professions, which can add significantly to operating costs. The twelve designated professions to be registered by the Council range in number from under 50 Clinical Biochemists to 5,550 Social Care Workers, which amounts to about 20,000 registrants in total across all professions. This is an extremely low registrant base when compared to a registrant base of well in excess of 60,000 for nurses.

The Council has extensive statutory functions under the 2005 Act, and considers the annual fee of €295 the minimum required to enable it to operate. The fee charged by the Council, which takes account of the requirement to become self funding by end 2015, is on a par with that charged by other health regulators and less than some in certain cases. The State is currently funding the Council in its establishment phase (€1.937 million in 2012) to offset the current shortfall in income from registration fees and will continue to do so on a reducing basis for the next 3 years.

In response to concerns about the level of fee, the Council has reviewed the regulatory structure to establish what scope exists for controlling registration fees and operational costs and has adopted the following measures:

- Where an existing practitioner with the necessary experience and recognised professional qualifications, or equivalent, pays the registration fee of €295 and is granted registration during the transitional period, also known as grandparenting, the application fee will cover them for the remainder of the grandparenting period and one full year of retention of registration after expiration of grandparenting. This concession will only apply to existing practitioners availing of the transitional provisions set out in the Act;

- The Council has entered into discussions with the HSE in regard to the feasibility of arrangements for the deduction of the registration fee from monthly salary thereby spreading the cost throughout the year;

- Finally, the Council has proposed significant restructuring of the way in which the designated professions will be registered and regulated to provide a more cost effective operating system and keep costs to a minimum. This will require the enactment of primary legislation in due course.

Public Sector Staff Issues

 589. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly in view of the commitment in the PSA to full engagement and detailed consultation with the Irish Medical Organisation and Irish Hospital Consultants Association with regard to changes in work practices that involve their members in the Health Service Executive, if he is satisfied that these requirements have been adhered to in the case of the HSE's recent announcement that new access protocols for 16 and 17 year olds to mental health services have been approved. [56956/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly Under the terms of the Public Service Agreement the HSE has a responsibility to ensure that engagement with trade unions takes place, to take account of staff concerns and rights, in relation to organisational and service changes. In addition, the HSE is statutorily obliged under the Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act, 2006, to engage with the trade unions in relevant circumstances.

I have asked the Executive to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the engagement that took place with the representative bodies in relation to the expansion of mental health services for 16 and 17 year olds.

Ambulance Service Staff

 590. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly if he will provide clarification on the five vacancies that exist for paramedics in the north western region; the length of time that these vacancies have existed; when they will be filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [56196/12]

 591. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the reason paramedics from the North Western Region who are located outside of this region are unable to avail of the national transfer policy to return to the north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56197/12]

 592. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly the number of paramedics seeking a transfer to the North Western Region; the lengths of time waiting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56198/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I propose to take Questions Nos. 590 to 592, inclusive, together.

  The recruitment of and terms and conditions for ambulance staff, including transfers, is a matter for the Health Service Executive, and as such, the Deputy's enquiry has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.


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