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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Early Childhood Care and Education Funding
 Header Item Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Priority Questions

Early Childhood Care and Education Funding

 16. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone when her Department will arrange for payments to be issued to community early years child care providers in recognition of the impact on those providers of the full implementation of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 relating to the minimum FETAC level 5 qualification for staff in respect of the €1 million fund she has announced; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that certain community early years providers require these funds in order to maintain their services; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [15424/17]

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I wish to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when her Department will arrange for payments to be issued to community early years child care providers in recognition of the impact on those providers of the full implementation of the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 relating to the minimum FETAC level 5 qualification for staff in respect of the €1 million fund she has announced; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that certain community early years providers require these funds to maintain their services; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Deputy for her question. The child care regulations introduced for newly-registering preschool services on 30 June 2016, and for existing services on 31 December 2016, require all staff working directly with children to have at least a major award at level 5 on the national qualifications framework in early childhood care and education or a qualification deemed by the Minister to be equivalent. As the Deputy will be aware, this regulation has been extensively welcomed as being in the best interests of children.

  I recognise, however, the impact increased regulation is having on community settings – from my own experience, from a number of meetings I have had with providers and representative groups and from the early years forum I established to ensure that providers’ voices are heard. In 2017, I provided for €1 million of additional funding to be made available to child care providers who have been facilitating the training of community employment participants to ensure that regulatory changes do not impact on service delivery or the availability of child care places. Officials have been working with Pobal and Childcare Committees Ireland to get funding out to services affected by the change in respect of community employment scheme participants and I understand that contracts to enable payment have now issued to services. Funds will be disbursed without delay once these contracts are signed. Funding will be provided in two phases, the first of which is to cover advertising and recruitment costs, while the second will follow more detailed financial analysis of services in the coming weeks.

  In addition, funding of €14.5 million will be made available for the first time in 2017 for non-contact time to recognise the increasing volume of work done outside of direct contact hours with children.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  The sector has taken the initiative of commissioning and completing research highlighting the challenges that they face and I am acutely aware that we need to get the funding model right for these services. This is a complex issue and I hope that providers will appreciate that we have had to move to tackle the most urgent issues first, designing a new model of eligibility for families - the affordable childcare scheme, tackling the community employment scheme issue, and providing funding for non-contact time for the first time. I remain committed to addressing other sustainability and quality issues, particularly in disadvantaged areas. The last two budgets delivered a 35% increase each year in funding for child care. However, it is recognised that there is a need to continue to invest and a strong case will be put forward for more resources in 2018 and beyond.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I thank the Minister for her response. I tabled this question because a number of community child care providers have contacted me. As the Minister will be aware, a number of meetings regarding this issue have been held, particularly in the south of the country. I asked the Minister for Social Protection a few weeks ago to indicate the number of workers participating on community employment schemes in a child care setting and he replied that at the end of December 2016, the number was 1,816 participants. That did not include Tús workers. While they would not be engaged in trying to get a FETAC level 5 qualification, the participants on that scheme were possibly taken in under a ratio. A total of 800 participants were sponsored by child care providers. The number of such participants in the rural social scheme, RSS, is 41. As the Minister will be aware from her contact with child care providers, they have relied on those numbers. The child care providers have not received funds. If the €1 million fund was divvied out among the more than 1,800 participants, it would not sustain a month's wages for them. Therefore, there is a crisis in the sector.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone As the Deputy indicated, I am aware of the issues she outlined. I have also spoken to and have had a meeting with the Minister for Social Protection on this matter. I have asked my officials to focus on the most acute challenges facing services and the impact of the removal of unqualified community employment workers from ratios is one of those most acute challenges. I am aware of these challenges from my meetings, from the research that has been done by child care providers that has been presented to me, as well as from the work done by Childcare Committees Ireland. I have described that two phases of sustainability responses will be put in place. The first is the initial grant and the second is where we are getting more people to assist us in going into those services whose sustainability is challenged to analyse their finances and see what we can further do for them in regard to the €1 million fund.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte I welcome that the Minister finished her response by saying that she will look into the community sector to assist those services challenged with respect to their viability and sustainability. In one crèche in Clare that has a staff of ten, it relies on community employment workers for four positions. I would love to know if the Minister's Department has done an analysis on that. How many such workers were close to qualifying in terms of their major award? If they had started in 2013 or 2014, were some of them almost qualified or could a grace period have been provided to allow them finish their qualification, with support from the community child care sector? When one is doing something like this in January, one is looking at recruitment, staffing and advertising. It is a very difficult time with providers taking in children under the next phase of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme. I welcome what the Minister has said but the community sector is really under pressure at present.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I completely with the Deputy in that regard. She will appreciate that my Department gave a substantial lead-in period to allow for most of the members within the child care and early education sector to prepare for and comply with the regulations. I fully understand it was not possible for that to be the case, particularly with regard to some of the people who are providing in the community services context. I am also aware that even if they had, and I have met with some services who have described some of the difficulties to me, they still would be under pressure in terms of sustainability. One of the reasons for that, particularly in those contexts, is that they are reaching out to do effectively more beyond what child care providers are doing in other contexts, and one of the other things we are looking at is how to ensure there is enough support going into those services, perhaps from other programmes of funding, in addition to the child care provision that I am providing.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

 17. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if she has considered pursuing an injunction on sites in which mother and baby homes and county homes are located; the action she will take to ensure potential sites of interest remain untampered with; the status of the site at Tuam; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15276/17]

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Baineann an cheist seo leis na tithe máithreacha agus leanaí. As the Minister knows, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding recent revelations in Tuam. However, a great deal of the discussion subsequently has related not only to Tuam but to many other locations and the possibility that there may be unmarked graves. My question relates to the steps the Government intends to take to ensure that any of those possible unmarked graves are not interfered with.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone It is important to appreciate that these institutions ceased operating many decades ago. The reality is that many of the buildings and sites which accommodated mother and baby homes and county homes have evolved significantly in the intervening years. These locations are now being used for a wide array of different activities and purposes, ranging from housing estates to private health care facilities and hotels. In some cases nothing remains of the former institutions and the locations are not in public ownership. In these circumstances, we would have to be clear about the exact purpose of seeking any injunction.

With regard to the former home in Tuam, we know that the site which was recently excavated by the commission is owned by Galway County Council. I have visited the site twice and it includes green spaces and children's play facilities alongside the memorial garden, which was maintained for years by local residents. The site was sealed and secured by the commission upon conclusion of its excavation. While the commission has advised that it has now concluded its physical excavations at Tuam, it has not yet reached any formal conclusions about the site.

In the first instance, the local coroner will wish to conclude his own formal processes and to decide on any further inquiries he may wish to make. While it will take some time to address all the questions which have arisen, I want to ensure that there is a sensitive and inclusive process of engagement with the local community, survivors and other parties with personal and family connections in respect of this site.

In the case of other relevant locations, the commission continues its work to examine the reporting of deaths and burial arrangements with regard to the 14 mother and baby homes and the identified sample of county homes. As an independent investigation, it is a matter for the commission to decide the approach it takes to these investigations. I have no role in these decisions. However, I am satisfied that the commission has sufficient powers, expertise and resources to progress these investigations in the public interest. It has clearly demonstrated that it can do so.


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