Children and Youth Affairs

Children and Youth Affairs questions

Posted November 9th, 2012

Tax credit scheme for childcare – 5th December 2014

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views regarding a tax credit scheme for childcare (details supplied).

Details:  I am about to become a mother.  Both I and my fiance have worked hard to save and buy a house last year.  We are both higher rate tax payers, and will pay the Property Tax, water charge etc because we understand that a functioning society means you pay for the services you use.  Despite the decrease in house prices and our relatively privileged position, it is a stretch for us to have bought a home close to my family, but we have been able to do this by taking lodgers.  We have waited longer than we might have liked to start a family, and financial considerations are a key reason for this.

I have a serious difficulty with your colleague Dr. Reilly’s views that a tax credit scheme for childcare is not to be considered as it would unfairly benefit higher earners and discriminate against stay at home mothers.  I work for a number of reasons.  Because I am a highly educated professional and I have a contribution to make to the society that paid for my education.  Because I want to show my children that education, work and bettering yourself are to be valued.  Because being a parent should not be at the exclusion of being a professional.  Last but not least, because we simply cannot afford to pay our mortgage on one salary.  I would be very surprised indeed if even a tiny percentage of couples of our generation living in Dublin can. Labeling the requirement for mothers to work as a choice is misleading.  There is no other option for the majority.

The economic model on which our society is based absolutely requires parents like my fiance and I to go to work and pay taxes.  It also absolutely requires some people to have children.  Without them, who  is to pay for your pension and mine?  If society wants people to work, it should not make it prohibitively expensive for them to do so.  Manageable childcare costs encourage women to go to work, develop their career, and stay in work.  They will contribute more in taxes over their lifetime.  They are less likely to fall behind or stall in their careers, making more skilled workers available to the economy.  Models better than ours, and which encourage the greater participation of both parents both to the family and the workplace, exist in just about every other European country.  

Last but not least, quality, affordable childcare has consistently been shown to be in the best interests of toddlers and pre-school children.  Those who have had it do better in school.  It is time for some joined up thinking on this point and the introduction of affordable and top class childcare for pre-school children.  If there is a better solution than a childcare tax credit, I am open to that.  However the current model of relying on those raising children to be the tax donkeys for the rest of society while paying exorbitant childcare costs is not sustainable.

REPLY

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (James Reilly)

The introduction of a tax credit scheme is a matter for Government and the Minister for Finance in the first instance.

I am aware of the relatively high cost of childcare in this country and of the difficulties that this presents, particularly where both parents are in employment outside of the home. To help address the issue, funding of €260 million is provided annually by my Department to support the implementation of a number of targeted childcare support programmes that assist parents in accessing quality and affordable childcare. More than 100,000 children benefit from these programmes each year.

The question of tax allowances for working parents who incur childcare costs was considered prior to the introduction of the targeted childcare supports which are now in place. A number of issues emerged at that time which did not favour the introduction of tax relief for childcare. This approach would not benefit parents working in the home and could, therefore, be seen by some as discriminatory. Tax reliefs would favour the higher-paid, and those on the minimum wage or in part-time work would not be in a position to benefit to the same extent. Many parents use childminders or relatives to meet their childcare requirements and may not be in a position to obtain receipts, making it impossible for them to establish their entitlement to tax relief. There is also a view that the introduction of tax credits could lead to increased prices and therefore have limited impact in terms of savings to parents.

I consider that direct investment in childcare provision would be a fairer way of supporting parents who require childcare support. I am aware that, despite the substantial Government investment, the issue of childcare costs remains a significant concern for many parents throughout the country. Increasing the State supports provided to help parents with these costs would require a considerable level of funding which will be considered in future Budgets. These are matters I will be exploring in detail over the coming period.

Department liaison for youth educators – 6th October 2014

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he has designated or will designate a point of contact in his Department to liaise with youth educators on the various departmental schemes across Government, in place to assist children in education and fitness, and the various eligibility criteria and so on to help youth educators better navigate the system.

REPLY

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (James Reilly)

The Deputy may be aware that my Department supports and promotes non-formal education and developmental opportunities for young people through which they can enhance their personal and social skills and competencies. Particular regard is had to the youth work needs of young people between the ages of 10 and 21, and to those who are socially or economically disadvantaged.

My Department administers a range of funding schemes and programmes to support the provision of youth services to young people throughout the country including those from disadvantaged communities. The schemes include the Youth Service Grant Scheme under which funding is made available on an annual basis to 31 national and major regional youth organisations. Targeted supports for disadvantaged, marginalised and at risk young people are provided through the Special Projects for Youth Scheme, the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund, Rounds 1 and 2, Local Drugs Task Force Projects and certain other programmes including the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme. Funding is also made available for a network of Youth Information Centres throughout the country. The purpose of these Centres is to provide young people and those who work with them, with access to information on rights, opportunities, benefits, health, welfare and other matters.

The funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 380,000 young people and involve approximately, 1,400 youth work staff in 477 projects and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities throughout the country. In 2014, funding of €49.78m has been provided to my Department for these schemes. Information about the funding schemes and the provision of youth services is available on my Department’s Website at www.dcya.gov.ie.

A wide and diverse range of programmes and activities are organised by youth services and projects throughout the country, for and with young people. These include programmes to promote personal and social development, including activities to encourage healthy lifestyles, physical and mental well-being and initiatives to raise awareness of the risks associated with drugs and alcohol abuse and other issues that impact on young people’s lives and their engagement in their local communities.

Programmes and activities are organised and delivered at local level by professional youth workers in projects and well trained volunteers. This work is supported by a network of Youth Officers in the Education and Training Boards.

Youth Officers are a key resource in the co-ordination of youth service provision to my Department and a contact point in their respective localities. They have an important support role to the providers of youth services in the implementation of the National Quality Standards Framework – a Framework to ensure that the diverse range of programmes available for young people have a common approach to ensuring quality services that draw on best practice and are responsive to young people’s needs. The National Youth Organisations that support the local services are the key contacts for information about the range and choice of youth facilities and youth programmes available to young people and how to access them.

The Youth Affairs Unit of my Department is engaged in an on-going basis with the providers of youth services throughout the country and with the network of Youth Officers. My Department works collabratively with those key contacts, including the various structured Fora, to ensure that they have access to the tools and best practice resources that are available to support their work with young people.

Details of the Websites of the major national youth organisations is being compiled and will be forwarded to the deputy shortly.

Closure of the creche in Tallaght Hospital – 28th May 2014

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if his attention has been drawn to plans to close the creche in Tallaght Hospital; the way this will affect parents and children who avail of the creche facility; and if he has seen or will publish the report commissioned by the hospital management.

REPLY.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Charlie Flanagan):

Almost all the pre-school services in this country are provided by commercial or community providers. A small number are provided in workplace locations. All of these services are developed in response to local or employment needs and the ongoing viability of such enterprises is a matter for the service providers. My Department has no responsibility in relation to the sustainability of the creche at Tallaght hospital or any other individual childcare service.

The recent enactment through the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 of amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 underpins a number of key reforms being introduced as part of the Pre-School Quality Agenda. The amended legislation strengthens the current inspection regime, provides a statutory basis for the registration of early years services, and also provides for the setting of minimum qualification standards for staff working with children in early years services.

To provide for the implementation of the changes to the Act it will be necessary to amend or make additions to the current Regulations in a number of areas, and these are currently being finalised. New National Quality Standards will also be published. It is not intended to impose any additional costs on services as a result of the new regulations, other than an increase in the annual fee payable by services to the Early Years Inspectorate. In the case of the service in question, the increase in the fee payable is expected to be in the region of €80 per annum.

My Department has introduced measures to support training for childcare staff to enable them to upskill to meet the increased qualification requirements and €3 million is being made available over the next two years for this initiative.

A key element of the Pre-School Quality Agenda is to strengthen the pre-school inspection system nationally. My Department is working with the Early Years Inspectorate to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance so that there is greater clarity and consistency of approach. I am confident that these reforms will provide for a more consistent and robust pre-school inspection regime.

Facilitating adoptions from India – 25th March 2014

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if there are delays in sending dossiers for adoptions to India; if so the reason for same; and the action being taken to remedy the situation.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

The Republic of India has ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption, as such it is not necessary to have a bilateral agreement with India. As a contracting state under the Hague Convention, the Adoption Act 2010 provides that adoptions by Irish prospective adoptive parents may be made subject to Irish and Indian requirements being satisfied in line with relevant laws and the provisions of the Hague Convention. It is a matter for contacting states whether they wish to impose restrictions on whether and how intercountry adoptions of citizens of that State may be effected.

I recently facilitated a meeting between the Irish India Support Group and the Adoption Authority in order to provide prospective adopters up to date information on the status of adoptions from India. At this meeting the Adoption Authority advised that there remains a general moratorium by the Indian Central Authority (CARA) on India accepting adoption applications from other countries other than in special circumstances. The Authority has recently received an announcement from CARA that India is currently accepting packs from non-resident Indian prospective adoptive parents for the adoption of Indian children (“normal” category). This means that India remains closed to non-Indian prospective adoptive parents at this time in respect of what it terms “normal” categories of children. The Adoption Authority understands that CARA is accepting applications in respect of children which are termed “special needs”, which includes children over five years of age and sibling groups. The Authority is currently attempting to establish from CARA a possible time frame for the acceptance of application packs in the “normal” category from non-Indian nationals.

The Adoption Authority has advised it is their position that it is necessary to have an Irish registered accredited body to facilitate inter-country adoptions from India in order to safeguard the process for the child and the adoptive parents. The Authority has recently decided to delegate its functions under Articles 15, 16 and 17 of the Hague Convention to Helping Hands Adoption Mediation Agency with regard to adoptions from India. Helping Hands is awaiting approval by CARA in order to proceed in this regard.

I have arranged a follow-up meeting with the Irish India Support Group and the Adoption Authority in May in order to update the group on progress made.

Capital funding for Youth Cafés – 15th January 2014

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide details of the assessment process for the awarding of youth café capital funding; the criteria involved; and the reasons for ineligibility and so on.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

In February 2013, I announced that my Department would be providing funding for youth capital projects in 2013. In this regard, total funding of €1.55m has been made available for my Department’s Youth Cafe 2013 programme.

Pobal assisted my Department with the application and evaluation process for the Youth Cafés 2013 Programme.

Applications for new youth cafés were invited from organisations and consortia involved in the provision of services to young people, with at least 3 years’ experience in the development of youth services. It was a requirement of the scheme that applications were to be submitted ‘online’ by 12 April, 2013. Detailed guidelines on the application and appraisal process and supporting documents in relation about best practice for youth cafes was made available to applicants on the Pobal website.

Some 95 applications for support under this scheme were received by Pobal.

To be eligible, applications were required to demonstrate that the proposed new youth café would be developed in line with my Department’s Youth Cafes in Ireland: a Best Practice Guide; that the facility would be target service for 12 – to 25 year olds and aim to meet the needs of the local youth population, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Criteria also included the extent to which the proposed new youth café would add value to existing provision for young people in a locality, criteria in relation to the capacity of the organisers to effectively manage the project, the involvement of youth in the development of project, how the project would be sustainable and the strength of the overall proposal.

Eligible applications were then appraised on the basis of a detailed assessment of the extent to which the criteria were met. The applications that scored well in the initial process with Pobal were further evaluated in the Department taking account of youth population, existing youth service provision and geographic considerations. Following the completion of the assessment and evaluation process some 30 proposals for new youth cafes projects were approved for funding and for inclusion in the next phase of the youth café programme. These successful applicants have now entered the pre-contracting development stage and are working with Pobal to progress their projects in this regard.

I have arranged for a copy of the detailed guidelines on the application and appraisal process provided to all applicants to be sent to the Deputy.

Details of the proposed 30 new youth cafés are available on my Department’s website at www.dcya.gov.ie

Employment practices in the civil service – 6th February 2013

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if there are any retired public sector workers from her Department, or any other part of the public sector, currently on her Department’s payroll, for example, for sitting on a committee or preparing a report, but not exclusively these two areas; the number on the payroll; the cost to her Department; the services being delivered for this money; and the way that the positions were originally advertised.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

The only retired public servants on the payroll of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs are two civilian drivers whose positions are coterminous with my position as Minister.  The drivers work on a week on/week off basis to drive my private car on official business.  Each driver receives €631.75 per week in respect of these duties.

Legislation to reform adoption law – 16th January 2013

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to the commitment in the Programme for Government to modernise and reform outdated elements of family law, in particular the legislation to consolidate and reform the law on adoption, the way this legislation is progressing and if this will contain provision for the recognition of rights for non-biological parents or children in same-sex relationships.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

I am currently examining a number of proposals in relation to possible amendments to the Adoption Act, 2010. Any changes will be brought forward in conjunction with the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012, which the Government plans to bring before the Oireachtas following the passing of the Children’s Referendum.

In addition, the drafting of the Heads of Bill in relation to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill is at an advanced stage in my Department. While consideration of the policy issues in relation to all aspects of the proposed Bill is ongoing, it is intended that the proposed legislation will provide for a structured and regulated way of both safeguarding adoption records and providing access to adoption information.

Timeframe for enactment of legislation following the Referendum – 28th November 2012,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the timeframe for the enactment of changes to family law legislation that are expected following the passing of the Children’s Referendum.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

A challenge to the provisional referendum certificate has been made under the provisions of the Referendum Act 1994 and is currently before the High Court for determination. In light of this, it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the enactment of legislation pursuant to the children’s referendum held on 10th November 2012.

I take this opportunity to point out that the initiation of any changes in family law are a matter for my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality. Regarding my area of responsibility, the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill was published back in September, in conjunction with the publication of the referendum proposal, in order that members of the public would be informed of changes to adoption law envisaged for implementation arising from approval of the Constitutional change.

Funding for the City of Dublin VEC – 22nd November 2012,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee are in the process of withdrawing funding from the position of catholic youth care education officer and the impact this will have on youth groups across the south inner city (details supplied).

 Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

The Youth Affairs Unit of my Department supports the delivery of a range of youth work programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth sector. Targeted supports for disadvantaged, marginalised and at risk young people are provided through the Special Projects for Youth Scheme, the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund Rounds 1 and 2 and Local Drugs Task Force Projects.

Funding of €56.806m has been provided to my Department to support the provision of youth services in 2012. Some 477 projects and youth services throughout the country receive support under the schemes. The annual funding allocations for youth projects are determined by my Department and the funding is administered, on behalf of my Department, by a number of grant administering agencies that includes the City of Dublin Youth Services Board (CDYSB) of the CDVEC.

Funding is provided to CYC by my Department for the provision of services for young people including an allocation of €1,010,735 in 2012 under the Youth Service Grant Scheme. An allocation of €44,506 for the provision of services in Dublin South East inner city has also been provided.

My Department is working on the funding allocation for youth services in 2013. Having regard to the savings requirements identified in the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure my Department is seeking to ensure that, in the determination process for the allocations, the front line youth services, particularly those for the most vulnerable young people are protected as far as is possible from the impact of any necessary reductions in funding.

No decisions have been made by my Department neither in relation to the 2013 funding for youth services throughout the country, nor in relation to the funding allocations to be provided for individual projects, including the CYC.

My Department has been advised that the CDYSB, in anticipation of reductions in the funding allocations next year, has been holding a series of meetings with the projects within its area in relation to 2013.

Any proposals or recommendations that a body administering funding on behalf of my Department, such as CDYSB, makes in relation to the distribution of funding in its locality on account of its local knowledge of the needs of young people would require the approval of my Department before they are implemented.

My Department will be making every effort to advise organisations and projects of their 2013 allocations as soon as possible.

Public Sector Rostering – 6th November 2012,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the sectors of the public sector that are currently employed on a roster basis and if there are any plans to remove employees from the rostering system.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

Certain grades of care staff are employed on a roster basis in the Children Detention School and due to the nature of the work involved, there are no plans to remove them from that system.

Report from the Adoption Authority of Ireland regarding Ethiopia – 9th October 2012,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she expects to conclude her review of the reports submitted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland following their visit to Ethiopia.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

Ethiopia is not a signatory of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.  In these circumstances, future adoptions from Ethiopia would require a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Ethiopia. The negotiation of bilateral agreements on intercountry adoption with states who have not ratified the Hague Convention is governed by Section 73 of the Adoption Act 2010 which states that “the Authority, with the prior consent of the Minister, may enter into discussions with any non-contracting state concerning the possibility of the Government entering into a bilateral agreement with that State.”

The Adoption Authority delegation visit to Ethiopia in April of this year was an initial part of the Authority’s deliberations on the feasability and suitability of entering into discussions with Ethiopia on a bilateral adoption agreement. The Authority is awaiting legal advice and will contact me once it has received this advice and completed its consideration of the matter. Once I have received the Authority’s assessment I can then fully consider the appropriate next steps in this regard.

Timeframe for legal advice on Ethiopian adoptions – 9th October 2012

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she expects the Adoption Authority of Ireland to contact her regarding the legal advice sought on Ethiopian adoptions; and when she expects the AAI to have completed its consideration of this matter.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

Ethiopia is not a signatory of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.  In these circumstances, future adoptions from Ethiopia would require a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Ethiopia. The negotiation of bilateral agreements on intercountry adoption with states who have not ratified the Hague Convention is governed by Section 73 of the Adoption Act 2010 which states that “the Authority, with the prior consent of the Minister, may enter into discussions with any non-contracting state concerning the possibility of the Government entering into a bilateral agreement with that State.”

The Adoption Authority delegation visit to Ethiopia in April of this year was an initial part of the Authority’s deliberations on the feasability and suitability of entering into discussions with Ethiopia on a bilateral adoption agreement. The Authority is awaiting legal advice and will contact me once it has received this advice and completed its consideration of the matter. Once I have received the Authority’s assessment I can then fully consider the appropriate next steps in this regard.

When will Russia sign bilateral adoption agreement – 15th May 2012,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that under the Adoption Act 2010 no Russian adoptions can take place until a bilateral agreement is signed with the Russian authorities, and when this bilateral agreement can be expected to take place.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

The Hague Convention  is a co-operative agreement drawn up to allow countries to mutually support one another in protecting the best interests of children in the intercountry adoption process. It sets out minimum standards regarding intercountry adoption and covers issues such as subsidiarity, consent and financial considerations. It is designed in such a way as to allow for mirrored mechanisms and structures to mutually assure countries of the safety and standard of intercountry adoptions in those countries.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) performs the function of a Central Authority under the Adoption Act, 2010, in accordance with the Convention. In choosing to deal primarily with Hague countries, the AAI has the mechanism to work collaboratively with equivalent structures in that country. Each Central Authority has the responsibility to oversee standards in respect of those parts of the process taking place within their respective jurisdictions. This mutual arrangement is designed to give the AAI, the Government and, most importantly, those involved in the adoption process assurance as to the standards being set and the oversight of the system.

A limited number of adoptions from Russia are currently being processed under transitional arrangements as provided for in the Adoption Act, 2010. Under the provisions of the legislation, such adoptions may take place up to the end of October 2012, with the possibility of the Adoption Authority granting approval for an extension of up to one year. Russia has not ratified the Hague Convention and there appears to be no immediate prospect that this will happen.  In the circumstances, adoptions from Russia, beyond those provided for under the transitional arrangements, may only be possible under a bi-lateral agreement developed to the standards of the Hague Convention.

An official  delegation from Ireland recently visited Russia and held preliminary discussions regarding the potential for a bilateral agreement. I have received an initial assessment from the Adoption Authority which will inform the next steps to be taken in relation to this matter. My Department is in discussions with the Adoption Authority on this assessment and other issues which will influence any policy decisions to be taken in this regard. I am aware of the need to bring clarity to the situation in respect of Russia and I hope to be in a position to do so shortly.

The immediate priority of the Adoption Authority  is the development of administrative arrangements with other countries which have ratified the Hague Convention.  Any future bilateral arrangements which might be entered into would also be required by law to meet the minimum standards set out in the Convention.

Adoption Authority’s report on adoption in Ethiopia – 22nd May 2011,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she expects to receive the report from the Adoption Authority following the delegation’s visit to Ethiopia in early April; and when she expects to conclude a bilateral agreement between the Irish and Ethiopian authorities in order that adoptions from Ethiopia can commence.

Reply

The Minster for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

Adoptions from Ethiopia, effected  under the transitional arrangements provided for in the Adoption Act 2010, are ongoing and are currently being examined,  and  recognised, by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI).  These transitional arrangements may lead to adoptions from Ethiopia taking place up to the end of October 2012. The Adoption Act 2010 also contains provision for a one year extension to declarations of eligibility and suitability to adopt which may lead to a one year extension to this date.

Ethiopia is not a signatory of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.  In these circumstances, adoptions from Ethiopia which are not covered by the transitional arrangements referred to above would require a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Ethiopia. The negotiation of bilateral agreements on intercountry adoption with states who have not ratified the Hague Convention is governed by Section 73 of the Adoption Act 2010 which states that “the Authority, with the prior consent of the Minister, may enter into discussions with any non-contracting state concerning the possibility of the Government entering into a bilateral agreement with that State.”  Any bilateral arrangements which might be entered into would be required by law to meet the minimum standards set out in the Hague Convention.

A delegation from the Adoption Authority  visited Ethiopia in April and held exploratory meetings with the Ethiopian authorities regarding the system of adoption which operates in that country. The delegation, in the course of its visit, held preliminary discussions with the Ethiopian authorities around the potential for a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoption. Yesterday, 21st May, I received a Report from the Authority summarising the conclusions and recommendations of the delegation’s visit.  While this is now being considered in my Department, the AAI has stated that it has decided to seek further legal advice in Ethiopia on whether adoptions there are full or simple adoptions. The Authority has further stated that it will contact me again once it has received the legal advice referred to and completed its consideration  of the matter.

I have also been advised that the Authority has decided to post an advisory on its website in relation to the visit to Ethiopia.

The Department’s expected expenditure on Consultancy Fees – 6th October 2011,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the amount she intends to spend on consultancy fees in 2011, in particular those contracted to identify value for money in her Department.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

My Department expects to spend approximately €24,000 on consultancy fees in 2011.

Big Brother Big Sister Mentoring Scheme – 21st July 2011,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she supports the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring programme for children in the community organised by Foróige.

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):

The 2011 budget for the Youth Affairs Section of my Department is €60.154m on current expenditure and €800,000 on capital expenditure. This funding supports the delivery of a range of youth programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities through grants in aid.

Foróige is currently in receipt of €6.037m from Youth Affairs Unit for projects run under a number of schemes including the Youth Service Grant Scheme, Special Projects for Youth Scheme, four (4) Youth Information Centres and for a number of projects under the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund (Rounds 1 and 2).

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I am aware of the Big Brother Big Sister Programme. However, having regard to the reductions in public expenditure that must be achieved by Government Departments and State Agencies and the limited funding available, it was not possible to consider funding for the programme in 2011. In light of further budgetary constraints in 2012 it is unlikely that any new application for funding will be considered next year.

Child-staff ratios in the Childcare Industry – 9th June 2011,

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has considered any potential benefit to small businesses in the childcare industry of an increase in ratios per childcare staff (details supplied).

Details Supplied: At present, the ratios are for age 0-1, 1:3 adult/child ratio, age 1-2 1:5 adult/child ratio. It has been suggested that an increase in the number of adults caring for children in childcare facilities will increase the quality of service and ultimately keep the childcare care industry afloat which, like many industries, consists of small business/crèches

Reply

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Frances Fitzgerald):
Pre-School services are regulated under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006. Regulation 12, together with the Explanatory Guide thereto, provides for the maximum adult to child ratios which are recommended depending on the age range and type of pre-school service in question.

The Child Care Regulations 2006 were introduced following wide-ranging consultations with the pre-school sector. The adult to child ratios were last examined as part of this process and, as a result, the adult to child ratio for children aged 1 to 2 years was reduced from that of 1 adult to 6 children to 1 adult to 5 children. My Department will continue to keep the regulatory environment for pre-school services under review with a view to ensuring the safety and well-being of children as well as practical considerations for service providers.

I am aware that, along with other areas of the economy, early childhood care and education services have experienced a reduced demand from parents. I believe it is important to support the sector through these times for a number of reasons. Clearly, the State has made a very significant capital investment in the sector which should be protected into the future. More importantly, quality early childhood care and education services are of vital importance to ensuring young children’s well-being during this key developmental stage of their lives.

For this reason, I am committed to maintaining my Department’s work in funding some 4,500 pre-school services across the country, in effect almost every pre-school in the State, through the three major early childhood care and education programmes which I am responsible for. These programmes, which include the free Pre-School Year, support some 100,000 children and the jobs of up to 20,000 personnel, at a cost of €240 million per annum.