Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 8 March 2017
Select Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Estimates for Public Services 2017
Vote 40 - Children and Youth Affairs (Revised)
We are meeting to consider the Revised Estimate for Vote 40 - Children and Youth Affairs, for the year ending 31 December 2017, which was referred to the committee by an order of the Dáil on 15 December 2016. When the committee has considered the Revised Estimate, this fact will be reported to the Dáil.
I welcome the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and her officials. I thank them for the briefing documents they have supplied to the committee.
The proposed format for today's meeting is to deal with Vote 40 on a programme by programme basis. At the outset of consideration of the programme the Minister will give an overview of the programme. We will then open the discussion to the floor for questions from members of the committee. Before proceeding I ask that everyone to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode. Without any further ado, I invite the Minister to make her opening statement.
I am very happy to be here to discuss my Department’s 2017 Estimate. I have a passion for the well-being of all our children and I hope the work we do together will enable and ensure that, ultimately, none of our children will be othered in our State.
The Revised Estimate for my Department for 2017 provides a gross funding provision of €1.311 billion. This represents an increase of €173 million, or 16%, over the 2016 allocation. This is a significant investment of taxpayers money and I am very grateful for the trust and confidence being shown towards me and my Department as we lead on our objective to improve the outcomes for children and young people in Ireland in that some of their dreams will come true, they will be loved, cared for, protected and safe. I remain fully committed to ensuring the full delivery of this Government’s programme for Government commitments. I want to see an Ireland where the rights of all children and young people are respected, protected, fulfilled, where their voices are heard and where they are supported to realise their maximum potential now and in the future. I remember at this moment the four year old boy I met in a community centre in Togher, County Cork, and Deputy Ó Laoghaire was with me there. I spent quite a bit of time with the child in order to enable him to speak with me, getting down on my knees and having a chat with him. I am also remembering the mother I met in one of Ireland's top legal firms when I went there to speak in the context of how to influence the influencers. She spoke of how proud she was of her eight year old trans boy.
My Department, and its agencies, have a complex range of policy, legislation and services to deliver on. Examples of this range from: initiatives to improve the level and quality of early childhood care and education; providing for the needs of children and young people in the care of the State; providing services to protect children against child abuse and to provide help and support to children and their families when that, unfortunately, happens; providing adoption services and; listening to children, learning from them, and finding out what works when we look to improve their lives. We listened to young people when we gathered some together to hear about what Brexit means for them. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Rabbitte, Deputy Ó Laoghaire and other public representatives were present.
As I noted, I have received a significant increase in funding in 2017 for which I am very grateful. This funding will allow for a range of key service developments. The most significant in terms of the level of increased funding relates to the provision of an additional €120 million for early years care and education services. The additional funding will be directed towards a suite of measures to improve the affordability, accessibility and quality of child care. That brings the total allocation for early years child care and education to €465 million, accounting for nearly 36% of my Department's overall allocation. That level of funding allows for the extension of the ECCE scheme into a second year and the further full roll-out of the access and inclusion model. Just the other day when we finally acknowledged and recognised the ethnicity of Travellers I had a long conversation with my assistant secretary, Bernie McNally, on how to ensure the access and inclusion model is also about including Travellers. We also aim to provide more targeted child care subsidisation for lower income families as a first step and; to provide for universal subsidisation towards the cost of care for all children aged from six months to three years who are using regulated child care. I met the early years forum we have established the other day and we looked especially at childminders in that regard. I am also conscious that we need to assist making the child care sector more sustainable and some of the additional funding in 2017 will be used to acknowledge non-contact time required to deliver high-quality services. It is an initial important step in terms of doing that kind of work to ensure sustainability but some funding has also been provided to enhance inspections and registration schemes to ensure services are delivered in a safe, supportive and caring environment.
I also welcome an additional investment of €37 million for Tusla in 2017. Tusla now has an annual allocation of some €713 million which, I am confident, allows it develop as a sustainable organisation which will standardise, streamline and improve its services to children and families. As Members well know, this agency provides services for some of the most vulnerable children and families in the State. The extra funding in 2017 will allow it to further alleviate service pressures in respect of matters such as unallocated caseloads, private residential and foster care and services relating to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It will also allow Tusla to continue to prepare for the introduction of mandatory reporting under Children First later this year.
As we all know, it has been a challenging time for Tusla. One of the challenges it continues to face is the bringing together of various cultures and legacies from the HSE, the National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB, and the Family Support Agency, FSA, when it came together to establish itself and move forward with the intention and ambition to provide the best care and protection for children. I had a recent meeting with the board in Cork to discuss the challenges and the ways in which it has reassured me that it will do all that it can to meet the ambition both in its vision and mission and also in its upcoming business plan for 2017.
The significant additional resources secured for 2017 will allow my Department and its agencies build on the good work by all involved in working with children and families to deliver on the Government's commitment to fundamentally reform the delivery of services. As far as I, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, am concerned, in terms of delivering on the Government's commitment and the reform of services I can do it better with the input, criticism, constructive suggestions and support of committee members.
I thank the Minister. Programme A relates to the children and family support programme to provide and improve the existing service delivery arrangements to protect and support the welfare of children, young people and families, including the oversight of the Children and Family Agency.
I thank the Minister for her statement. I have a couple of questions. First, I very much welcome the increase in funding for the Department, which is up by 16%. I am sure the money will be put to very good use. A total of €1.6 million is available by way of capital carryover. Could the Minister indicate what capital investment was not completed last year?
There seems to be an increase in spending on sectoral programmes for children and young people. Could the Minister provide detail to the committee on what programmes they are and what is being done this year?
Specifically, in terms of the spending on Tusla, the children and family support programme is €743 million of expenditure for 2017, which is broken down into seven subheads, one of which relates to other current expenditure programmes. Out of the €730 million or so being spent for this year, approximately €43 million will be spent on these programmes. Could the Minister explain what is involved?
There appears also to be an increase in pay and administration for the agency for this year. Could the Minister also explain where that money is going? We do not appear to have a breakdown from Tusla on what it is spending its money on. No performance information is provided to the committee on where the money is going and I would be interested to hear in more detail about where Tusla is spending its allocation.
One of the biggest complaints I receive as an elected representative relates to the provision of social workers. How many social workers are currently employed by Tusla? Does the expenditure on social workers come under the heading of administration and pay? What is the projected expenditure for 2017 in respect of social workers and how does it compare with last year? Are we spending more on social workers this year and if we are, how much? Does the Department have any plans to employ additional social workers this year? Are there currently any vacancies and if so, how many positions remain to be filled? When does the Minister expect to fill the vacancies?
Could the Minister provide some detail on the children and young people's services committee, CYPSC? I understand new co-ordinators were hired across the country towards the end of last year and perhaps some are being put in place this year. How many committees are currently up and running? How many co-ordinators do we have in place? Could the Minister undertake to provide a performance report to the committee at the earliest convenience? It would be useful for the committee to perhaps have the national co-ordinator of those committees appear before the joint committee to give an update to members as to how the new programme is working.
A substantial amount of funding under the Vote specifically relates to Tusla. This time last year, much of the discussion related to Tusla's efforts to deal with the number of unallocated cases and also to ensure that all children would be provided with aftercare plans on the commencement of the legislation.
Towards the end of last year, Tusla indicated that it was aiming to increase the number of social workers by between 150 and 200 as compared with the previous 16 months. Is it roughly on target to meet that objective? How many social workers in excess of this number will be required over the next 12 months? Will the Minister comment on how far the recruitment of these additional social workers will go towards addressing the unallocated cases in accordance with Tusla's main priorities?
I will comment briefly on capital expenditure, which has been increased under a number of heads. There will be increased demand for child care services and, consequently, a need for community facilities, many of which are directly funded through Tusla. Will increased funding be provided this year and in the coming years to develop community child care facilities in locations and settings other than those set out in programme C?
Yes, in view of the fact that family resource centres, for example, are directly funded by Tusla. Obviously, the funding of the schemes falls under a different programme not provided for under this head.
Chart 3 shows a 10% increase in expenditure for subhead A4, youth justice and children's detention centres. I understood the term "children's detention centres" would not longer be used. Obviously, capital expenditure was one of the major issues at the Oberstown campus where there was a lengthy snag list of more than 20 items, some of which were small while others were substantial. Does the Minister anticipate that a 10% increase in funding will be sufficient to address all the deficiencies in buildings and so forth at Oberstown?
I welcome the 16% increase in funding for this budget. Funding should continue to increase on the back of improving economic circumstances and decreasing unemployment. I echo many of the questions asked by Deputy Lisa Chambers. On administration non-pay versus the ECCE preschool programme, will the Minister flesh out the reasons for the 31% increase in the allocation for non-pay administration costs? Is it connected with the 41% increase provided for the preschool programme? If so, what is the breakdown of both figures? How does the administration system operate? Is it electronic or paper based? Investment in technology tends to bear fruit by reducing administrative costs. This may creep into the capital area.
Many of the questions focused on section A, although some of my answers will cut across the questions. If I do not answer any of the questions, I ask Deputies to come back to me.
In general, many of the questions raised by Deputy Lisa Chambers will be answered in the Tusla business plan, which will be published on Friday, 10 March. Extensive discussions at official level and my ministerial performance statement have helped in the development of the 2017 business plan and the priorities I have identified will guide the plan. As I indicated, I met the chair, chief executive officer and board of Tusla. In 2017, Tusla expenditure will focus on a number of areas. This is the second year in a three-year initiative to tackle the issue of child protection cases awaiting allocation to a social worker. I will address the specific question on social work recruitment targets in a moment. The additional funding provided will allow Tusla to continue its challenging programme of recruiting social workers.
Tusla will continue its preparatory work in advance of the introduction of mandatory reporting under the Children First Act. Adoption is also part of its plan to ensure it is in a position to implement the provisions of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill, which we are about to complete, and the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, Second Stage of which will begin in the Seanad later this month. There will also be a focus on aftercare to ensure Tusla meets its statutory obligation in respect of children leaving care and aftercare supports.
I will discuss a number of other aspects of the plan if Deputies wish. However, I would like to address more specifically the ongoing issue of Tusla's social work recruitment targets. In September 2015, Tusla published its three-year plan, From Survival to Sustainability, which estimated that 268 additional social workers or 1,627 whole-time equivalent social workers were needed to address the unallocated cases during the timeframe of the plan. With only 250 social workers graduating each year, the labour market is highly competitive. I have directed my officials to contact CORU and the Higher Education Authority to discuss the number of social workers graduating and how it can be increased. However, it will be some time before an increase in graduate numbers is achieved.
Tusla has taken a proactive approach to recruitment, including recruiting social workers outside the jurisdiction. The organisation currently has 1,467 whole-time equivalent social workers and the end target for 2017 is 1,520. This target is short of the target set in From Survival to Sustainability by approximately 100 whole-time equivalent social workers, which reflects the constraints in labour supply. Tusla will continue to prioritise the recruitment of an additional 100 family support practitioners, 166 social care staff and 125 administrative staff to allow social workers to focus on their care work with children and their families.
Deputy Lisa Chambers asked a question about pay in Tusla. The allocation for 2017 is approximately €217 million or 38% of overall expenditure.
Recruitment is directly related to the issue of unallocated cases. Deputies will be aware that the Tusla chief executive officer recently stated that the recruitment of social workers was ongoing.
The funding is in place to achieve the recruitment. The recruitment environment is proving to be challenging.
On its impact in regard to unallocated cases, when Tusla was set up there were almost 10,000 unallocated cases. This was reduced to 5,413 at the end of 2016, which is a 20% reduction in 2016 alone. Of the 5,413 unallocated cases, 801 of them were classified as high priority, 3,262 medium priority and 1,350 of low priority. One of the points I would like to particularly communicate here too today is that there was a downward trend in the numbers of unallocated cases from the beginning of 2016 to October last but that was reversed at the end of the year. The number of unallocated cases increased then by over 1,100 in the final two months. Tusla has advised me that this was due to challenges in the area of social work recruitment.
The question on the Oberstown Children Detention Campus was whether the moneys allow for the completion of the repair works. The capital allocation of €3.25 million includes funding provision for a range of remedial and improvement works that were identified - I also noted the need for some of these in my visits to the campus, and I note the committee visited there too - as being required following a period of operation of new facilities and several incidents, such as damage to the new and previously existing facilities by the young people. Two of the previously existing units are due to come back into operation in March of 2017 following remedial works and the demolition of a third unit, which was severely damaged by the fire. Other works have commenced and will be replicated in all of the residential units across the campus during 2017. The full cost of all of these works has yet to be established as there are some ongoing design elements involved, including the identification of alternative door design. In my first visit to Oberstown, the issue of doors, and how to design them in a way that is appropriate, both for the living environment of the young people who are there but also to provide the security that is require, continues to be challenging, not only nationally but also internationally.
I will address the capital investment in child care that Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised. Needless to say, capital investment will be required. We all would agree with that. As the affordable scheme is rolled out and more families avail of high quality affordable child care, I will soon announce €3 million in capital funding for early years in 2017. On Monday last, I announced €4 million in capital funding for school-age child care. I will seek more investment next year and beyond.
In regard to the capital carryover from 2016, the school-age child care capital funding was not spent in 2016. That is because the Department was finalising an action plan with the Department of Education and Skills in that regard. I am delighted to have launched that school-age child care action plan this week and the associated €3 million capital scheme to increase the number of high quality after school places as well. There was also an underspend in the youth requirements but I can assure the Deputy that will be spent in 2017.
Deputy Lisa Chambers asked a question about the administration. Was it in regard to the Department itself?
I thank the Deputy. I will revert to her with the exact numbers of CYPSCs that are up and running because I do not have the exact figure here. I understand that the system is well operational now. A national co-ordinator is in place and is engaging well with the communities at local level. There is a national implementation group that promotes good inter-agency working. I met the group a number of months ago and the Deputy's question prompts me to think that it would be useful for me to meet it again. That is as much as I can answer that question now.
Let me see whether there are other questions outstanding. Are we okay? I can provide some more priorities in regard to the Tusla programme for 2017.
The Minister stated there are currently 1,467 whole-time equivalent social workers and by the end of this year, she hopes to bring that up to 1,520. However, the Minister states she will fall short by roughly 100 on the basis of the targets set in 2015. The Minister stated it was a graduate problem, as we do not have enough qualifying.
What is the HEA's response to this challenge? What is the authority doing about it? For example, in my constituency, GMIT, on the Mayo campus, has a new social work course with students going through it. In terms of uptake it is one of their most successful courses. I would imagine if other colleges were to run a similar course, there is demand from prospective students for them. Is the HEA planning to bring other courses online or to increase the capacity in the existing institutes of technologies and universities to churn out more graduates?
I thank the Deputy for that question. Apologies, I meant to say we will engage. We are just about to have the discussions with the HEA. We have been planning to do exactly as the Deputy identified.
I would make two points here, specifically, in regard to social workers. More places need to be created at third level for the significant numbers of young people who want to avail of those place. Until that happens, one action in the Tusla active recruitment programme is that it must look outside of the country, to Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond, in order to attract social workers here. This is probably more a medium-term ambition. If the Deputy has views in that regard or anything that she wants to provide to me and my Department, I would be more than happy to consider them. In coming into office, this is one of the first items on which I would have had discussions with the Department stating this is what we need to aim for. The other point is we need to create more places. I understand that is a big ask and it is good to know we are about to engage in those discussions.
The other aspect, in terms of higher education, that we have been speaking about that also influences the challenges in recruitment, particularly within Tusla so that we have who we need for unallocated cases and also working for the care and protection of children, is the issue around the qualifications for social care workers. We have been looking a lot at that, more from a third level education perspective, to ensure that we support and encourage that the programmes, and content of the curriculum of the many such courses, are geared and reformed in an ongoing way to the challenges in the work, particularly in the care and protection of children. Many in my Department are working on and committed to that.
As I have stated on a number of occasions in other contexts, it is important to emphasise that it is not only about social workers. I do not mean these comments by way of explicit criticism of the current programmes and degrees for social care workers. Those working in this field are aware of the challenges. We are merely identifying that it would be important in ongoing conversations to ensure that there is a match between what is required in terms of the ongoing challenges in caring for children and what is going on in the workplace, particularly in light of the Tusla requirements on social care workers.
Social care staff, administrative staff, etc. can reduce the burden on social workers. Many members will probably have heard the complaint or concern that social workers are sometimes caught up in doing more administrative work than they wish. Therefore, we need to increase the number of social workers.
The Government has provided the money to me in terms of meetings to ensure that pressure is maintained to tackle recruitment issues. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan has raised the retention of workers before. I know that Tusla is addressing the matter, particularly in its plans for 2017.
I do not want to repeat anything that has been said. When I spoke in the Chamber I referred to social workers and called on everyone to support the provision of enough resources to ensure that children in care have a social worker. From what the Minister has said, it may not be so much a resource issue as a recruitment issue.
I had intended to ask about the rate of turnover. I do not know how much data the Minister has on the length of time people stay in the service or whether they move on quickly.
I shall comment on recruitment. I personally know people who studied social work in college and, at a later stage, undertook counselling courses or moved into another area because they found social work very difficult. Has an attempt been made to attract older qualified people who went in different directions in Ireland, apart from going abroad? We all want, and I know that the Minister wants, to ensure that we can allocate social workers for all the children in care and for other purposes within the Department as well.
Are we discussing all of the programmes now?
My understanding is that the Tusla social worker turnover rate was approximately 8% in 2015. The figure compares favourably with England where the average turnover was 17% in 2014.
Over the past number of months I have met with a couple of organisations which represent social care workers and social workers. The Deputy has rightly identified the challenges of working at the coalface, particularly in the context of Tusla and the work that is required of social workers. That work is sometimes more difficult than the other kinds of jobs that social workers can access and be employed in. Representations have been made to me. I am fully aware of the situation and have shared that experience with the senior management of Tusla whom I meet on a quarterly basis. They are aware of the concerns too. I can supply the Deputy with more information at a later point if she so wishes. Tusla is very focused on finding ways to improve retention policies and practices, whether through employee assistance programmes or other initiatives. Staff retention is not only a recruitment issue. As the Deputy has said, social work is not just a money issue. Resources are available. We must find ways to improve the ongoing supports available to social workers in the context of Tusla to retain staff.
Retaining staff is a challenge but Tusla has adopted a number of approaches to address the problem. Recruitment is one aspect. We must have an internal transfer list to help people to work in areas nearer their homes.
In terms of attracting new people, interviews have taken place, panels have been established and positions offered. I will get the exact figure from my accompanying staff. Some of the offers have not been availed of because the posts are not close to where people live. Location raises particular issues. Tusla is trying to address the problem, along with the professional organisations. Indeed, they are also focused on continuing professional development, employee welfare initiatives and managed caseloads for newly qualified staff. These measures will address recruitment and provide support to people in order to encourage them to stay.
Has Tusla tried to recruit expert staff? I mean staff who can head up investigations into historical cases. There are 5,000 historical cases but an ordinary person cannot work in such a department. Has funding been set aside to bring back people with relevant experience, who can manage teams, demonstrate leadership, give direction and deal with historical cases?
The CEO of Tusla was in here two weeks ago. I asked him whether historical cases were high, low or medium priority. I was told that present day child welfare cases are high priority whereas historical cases would not be as high a priority. To me, historical cases should enjoy the same priority as present day cases. We do not have the manpower in place. Have historical cases been pitched at the right qualified staff? Have they been encouraged to come forward to lead teams? Will they be supported?
I have a question on ICT. It is hard to retain and recruit staff if they do not have the tools to do their job. I have met a lot of social care workers and some of them told me that they did not have the ICT tools to do their job.
My final question is on family resource centres.
It would be remiss of me not to ask the Minister a question on family resource centres. Has the Department encouraged Tusla to recruit more development workers for family resource centres thus providing early social care intervention? The initiative would remove an awful lot of pressure from many social care workers. We do not have 109 development workers. Are there plans to recruit some?
I welcome the statements that have been made about Oberstown. I welcome the smaller items as well as the larger items.
Many of my questions on social workers have been answered. I accept all of the points that have been made. It was interesting to hear about the recruitment issues. We have a very high number of unallocated cases. I am sure the Minister is concerned about the matter, in particular the 800 odd high priority cases. Granted, graduate issues exist but if there is a quick fix then it should focus on ensuring that the absolute maximum amount of administrative work and similar work is reduced for social workers through the use of support staff. Resources for a quick fix should focus on reducing administrative work and enhancing the amount of contact time.
I thank Deputy Rabbitte for her questions and will come to Deputy Ó Laoghaire's point in a moment. The first questions were about Tusla dealing with historical cases and the particular expertise required to do so. It is an excellent question. Tusla is setting up an expert team to deal with historical cases. The chief executive officer wrote to my Secretary General last Friday to indicate it would be happening perhaps as a result of ongoing engagement and particularly the Deputy's engagement with the committee.
With regard to the 60% of all referrals to Tusla which are directed to family support services, this area is also being developed.
The Deputy asked a question on ICT, which I appreciate very much and know is a particular concern of hers. Let me outline where things are at and why it is such a challenge. In 2017, the funding that Tusla requested for the national child care information system has been provided with capital funding of approximately €4 million to support the development and roll out of it. It is scheduled to roll out to at least three additional areas in 2017 and roll-out of the system nationally is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018. The question then is why the progress of the roll-out has been so slow. To identify the number of technical issues that have hindered the project's progress, it was essential to ensure that all users of the system were on a single domain so information could be integrated and shared. It was also important to ensure networks were upgraded to facilitate the use of the NCCIS and progress has been made in resolving these technical issues, which it is anticipated will facilitate the continued roll-out of the system in 2017. It is also helpful to know the project requires formal approval at all stages from the peer review group of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Tusla also had a formal meeting with the peer review group of NCCIS in February 2017. It is awaiting approval to progress to the next stage of the project. We are seeing this in lots of different instances in my Department and across Departments. When there is a roll-out of an information technology system of such magnitude, there are not only technical issues but several layers of management of the process. Within the Department or agency, a project management board usually oversees it and there are potentially peer review processes as well. There is also the Office of the Chief Information Officer, OCIO. Unfortunately many of these roll-outs are slower than what was anticipated initially but I have tried to provide the Deputy with information on their ambition and with all the supports what will be happening in 2017. We want to get it right.
The Deputy also asked questions about family resource centres. There are 109. I was much helped by meeting with representatives of the family resource centre network recently. They raised a number of issues on what would enable them to continue to develop. We have been able to provide some additional funding for 2017, in other words, a slight increase in funding. They identified funding issues and what is really required for them to move towards sustainability and increase the reach of their work. The allocated funding in 2016 was €13.51 million. They identified a need for significantly more money for that. They talked about the need for at least three staff members in each centre. We are aware of that. They indicated the budget will not be increased in 2017. That is what I meant to say. Tusla will be increasing funding for the FRCs in the 2018 Estimates. I am working with them to look at how to build the argument for that, particularly in terms of the ways in which their prevention and intervention work can reduce the need ultimately for the unallocated cases on the other end. The issue of unallocated cases is significant both politically and for the Government. It is a particularly useful argument to use as I move into 2018 to support those efforts and their call for multi-annual funding. Tusla provided once-off funding at the end of 2016 of €1.422 million. They raised issues with me on child care facilities for many of the family resource centres and the challenges they have in the context of working within a community. I am bringing those specific concerns into ongoing conversations with the Department in terms of community-based services and the challenges they are having.
I am encouraged to say that Tusla has a new organisation development plan for the NCCIS for 2017 and a new director of the ICT structure.
We will now move onto programme B, which is the sectoral programme for children and young people to continue to support the provision of both universal and targeted services for the care, development and well-being of children and young people.
I have a question on subhead B7, area-based childhood programmes. Some people involved in these programmes have a fear their funding will not be continued. Is there a commitment to continue the funding? Is it just for the next year? Is there a timeframe?
Does the figure for the general child care programmes include the cost of the new affordable child care scheme?
I was also going to ask about the area-based childhood programme. The figure for last year was €3.65 million and the figure for this year is €5.8 million. Is that to counteract the withdrawal of funds by Atlantic Philanthropies? The reason for the fear for the future is the coming to an end of the Atlantic Philanthropies funding. Deputy Funchion and I are looking for an assurance that there will be a continuation of those very valuable programmes.
My other question is on the new child care scheme. When we discussed it here we talked about the fact that there is a set amount of money allocated for it for this year. Is there a possibility it could be oversubscribed so that children are qualified but there is an issue with the money available? Will there be a supplementary budget? What is the intention? Has the Department had time to consider that question because we do not want to see any children who qualify not being able to avail of it because of lack of money?
Some weeks ago I tabled a parliamentary question on the breakdown of all groupings that received funding under the heading youth and young people. It was an unusual question. I wanted to see how funding is distributed across the country. That was the nature of the question. I do not expect the Minister to answer the question today. Can she give me a commitment that in future she will provide me with an answer? It is not different to the area-based childhood programme.
They would like to see their youth organisations receive a fair share of the funds.
My last question is on the new child care fund. There has been a change in the band and for those on medical cards and a reduction from 40 hours to 15 as part and parcel of that element. Has an allocation been set aside to provide for exceptional circumstances where a family or persons find they require more than the 15 hours allocated? Will there be an opportunity at departmental or city and county child care level to access additional funds if need be under the model?
Deputies Kathleen Funchion and Jan O'Sullivan asked about ABC funding. This initiative was an innovative and important programme introduced by the last Government under the leadership of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and her colleagues in order to continue the Department's work on area-based approaches to combating and reducing child poverty. I have had a particular interest in it since assuming this position. One of the first things put in front of me as Minister was related to funding to ensure its ongoing sustainability as we looked at ways to support the area-based approach, as well as mainstreaming the learning from it. In terms of finding money to do that in 2017 and given the projections for 2017 and the significant increase in funding identified by the Deputies, we are talking with Pobal about all of the sites with the hope of extending programmes to the end of the year. That is what we are examining. A number of sites have programmes based on the academic year and, as such, the next challenge is the funding required to mid-2018. Overall, I want to ensure no site will have to close suddenly. In addition, we are doing the work with a focus on mainstreaming. My personal commitment and discussions in the Department relate to enabling that sustainability as much as possible on the existing sites, while working with the challenge of mainstreaming the learning from operations in the past few years.
I was asked about the funding of the new affordable child care scheme. To answer in general terms, the funding we were able to get in 2017 is being identified for the roll-out of the scheme from September. There are moneys available to the extent that we can anticipate the level of demand in the light of the new scheme. We had discussions earlier about what would happen in September and the fact that the fully automated scheme might not be available in the way we had anticipated and hoped for. However, we are committed to it. I will come back to the committee within a short time on the issue of ensuring the moneys will be available for parents to benefit additionally in accordance with the objectives of the scheme. Our intention is that it will happen.
I was asked about youth services and money. Deputy Anne Rabbitte did not refer exactly to the question, but we will come back to its content. I can say that, as the Deputy is probably aware, the overall b0udget of €60 million includes nearly €57.5 million in current funding and €3 million in capital funding, which represents an increase of €5.5 million on the allocation for 2016. Is the question where the money is going?
I am glad that the Deputy is helping us in that regard. I would love to see that happen too. Seriously, we need to pay attention to it. I am thrilled that there was an increase of €5.5 million. It is the first increase since the austere years and I am aware that there is still a lot of catching up to be done. The Deputy asked about the figure of 15 hours. Children who need more than 15 hours of assistance may be identified by sponsors such as Tusla, with which we are in discussions. Children with very significant needs will have the full cost of their care covered.
Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked if the budget for the affordable child care scheme budget was sufficient. The €19 million provided is sufficient and being added to the €86 million in the base. However, we will monitor demand and take-up closely. The spending code of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform requires a spending cap. Having said that, we will monitor the scheme closely.
Yes. Some really good work is being done under those programmes. If the Minister can mainstream them and have the same good work done in other places, that is fine, but we are talking about targeted poverty programmes. We are dealing with some of the most disadvantaged children. Addressing child poverty is crucial in terms of equal opportunity. We should come back to this issue as a committee at some stage to see what is happening. I have seen some fabulous programmes, including in my constituency, but there is a particular one in Dublin of which I am thinking. It gets women to sign up when they are pregnant and follows them through the child's early years. I have not seen that happen anywhere outside of ABC programmes. Some very good things are being done in addressing the most disadvantaged children who are at great risk of poverty. It would be a shame to lose out on that work.
Absolutely. I would welcome the committee revisiting that issue with me. The Deputy will know that I have the same commitment she has identified. There are some in my constituency also. In fact, I started one. I understand it from the inside and these are the conversations I have been having in the Department. There is a challenge with the exit of Atlantic Philanthropies, but there is extraordinary work ongoing on those sites. Part of the rationale from a policy perspective for supporting the extension of funding to the end of 2017 is that the evaluation of the programmes will not be ready until late 2017 or early 2018. That is important.
We want to ensure we have that and what is going on is fed into the evaluation. That evaluation will be really critical in building the arguments not just in unpacking or closing up what has been done but in focusing on the mainstreaming of lessons learned. That relates to another initiative on which we are spending a significant sum of money and I am fully committed to the mainstreaming and development of data hubs and mentoring to ensure ongoing quality. This is all part of the capacity-building initiative and it is what is going on throughout the world where the best and most progressive governments are looking to ensure that all the programmes provided to children are done in the best possible way. My personal view is that this should not replace the provision from an area-based perspective that is going on. This will be very challenging as much money has gone into those programmes and we do not have a funder to couple that. I have a personal commitment to it, as does Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
I am conscious we only have seven or eight minutes left so I ask members to take the last two sections together. I ask the Minister to comment on an issue we discussed earlier this morning with Barnardos relating to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the guardian ad litemBill. The cost of the guardian ad litemsystem has attracted much negative media comment recently. In my 12 years in public life, I found reading the figures in a Sunday newspaper most staggering. I am open to being corrected on them. The Ombudsman for Children's office costs us approximately €2 million per year and we can see the amount of services and support it provides to children across the State. The guardian ad litemsystem would cost €15 million or €16 million to give a small number of children a voice in court. I am not downplaying that but in our earlier conversation, we noted the dearth of services available for children in State care, such as speech and language therapy, psychological services and early trauma intervention because the finance is unavailable. I find it staggering we can afford €16 million to give them a voice in court, notwithstanding the value of that. Will the Minister comment on it?
I appreciate the concern and feelings expressed and I know the view is shared by others. There are two aspects to the question. It is a lot of money and some of the commentators are wondering if that amount of money is being spent in the best possible way in supporting a guardian ad litemsystem. We all agree there is a requirement for it when it comes to the rights of children. Within the Chairman's question I hear the query of whether it is the most efficient way to use that money within the system. Moreover, what about moneys we require for the care and protection of children in other contexts? The ambition and policy intention of the new legislation is to give a much more cost-effective system, with much more given to the voice of children and less money spent on legal fees.
The second point is we anticipate that in the design of the system as it is rolled out - I know the committee was doing pre-legislative scrutiny on it earlier - more children will have access to it. In that way, there will still be a cost. That is what we must consider. Underneath the Chairman's question is the query of whether the money is being spent in the most efficient manner but the legislation is effectively saying it needs to be better. That is what we are trying to achieve.
Subhead C8 relates to the commission of investigation. In view of recent events and information, will the Department be able to allocate more money if necessary? We are here primarily to ask questions about money but there are many questions we could ask.
My question is similar to Deputy O'Sullivan, in that it relates to the commission of investigation. What will happen if more money is required? This may not be relevant to the Minister but it relates to the draft policy of 2014 from Tusla on procedures of governance as applied to historical cases and everything else. When will it become policy? In the past month it was taken from the website. I would have asked the chief executive officer of Tusla the same question.
The early years strategy will be catered for under programme B. With regard to the commission of investigation, the diverse nature of the concerns to be examined requires that the commission has the financial resources to retain a multidisciplinary range of professionals deemed necessary, some of whom I have met, to assist its investigations. The budget of €6 million is available to support the commission in 2017. Given the profile of the expenditure to date, the Department is satisfied sufficient funds are available within the subhead to enable the commission to respond to the matters that may emerge as the investigation progresses. I am of course aware of the number of questions and concerns about potential extension of the terms of reference. The issue around money would be completely separate if there was ever any decision to do that. As regards the terms as they stand, we are confident the money is there to do the work in the term. The policy for historical cases is being revised in light of establishing the specialist teams to deal with these cases.
I thank the Minister and members. I always make the point that I do not like having to rush and close down debate or questions. If there are any questions that members did not get a chance to ask, feel free to e-mail the secretariat and we will send them to the Minister.