Thursday, 25 May 2006
The national youth work development plan, which was published in 2003, identifies four main goals for the development of youth work in Ireland and proposes 50 action points to achieve these goals over a five-year period.
My Department has been actively engaged in consultations with the national youth work advisory committee regarding the prioritised implementation of the plan. Based on these consultations, my Department identified a number of priority action areas for implementation and I am happy to report that progress has been made in a number of important areas.
As recommended in the plan, my Department has targeted the development and expansion of the special projects for youth scheme which supports some of the most marginalised and vulnerable young people. To date, the number of projects supported by my Department has increased from 164 in 2003 to the current level of 177. In addition, 32 single worker projects have been upgraded to two worker projects.
Significant progress has also been made in the area of child protection training for the youth work sector. A national child protection unit, which is based within the National Youth Council of Ireland and supported by me and the Department, has led and co-ordinated child protection training initiatives and assisted many youth organisations with the drafting of child protection policies and guidelines. In recent months my Department has worked with the unit and the central Garda vetting unit to agree a process for the Garda vetting of new youth work staff and volunteers. This process is due to commence in September 2006 and is a most welcome development for all involved in youth work as it will be an added safeguard in ensuring the safety of the young people involved in youth work activities.
As proposed in the plan, a committee for the professional endorsement of youth work training has been established on a North-South basis. In the first instance, the role of the education and training standards committee for youth work, which was set up following agreement between the relevant parties in both jurisdictions, is the professional endorsement of courses, programmes of education and training in youth work provided by higher education institutions in Ireland, North and South.
Two major reviews are recommended in the plan. A review of youth information provision and a review of funding of the youth work sector have been commenced and are near completion.
In 2005, I established a development fund for youth work organisations to prepare themselves organisationally for the roll-out of the Youth Work Act 2001. More than €300,000 was provided for this fund in 2005 and I will make similar funding available to national and major voluntary youth work organisations in 2006. In this regard, my Department is engaged in discussions with the various youth work interests regarding further priority areas for development for 2006.
A structure for the resourcing of vocational education committees to carry out their functions under the terms of the Youth Work Act 2001 has now been agreed, in principle, between me and the Irish Vocational Education Association.
Work is also under way on the establishment of a national youth work development unit at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. This unit will spearhead youth research and development in Ireland. This is an especially important development in the context of the plan because 18 of its actions are in some way linked to such a unit being set up. I am confident the establishment of this unit will pave the way for the implementation of further actions recommended in the plan.
I also expect to have a youth work assessor appointed soon. Further action areas for development in 2006 and 2007 are being considered by my Department with advice from the national youth work advisory committee. Significant progress has been made and I intend to build further on this work in 2006.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. While she stated she is satisfied with progress, this answer is almost identical to that given this time last year and I do not consider that to constitute progress. I am disappointed to tell her this, but I have last year's reply to hand. The only difference relates to the establishment of a development fund for youth work organisations. A sum of €300,000 was allocated for this purpose last year and there is talk of allocating the same amount this year.
I find this disappointing. While I do not know who is to blame for this, youth work and young people are being neglected. After years in preparation, this development plan was supposed to be the mechanism which would provide the money. Members were told it would cost approximately €37 million, to be divided over five years. However, nothing approaching that sum has been spent. Youth services need money and young people need money.
What are the plans for this year? Last year, Members were told of ongoing development and the preparation of initiatives for 2006 and 2007. The Minister of State has just told me the same thing. Will she provide me with a rough idea of this year's plans? I accept there will probably be some announcements in the coming weeks. What areas does the Minister of State hope to fund and how much money does she expect to spend? Given that we are now more than two years into the plan, what is the status of the commitment of resources, originally supposed to be €40 million? Young people need our help. They are under considerable pressure and there are many social problems that we are not fully addressing. We need to treat the matter with more urgency.
I disagree with the Deputy's assertion that not much was done in the past year. The Youth Work Act and the development plan have been worked on in consultation with those involved in youth work. NYWAC is established to advise the Minister of the day. Priorities in rolling out this work are discussed through that body. The consultations with NYWAC have highlighted areas such as the targets, development and expansion of special projects for youth schemes, which have increased each year. Child protection is of extreme importance and we have supported the NYCI in this regard.
The committee of professional endorsement of youth work is another provision, which is extremely important for those working in that area. In January, I launched the endorsement of youth work with my counterpart in the North. It is most important that this endorsement procedure should exist rather than needing to look to other places such as Wales and England for such endorsement. The development fund was also established, which is very important. Some €300,000 was given to this fund in 2005 and the funding for 2006 will be similar. This decision will not be taken in isolation by me and the Department. It will be taken in consultation with youth work interests, which is how we have proceeded all along.
New structures have been agreed with the IVEA to include a number of youth workers throughout the country through the VEC system. The national youth work development unit was established in NUI Maynooth. Dr. Maurice Devlin will work in that important research unit and we will rely on such skill, knowledge and expertise. The unit will have a very positive knock-on effect for a further 18 actions of the plan. The youth assessor position was advertised in December and we will be in a position to announce the successful candidate very soon.
How much money has been spent on this area? We were promised that €40 million would be spent over a five-year period. When speaking to young people they ask for facilities in which to meet, work etc. Most importantly they want centres at which to socialise. However, these have been provided in very few places. With all this consultation why can we not get what the young people want? While everything the Minister of State outlined is very important, the money promised has not been allocated.
——both the statutory and voluntary representatives on the committee, who have the responsibility in law to advise the Minister of the day on priorities. We have those consultations on foot of which I make decisions. Last year there was an 18% increase in funding, which was the biggest increase this section ever got.