Thursday, 30 April 2009
Question 4: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the remit of the 60 facilitators employed by her; the social welfare recipients they are currently dealing with; the average caseload of each facilitator; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17302/09]
The Department's facilitators work with social welfare recipients of working age, including people in receipt of jobseeker's payments, people parenting alone, people in receipt of disability welfare payments and people providing care, to promote participation and social inclusion.
Facilitators work with customers to identify appropriate training or development programmes which will enhance the skills the individual has and, ultimately, improve his or her employment chances as well as help him or her to continue to develop personally. Facilitators develop individual progression plans with the customer, are located throughout the country and are assigned to cover a geographical area. Facilitators work closely with FÁS and other agencies at a local level to identify and target appropriate education, training and development opportunities.
The social and economic participation programme, under the national development plan, provides for the enhancement of the facilitator network of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. This commenced in September 2008 and to date, 20 additional facilitators have been appointed. A further ten facilitators will be appointed in the coming months bringing the total number in place to 70.
A facilitator deals with referrals from local offices, the Department's inspectorate and people in receipt of social welfare payments who may decide to seek the service of a facilitator. The facilitator service may also be sought by someone who has a business idea, who wishes to avail of the back-to-work enterprise allowance or by someone who intends to return to education under the back-to-education programme. In addition, one of the roles of the Department's facilitators is to engage with other agencies to enhance local working relationships and to ensure that agencies work together to provide services to customers in receipt of welfare payments. Facilitators are also engaged in extensive information provision to individuals, organisations and communities about the services of the Department.
In addition to the local referral system, a formal targeted programme of activation was introduced under the NDP. Under this programme, the Department actively selects cases for referral to facilitators. The first cases issued to facilitators in September 2008. Currently, 40 such cases are referred to each facilitator each month. The current economic climate has determined that a large part of a facilitator's work is with people on the live register.
The work carried supports people to progress from welfare to work and complements the Department's control activity. If a person on the live register is offered an opportunity to engage with a facilitator but refuses to do so, he or she is referred to the Department's local office for control follow up.
The facilitator service was enhanced under the national development plan's social and economic participation programme. There will shortly be 70 facilitators. Clerical support is provided.
Facilitators work in co-operation with other relevant service providers such as FÁS, VECs, the adult education guidance initiative, the HSE and other local agencies. The number of facilitators in place, their workload and the effectiveness of the service will continue to be monitored under the national development plan.
I am glad that every time I ask this question, the number of facilitators goes up by ten. There is some progress. If facilitators are to work, they must have time to spend with people. Sadly, they must deal with an ever-increasing group of people who have varied needs from lone parents to people with disabilities to people who are unemployed.
When the Minister launched something for one parent families a few months ago, she spoke about the pilot schemes in Coolock and Kilkenny. She said where participation was voluntary, take up was low which pointed to a need for a more active process to give lone parents encouragement and so on. To have a more active process, facilitators need to have more time to spend with people. I do not see how 70 facilitators can deal with this, given the scale of unemployment we face.
I make the comparison with career guidance teachers and the 60,000 or so leaving certificate students. I know career guidance teachers must deal with the entire school but the focus is on students in the final years in which choices must be made. There are a lot more career guidance teachers relative to the number of students compared with the number of facilitators relative to the number of unemployed, not to mention lone parents and people with disabilities.
While I accept other organisations are involved, I question the ability of facilitators to deal with their workload given there are so few of them. The Minister said she is monitoring this. Does see she more facilitators being employed or does she see more active involvement by other agencies working with her Department which can engage with people on a one-to-one basis?
I would like to see both but I am not sure how many more facilitators we will be able to get in the immediate term given that we have so many other staff coming in for progressing, control, inspection etc. As I indicated, the facilitators mostly concentrate on people on the live register. We must remember that when the first facilitators were appointed, they dealt with people on the live register who were long-term unemployed and who probably needed a bit more intensive work and more personal attention than a number of people on the live register now who, in some cases, are very capable of finding things for themselves once they have the information and of working with other agencies.
There is much duplication of agencies which are all trying to service the same group. We aim to ensure greater co-operation between FÁS, the local employment service, the partnerships, the adult education guidance initiative, the HSE when it concerns people with disabilities and our facilitators in identifying those people whose needs can be met by working with those agencies. That is happening in some areas.
Is the Minister convinced her facilitators are able to draw together all those groups? I am concerned that unemployment is continuing to increase rapidly, even in areas where there is what the Minister described last week as a "plethora" of groups. Are the facilitators able to cut through the layers of bureaucracy to assist people and get them onto courses? When the Minister spoke last July about people under the age of 25, she said her officials were spending the summer identifying young people in the regions who were eligible for appropriate educational training schemes. How many young people were brought onto such schemes as a result of the engagement of her officials over the summer months? I presume the officials in question were departmental facilitators, in some areas at least. How many people applied through those officials to get onto the schemes in question? I do not refer to people who submitted applications themselves, for example through other agencies.
I do not have figures for July and August 2008, when the officials in question were very active. They have dealt with 10,000 new cases since September 2008. That was the real focus. The fact there has been an increase in the number of people availing of the back to education scheme is evidence of that. That was a successful project. It is an example of the success that can be achieved when certain people are targeted. This type of co-ordination is taking place at local level. The facilitators are at the centre of it. I met some facilitators in Dún Laoghaire recently. I also met some facilitators in Castleblayney two weeks ago. I was told that certain things are being dealt with by certain officials. They are co-ordinating it between them. We need this type of co-ordination of service. I accept that everybody on the live register needs some kind of support. The level of intensive support the facilitators originally set out to provide is probably not necessary for everybody. I am interested in trying to continue to support it, however.