Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Child Care Services Data
3. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide an update on his Department's plan for sustaining the work of preparing for life, the Area Based Childhood Programme, from September 2016 onwards in order to improve child and family outcomes in areas of greatest disadvantage. [20625/15]
I wish to ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs about his Department's plans for sustaining the work of Preparing for Life, area based childhood programme, from September 2016 onwards in order to improve child and family outcomes in areas of greatest disadvantage. Some 138,000 children are now living in poverty. Consistent poverty has increased from 6.8% in 2008 to 11.7% today. Some 37,000 children will be living in poverty in 2020. Some 1,054 children are homeless. When will we see action to come up with practical and sensible solutions to assist these children, particularly at an early stage in their lives?
My Department in conjunction with Atlantic Philanthropies has funded Preparing for Life through 2007 to 2013 via the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme or PEIP, which was established to examine innovative and integrated ways to improve outcomes for children across areas such as literacy, speech and language, parenting, health and pro-social behaviour.
Since 2014, Preparing for Life has been funded by my Department and Atlantic Philanthropies to build on their prevention and early intervention work with children and families living in Dublin 5 and Dublin 17 under the area-based childhood, ABC, programme. The ABC programme 2013 to 2016 is an innovative prevention and early intervention initiative consisting of committed funding for an area-based approach to helping improve outcomes for children and thereby impacting on child poverty. It aims to "break the cycle of child poverty within areas where it is most deeply entrenched and where children are most disadvantaged through integrated and effective services and interventions" in the areas of child development, child well-being, parenting and educational disadvantage.
The ABC programme, which includes Preparing for Life, is currently being evaluated by the Centre for Effective Services under the guidance of an expert advisory group. This evaluation will focus on outcomes changes for children and their families and progress in the implementation of evidence-informed approaches, and it will examine the costs of programme provision. This is critical, as we want to be sure that the money we are spending is getting the outcome we desire. I have no reason to believe that it does not but I value having the hard evidence, as it allows me to make the case at Estimates time to ensure that this can continue to be funded in future.
I know it seemed to get bad press in the recent referendum campaign but it has put much money into very disadvantaged areas on the north side of the Dublin, as the Minister knows. We appreciate that. I am concerned about 2016 but the Minister is essentially saying that the future of the ABC programme depends on an evaluation. From the reports I am getting, the evaluation is very strong. For example, there has been stronger cognitive development and problem-solving skills, fewer externalisation behavioural problems, fewer sleep problems and less aggressive behaviour from children. There are better scores relating to measure of depression and emotional well-being. There are also fewer accidents and hospital visits. These are just a few results.
Will the Minister commit to the prevention and early intervention scheme? Will he invest in childhood futures and do his best to deliver on the national policy framework for children and young people. These children in disadvantaged areas need our support. The Minister knows, deep down, that if we get in early - before the age of four - we can prevent many problems in future. We can stop children getting involved with anti-social behaviour and ending up in Mountjoy. Early intervention and these types of programmes are proof of that.
As the Deputy is aware, we are investing €260 million in improving outcomes for children, and that is not a small sum of money by any means. We are very much convinced, as is the Deputy, of the value of early intervention. The good news that I have from the programme is that its existence has conferred particular advantage to those who come from disadvantaged programmes; an improvement in reading skills is just one measure. It levels the playing pitch for children. I agree with the Deputy in that the earlier the intervention, the better. For every euro spent in that area, we get our greatest return. The value is incalculable.
In parallel with the evaluation of the ABC programme, my Department has convened a task group comprising key stakeholders, including representatives of the ABC sites, to explore how best the mainstreaming of the learning from the ABC programme and related prevention and early intervention initiatives can be progressed. Developments in both of these initiatives will be key to informing considerations regarding the mainstreaming of learning emerging from the ABC programme.
I have some final questions. The Minister is very much in favour of early intervention, preschool education and focusing resources on particular areas of major economic and social disadvantage. That is key. There would be much cross-party support in that regard. Will the Minister go back to the Cabinet and ask it to try to set out a plan over the next three or four years that could end child poverty, for example, by 2020? We have 138,000 children in that position, and that is size of the likes of Galway or Limerick. We can tackle that issue. There were 11,000 children born in 2008, the year of the crash. Many of them are in that position. We have seen a significant waste of human potential and public money in trying to deal with those children as they go further down the track. Child poverty is a major issue. I will make tackling child poverty a key issue in my election manifesto for 2016.
My Department is very concerned about childhood poverty and so is the Department of Social Protection. With respect to the information I have given to date, having these evaluations and task forces in place will very much strengthen my hand when it comes to Estimates time. I will have a real case to make for additional funding and to explore the areas where we feel there can be further possibility and potential to improve outcomes for children. It is in all our interests that all our children thrive and flourish. They are our future. Any time I say this, I am also minded to remind us that these children have a "present" as well, and we need to make this a pleasant present so they can have memories to cherish from childhood. As we know in this House, this is not always the case.