Thursday, 6 April 2017
Topical Issue Debate
As the Minister of State and the Acting Chairman both know from visiting Rathangan, it is a very vibrant and close-knit community. It is a small town of just over 2,000 people with a very strong community spirit. Over the years, we have had more than our fair share of tough times and tribulations. It has had a high level of unemployment and it continues to have a high level of disadvantage, as evidenced by the fact that all three schools in the town have DEIS status. The two primary schools in Rathangan are the only two schools in the county that do not have a NEPS service. Generally speaking, the town has been able to come together to deal with many of the issues it faces. The fabulous new community centre, which was built with the help of County Kildare Leader Partnership, Kildare County Council and the local community, has certainly been a welcome investment in the town. It is the home of the local youth café, which is used by the Scooters youth club, Foróige and other groups that wish to avail of it.
I would like to refer to the bad times we have come through in Rathangan. In 2012, we suffered the devastating loss of five young men over a very short period. As Deputies can imagine, this was a particularly high number of fatalities in the context of the population of the town. Although the people of the town were devastated, they came together as a community with the assistance of Kildare Youth Services, County Kildare Leader Partnership, local schools and local community activists, including myself. We got a very good response from the HSE, which funded a part-time youth counsellor and a part-time youth worker, who have been working very closely with young people in the community ever since. Since 31 March, the services of the youth counsellor are no longer being provided. We have been told that by the end of April, the services of the youth worker will no longer be provided. I understand that a review is being carried out by the HSE.
I would like to make an appeal to the Minister of State. The local community will be totally let down if these vital services, which have given huge support to the younger members of our community, in particular, are withdrawn. When I looked at the census figures this morning, it was evident that County Kildare has one of the highest youth populations in the country. There was a big fanfare last week when, thankfully, Tusla granted another youth worker to Kildare. It is simply not good enough for the State to give with one hand through one agency and to take away with the other hand through a different agency the following week.
I thank Deputy O'Loughlin for raising this issue as well. I will try not to be repetitive. Scooters youth club was established in Rathangan in 1996 and has flourished with the support of the local community and local businesses since then. It meets the specific need for such services in this rural part of County Kildare. Approximately 50 young people access youth services in the town, including those provided by Foróige. As Deputy O'Loughlin informed the House, a youth café was established in Rathangan recently. Most importantly, Scooters youth club has provided a much-needed community response to the deaths of young people that were mentioned by Deputy O'Loughlin, for example, by building youth counselling services with a focus on mental health and well-being. The youth counselling service has ceased and the services of the youth worker who was allocated to the club for 19 hours a week are set to cease at the end of the month. This cut will reduce opening hours by 82% to just four hours a week, which is absolutely shocking.
Kildare Youth Services believes these cuts in funding will have a serious impact in the local area, which is already geographically isolated. The limited transport service in the area makes it more difficult for young people to seek HSE-led services outside Rathangan. When the national task force on mental health was established by the Government, it was stated that its aim was to bring youth mental health to the fore through our education system. The Government also made much of its claim that it would prioritise mental health. We need to be realistic. Young people deserve this service. The young people for whom these services were put in place have probably grown up, but a new generation with new challenges has come along. The removal of these services at this time is like pulling the plug out of a bath after it has been filled up and expecting it not to empty. Prevention is better than cure. If these resources are removed now, they will be even more desperately needed in the future. Those involved with Scooters youth club have made the reasonable request to be part of the conversation about what happens to the club's resources. They were not consulted. They want the young people in the area to be asked about this, which is very important. Consultation should happen. Under no circumstances should these resources be removed.
In the 1970s and 1980s, I had the privilege of bringing children from my own local youth club on holidays to Rathangan on many occasions. As a result, I know Rathangan very well. We were always well accepted by the community even though we were from the inner city. We always gelled with the people there. It was a lovely place to go. Even though it was not a very long drive to Rathangan, for many children from the inner city it felt like they were going to the other side of the world. I have been familiar with Rathangan for many years and I continue to be familiar with it.
After I have read the response that has been prepared on behalf of the Minister of State, I will reply to some of the issues that have been raised by the Deputies on the basis of the notes I have taken. The HSE has indicated that funding to Kildare Youth Services will not be cut this year. Kildare Youth Services, in consultation with the HSE, will review the current provision of services in Rathangan. As the Deputies indicated, this initiative was funded as a result of a number of suicides in the area and as an acknowledgment of the lack of relevant supports and services to young people in the community generally. The funding will be reviewed to enable equity of access to other groups across the Kildare region and to ensure that those who most need services can access them.
The HSE is providing funding to Kildare Youth Services for a counsellor and a youth worker in Rathangan to provide dedicated youth counselling sessions to individuals and groups in the town. This is being done as part of an inter-agency approach to the promotion of positive mental health, involving community leaders, schools, parents and students. The agencies in question include the HSE, Kildare Youth Services, County Kildare Leader Partnership, the Garda, Kildare County Council and Mental Health Ireland. The objectives of this initiative were to establish contact with individuals, families and community-based organisations, especially in estates and localities where residents and families may experience social exclusion or feel disconnected from the wider Rathangan community. It developed links with local service providers, including schools and relevant statutory services, to assist in the initial contact programme and to co-ordinate appropriate agency interventions based on identified local needs. Kildare Youth Services is a voluntary organisation providing a range of development and learning opportunities and services throughout the county to respond to the changing needs of young people, families and communities. It supports personal and social development and positively promotes the rights of these groups. The HSE is funding Kildare Youth Services to provide a counsellor and a youth worker in Rathangan. The youth worker, who works part-time three days each week, runs groups for young people between the ages of 11 and 18. I know some of this might be irrelevant now.
In 2015, the Government launched Connecting for Life, which is the national strategy to reduce suicide and self-harm over the period from 2015 to 2020. The strategy sets out a vision where fewer lives are lost through suicide and where communities and individuals are empowered to improve their mental health and well-being on many fronts. It provides community-based organisations with guidelines, protocols and training on effective suicide prevention. One of the main goals of Connecting for Life is to target approaches among priority groups, including young people. This objective, along with the type of work being undertaken by this particular service in Rathangan, is complemented in a wider sense by the ongoing work of the national task force on youth mental health, which was established by this Government. This has brought together different perspectives and insights from the public, private, community and voluntary sectors and is operating as an action-oriented, decision-making group focused on making improvements and getting things done. An overriding objective of the task force, which is chaired by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is to identify areas where services and supports could be provided in a more integrated way. I have listened to the Deputies and I will respond to what they have said in my concluding remarks.
I thank Deputy Buckley for his support on this important issue. I assume that when the Minister of State came to Rathangan in previous years with youth groups, they stayed at the camp in Killinthomas Wood.
I am glad she got a great welcome and she would continue to receive such a welcome, in particular if she helps us with this very pertinent issue. We are having a community event on 30 April at 2 p.m., and she would be very welcome.
I read and heard the response of the Minister of State, and I am trying to understand what it means because, to be perfectly honest, it is a non-response. We have been given a history of some of the strategic responses to suicide and self-harm. While excellent and important work has been done, I do not see anything in here that will help the particular situation to which I referred.
I suggest that we set up a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the volunteers and community. I want to pay particular tribute to the volunteers, including Lisa, Kevin, Debbie, Leo, Pat and others, who have put in Trojan work in working with the young people of Rathangan in a voluntary capacity. They have taken on different community projects. I dread to think what will happen to the youth cafe which, thanks to the State and funding from Kildare County Council, has been provided.
It is ridiculous that the State would provide one level of support but not another. When the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, published her strategy on youth cafes she said it is extremely important that there be professional support for young people. I am disappointed with the answer. I plead with the Minister of State to tread carefully and convey a message to the Minister of State and HSE when she is thinking of reducing or relocating any services for the young people of Rathangan.
The service is running a programme to allow young people to become leaders. One youth leader, Evan, said: "There is not enough people harming themselves in Rathangan. Is that why they took away the services? Do more people have to die in order for us to get services in Rathangan?" Essentially, the service has, thankfully, worked. Since 2012 we have not had any more young suicides. Why take away resources when the project is working? I plead with the Minister of State to bring a message back to the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee.
I echo the words of Deputy O'Loughlin. The Minister of State's answer referred to funding. Funding for the youth sector has been cut by 28.5% since 2008. This is a much wider issue than Rathangan and Kildare. It is a national issue.
The Minister of State and the Government need to be honest and fund these services into the future. They are not emergency measures. Rather, they are the absolute minimum that must be provided to allow young people to flourish. As I told the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, this is a national problem which is prevalent not just in youth centres but also schools.
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, recently received a letter from a young lady in my town, Jessica Daly. The letter will tell the House what is happening with young people in this country. Jessica said: "I come from a town called Midleton in Cork which once held the highest suicide rate in Europe... Please can you give our schools compulsory class[es] all about mental health."
It is clear that not enough is being done to tackle this issue and something has to be done. I do not want to talk about this issue in the House every day. This involves our young people, who are our future.
I come from a community and voluntary background and I know how important it is to provide youth services, in particular youth cafes and clubs. None of that could happen without volunteers. I wish to acknowledge that many people in communities across the country are volunteering, but we cannot leave them on their own.
I will relay the message from the Deputies to the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee. I would love to go back to Rathangan. I do not think I would bring 60 children with me again. When I read the Official Report tomorrow, I will have more insight into some of the questions the Deputies asked and I will revert to them.