Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if additional resources are being provided to Tusla to provide aftercare supports, including housing and education supports, for young persons leaving State care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45952/18]
Aftercare constitutes a key element of how we, as a society, help young people leaving the care of the State to make the critical transition into adulthood. Aftercare was one of the areas I highlighted when I secured additional resources for Tusla in 2019. The aftercare provisions of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015 came into force on 1 September 2017. This means that there is now a statutory obligation on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for each eligible child and young person. This plan encompasses the range of supports that a young person may need from all service providers, including Tusla, to help him or her make the transition to independent adult life. This plan must specifically include consideration of the young person's needs with regard to education and accommodation and set out the assistance that Tusla will provide to the young person to meet this identified need either directly or through accessing external services. This support can include direct financial support in the form of the aftercare allowance, which Tusla provides to young people in aftercare to enable them to pursue further education and training.
The majority of young people who leave the care of the State each year upon turning 18 do so with stable accommodation in place. In this regard, 45.2% of young people leaving care remained with their former foster carers, 25.1% were living independently, 10.5% were at home with their birth parents and 9.3% were in a residential care placement or supported lodgings. However, 9% of young people leaving care are at a more pronounced risk of entering unstable accommodation due to the complexity of their support needs. It is for this reason, on foot of a specific suggestion by Fr. Peter McVerry, that I ensured funding was made available to approved housing bodies under the capital assistance scheme, CAS, to provide accommodation to these especially vulnerable young people.
It was difficult to adapt the scheme to the needs of young people leaving care. However, I am happy to say that the first care leaver has recently taken occupancy of an apartment in north county Dublin under the scheme. An additional 40 units consisting of a mix of one and two bed units are sale agreed and should be available for many other young people leaving care in the near future.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
These will become available in Dublin, Carlow,, Kilkenny, Sligo, Tipperary, Limerick, Kildare and Westmeath. The security provided by a tenancy in CAS accommodation, combined with the aftercare supports identified by Tusla as part of the aftercare planning process, can help ensure that these young people have a safe base from which to begin their independent lives.
I am pleased to be able to confirm that I have secured €33 million for additional investment in Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in 2019, bringing the total budget available to Tusla in 2019 to €786 million. The additional resources secured for Tusla in 2019 will assist in meeting key priorities. The extra investment will allow Tusla to recruit a range of additional staff to respond to areas of identified risk and to meet increased demand for services, including aftercare supports.
I thank the Minister for her response. I recently attended the launch of the annual report of Empowering People in Care, EPIC. EPIC works with young people in the care system and those leaving care. I cannot speak highly enough of the great work it does. As the Minister is aware, young people leaving care face unique challenges in housing and education. I found it particularly worrying that the report outlined that 12% of those leaving the care system face homelessness. I hope the Minister will work with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on this because I find it unacceptable. These young people should be prioritised when it comes to housing and education. These young people are the most inspirational young people any of us could meet. Will the Minister commit to raising this issue with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and engaging with EPIC to find solutions?
I have done so and I will continue to do so. Not that long after I entered my Ministry and having met Fr. McVerry and other representatives of the housing and homelessness associations, we identified the need for accommodation for young people leaving care. I indicated in my initial reply that, on foot of that, we got access to funding through CAS to set up suitable accommodation and that it has taken time to establish that. However, I have a list of 40 units that have been identified and are sale agreed, and I am happy to share that list with Deputy Mitchell and other Deputies. Focus Housing Association is in the process of taking over a number of them in places like Dublin, Sligo, the mid-west and Limerick. The Peter McVerry Trust is also involved in other settings throughout the country where it will renovate, adjust and accommodate young people leaving care. Those are the additional supports that are coming on stream.
I thank the Minister for that response. It is to be hoped we will see the information she has at hand. It is unfortunate that in some cases, once a child turns 18, he or she is left with very few supports. We recently saw a report in the media where a young man in Clondalkin who was just four months out from sitting his leaving certificate was told he had to source accommodation or face homelessness. We can only imagine the stress and worry that caused this young person when he should have been concentrating on his examinations.
We also have a very serious shortage of aftercare workers. In my area of north Dublin, 35 young people are waiting for an appointment with an aftercare worker while 14 are waiting on residential services. In July, Tusla said it was developing supports for these young people, which is what the Minister is talking about here, so I would like to find out the status of that development and whether any other resources will be made available to EPIC.
It was reported that a professor of social work at Trinity College, Dublin, said that extending care until the young person is 21 should be considered. Is the Minister looking at that?
In my initial reply, I meant to say that I am very familiar with and have high regard for the work EPIC does in many different settings. In respect of the Deputy's question, we will continue to look at future resources or funding. I have spoken about the housing that will come on stream. What education supports are available? Encouraging and supporting young people leaving care who wish to pursue further education and training is a major priority in my Department's aftercare policy. Continuing in further education and training entitles them to receive the standardised aftercare allowance, even after they turn 21. This allowance is €300. When the young person in education and training remains with the former foster carer, the money goes to the foster parent, but if the young person is independent, it goes to him or her. Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, provides a targeted application process for young people leaving care. There are various supports but it is important to ensure that aftercare workers work with young people to find and access the supports that are available.