Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
11. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the way he intends to implement the European Union child guarantee; the timeline for the implementation of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15457/22]
The Minister will be aware that in 2021 the European Commission adopted the European Union child guarantee. The guarantee aims to prevent and combat child poverty and social exclusion in the EU by supporting the 27 member states to make efforts to guarantee access to quality key services for children in need. How does the Minister intend to implement the European child guarantee? What is the timeline for its implementation?
I thank the Deputy. I believe significant progress can be made through my Department's co-ordination of the EU child guarantee, which is an important initiative that aims to combat social exclusion by guaranteeing access for children who are in need of a range of key services. I will publish our national action plan for the child guarantee shortly. The commitments under the guarantee address critical matters such as: free access to early childhood education and care; education and healthcare for children in need; healthy nutrition, including a healthy meal each school day; and adequate housing. Tackling child poverty and effectively implementing the child guarantee will require the commitment and active and sustained participation of my colleagues across government to ensure it is collaborative, integrated and, ultimately, impactful.
As part of the EU child guarantee process and in developing the successor national policy framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, I will be engaging with my Cabinet colleagues to consider the most appropriate and effective structures to pursue the reforms necessary to improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged children and young people. The child guarantee will form part of the broader body of work supported by the new national policy framework for children and young people and its implementation structures. Addressing child poverty was identified as a priority action under Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures and it will remain a priority in the successor framework currently being developed by my Department.
It should also be noted that the Department of Social Protection leads on the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 aimed at reducing poverty and improving social inclusion. Under the roadmap, a new child poverty target is being agreed. In this regard, relevant officials are in contact regarding a new target for child poverty and identifying a programme of work to address child poverty under the successor framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. I have met the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, recently on this issue and will meet him and his officials again soon on this point.
I know from conversations I have had with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, that they fully understand the implications of this for children of early ages. I refer to issues such as difficulty in education or homelessness which can have lifelong implications. There is also the pressures on families. I refer to the work we on the housing committee do on homelessness. Our recent work in supporting local authorities to produce more housing, including cost-rental and affordable housing, will have a significant impact in that regard. There is positive and good work being done on this. I am particularly interested in the guarantee for children in need of effective and free access to early childhood education and care. Access to that education is key to their well-being and life ahead. I ask the Minister to outline the work being done in that regard, particularly work being done on housing with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.
The child guarantee will sit as a part of the broader successor framework to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. It is the national policy of the State in respect of children. I have asked that child poverty be a key element of our new national policy. The EU child guarantee will sit within that. The guarantee is a little narrower in its scope; it is targeted at children who are most in need. The two documents will progress together. I was at a meeting of EU ministers for children some weeks ago at which we discussed the implementation of national action plans. We will be publishing our national action plan and sending it to the Commission shortly. I previously met the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on a range of issues relating to housing, housing for children and homelessness among young people, but I have been engaging with his Department in respect of using the planning system for the improved delivery of sites for school-aged childcare as well.
I thank the Minister. I welcome that the national action plan will be produced shortly. It is my understanding the Minister will then send it to the EU for it to overlook the plan.
Obviously, the Minister is fully aware of the implications of Ukrainian residents coming to live in Ireland. There will be many children involved in that so I am delighted to see the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, both working on this and on the Ukrainian situation.
We are very aware of the impact this brutal war has had on so many civilians, but particularly on children, and we will in the coming weeks have to provide supports to those children as they arrive. As I stated earlier, right now the response has very much been towards getting accommodation. It is currently about getting shelter and safety for people and making sure they have a bed, but wider supports will have to be put in place. I spoke earlier about the work Tusla is doing with some of the most vulnerable children, those who have arrived here as unaccompanied minors, but continued work will have to be done in my Department to ensure the availability of early learning and care, while the Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will have to work to ensure children have the ability to access the curriculums at those stages.