Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Childcare Services

9:30 am

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister. My question today relates to the State supports for the brilliant home visiting services that operate across many communities in Ireland. Across this country, approximately 170 people go into the homes of about 4,500 children each year and provide a vital parenting, learning and development support to parents and to children. Any of us with young children know the challenges of trying to figure out play, discipline and looking after the emotional needs of the parent and child. In households where there are additional challenges of disadvantage, poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, social isolation, special needs and other health issues, the early childhood visiting service has truly become a lifeline for many parents and their children. Oftentime the home visitor is the one trusted person from outside the home who is allowed in to help the parent navigate their way in life. Many of those home visitors are the bridge between public health nurses, Tusla, the maternity services and many other services. They often flag the need for access to other suppprts, particularly in the area of disability. In essence they are a vital part of the fabric of family supports in this country, they exist across about 40 sites in Ireland and yet those who are providing the service tell us that they can only really target about 1% of the eligible population, those who should be getting the service.

As I understand it Minister, there is there is no specific budget line for home visiting services within the Department of children, for the most part they are dependent on funding from Tusla and philanthropy and some from the HSE also. I believe the service in Kerry is the only service in the country that is fully State funded. We know that for the rest of the country, the Home Visiting Alliance tell us it is about 70% reliant on Tusla funding, 11% on HSE funding and 11% on philanthropy.

When I think about home visit services and the lack of recognition and, as I see it, respect for it, perhaps it is something to do with the unassuming way home visitors go about their work. Maybe the term 'home visitors' does not convery the sheer importance of the work that they do but to my mind it seems that this work is largely invisible to the State and that needs to change because home visiting is an essential part of the support network around families in this country. We know that in the heart of Dublin's north inner city, the early learning initiative is run out of the National College of Ireland and they do incredible work there under the stewardship of Dr. Josephine Bleach and her team, in terms of setting the standard for training and employing home visitors. They have become a national centre of excellence in providing outreach training to many of the sites around the country and indeed providing research on the little data that is available on home visiting services in the community.It is not sustainable, nor is it right, that to train and pay home visitors, they had to depend on philanthropy for up to 40% of their funding. This should be a State-funded service, full stop. We know from the 2023 feasibility study produced by the Home Visiting Alliance that there were a number of very clear recommendations to the State. Number one, on funding, is that it is not sufficiently funded at the moment. There needs to be a clear line of funding and it needs to be sustainable and multi-annual. Number two related to recognition. There is a significant issue with regard to professionalisation of the sector. The early learning initiative was providing FETAC level 5 training to those who wanted to become home visitors. Because of a change in the qualification system last year, we are now seeing that it is near impossible to get the requirements to meet those qualifications because it requires training within crèches as opposed to within the actual home visiting service. The last item relates to funding research within the sector.

The First 5 strategy sets out clearly that there needs to be a national approach to home visiting in this country. The First 5 strategy is a number of years old at this stage and we have yet to see that national approach. I want to hear from the Government its plans in this area.


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