Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Childcare Services

9:30 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Sherlock for raising this important issue and for offering the opportunity to respond.

Home visiting programmes provide support and guidance to expecting parents and parents of babies and young children. Home visiting is a prevention and early intervention strategy used to support parents to promote infant and child health, foster educational development and school readiness, and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Different models of home visiting exist. Home visiting programmes for parents of babies and young children are funded by the HSE and Tusla in some areas in Ireland. Programmes available in areas of Ireland include Preparing for Life, Lifestart, Parent Child Plus, Infant Mental Health and Community Mothers. The duration of each home visiting programme varies although most are provided for a period of two years or longer. The frequency of visits also varies from twice weekly to monthly visits.

Home visiting services are developed in an ad hoc manner in Ireland, driven by local needs, resources and priorities rather than informed by a national approach. At present, some areas of the country have no home visiting programme available while other areas provide universal access or targeted access to a home visiting programme. The First 5 strategy for babies, young children and their families includes an action to agree an approach to home visiting services across a continuum of need, building on the current public health nurse home visitation programme and having regard to Irish evidence on the implementation of prevention and early intervention initiatives.

The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's Department has undertaken a national review of home visiting services in Ireland, which is due to be completed in quarter 2 of this year. The project was undertaken by the centre for mental health and community research based in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The study examines the resources, activity levels, geographical coverage and outcomes associated with home visiting programmes in Ireland. It considers evidence of the effectiveness and implementation of home visiting programmes in Ireland and across the world. Researchers shadowed home visitors and consulted parents to explore the demand and preferences for different types of home visiting services. Researchers also consulted key stakeholders to identify, assess and agree options for a standardised approach in Ireland to home visiting service provision.

Most of the Tusla budget that is used to fund home visiting programmes is from Tusla's general allocation from the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's Department, which is commissioned, as appropriate, at the local area level. However, up to €10 million has been ring-fenced for home visiting programmes between 2024 and 2029.

The Government published an action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions on 16 November 2021. The aim of the action plan is to support the implementation of the 22 commitments made by the Government in January 2021 to respond to the priority needs and concerns of those who spent time in these institutions. Under action 18, the children's fund, the Government has committed to honour the memory of the children who died in mother and baby homes through the creation of a specific fund which supports children who experience disadvantage in the present day. It is proposed that the children's fund will be used to support the establishment of a new national home visiting programme within Tusla. Accordingly, over the next five years, Tusla will receive up to €10 million in funding to develop this programme. The aim of the national home visiting programme will be to co-ordinate, provide direction, and collate evidence and data to inform the future development of the sustainable national home visiting service. The focus initially will be on Traveller parents and lone parents, as per the instruction of the expert panel established by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which provides advice on how the children's fund might most effectively be used. Specifically, in 2024, funding will be used to recruit a national home visiting manager and a data and information officer for the programme. The setting up of the Tusla national home visiting programme will allow for an increased number of children and families to benefit from such a service.


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