Seanad debates

Thursday, 29 September 2011

1:00 pm

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I urge the Government to provide the same level of funding for the City of Dublin Youth Service Board as it has done heretofore in order that it can continue to support the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service. The project is based in Darndale and covers the entire area of Dublin 17, including Priorswood and Coolock, which as the Minister of State will be aware, is one of the most socially disadvantaged areas of the country.

The Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service is doing fantastic work with young people in the area. It deals with children from the age of ten years to the time they become young adults at the age of 21 and has been getting great results. The new building constructed for it several years ago contains excellent facilities and it has top quality staff and volunteers from the community, including individuals who benefited from the project and now want to give something back. It is keeping children out of trouble and helping to increase their self-respect by offering a level of support they may not receive at home.

Youth projects such as the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service play an important role in tackling problems such as social exclusion, mental health, youth suicide - one of the biggest problems the country faces, drug abuse and teen pregnancies. It would be short-sighted to cut funding for the project in question if it meant it could no longer reach these children. Earlier this week I joined other public representatives in attending a meeting to discuss the impact even a small cut would have on the project's services. It has already pared back its activities to the limit and any further cuts would have a severely negative impact on young people in Darndale, Coolock and Priorswood.

Has the funding level for next year for the City of Dublin Youth Service Board which, in turn, funds the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service, been determined? This issue has generated a degree of confusion locally. The service has heard that the board knows how much it will receive in 2012, but project staff have not yet been informed. I am sure the Minister of State will appreciate the level of stress caused by the inability to decide staffing and programmes for next year. I am aware of the pressure under which the Government must operate and acknowledge the need to make cuts in the coming budget, but, from a long-term point of view, this is not the area to target because the children in question only have one chance. It would be crazy to take it away from them now when we can prevent them from getting into trouble because we would otherwise have to spend multiple amounts to deal with the social costs that ensue for the children, their families and communities. I urge the Minister of State to prevent this from happening.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I welcome the opportunity to address the issue and thank the Senator for raising it.

The Minister is conscious of the great benefits that can accrue to young people and society as a whole from involvement in youth work. She is also aware this recognition requires appropriate support. Through the youth affairs unit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, work is ongoing with the national youth work advisory committee which includes representatives of the National Youth Council of Ireland, the Irish Vocational Education Association and other Departments and interested parties to support youth work policy development and activities. Support is provided by way of financial and other assistance.

Youth work programmes and services are delivered to over 1.2 million participants in the various programmes by some 1,100 youth work staff and a volunteer base of 62,015. Youth projects and organisations present valuable opportunities for the social and personal development of young people. Qualities and skills such as leadership, co-operation, decision making, motivation and responsibility can be acquired through learning by doing. The aim of the youth service is to assist all young people to become active participants in a democratic society. In essence, the primary objective of the service is to help realise the potential of each young person and facilitate his or her full participation in community life.

More than €60 million is being provided in 2011 by the youth affairs unit of the Department to support the delivery of a range of youth work programmes and youth services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth work sector. The focus of this financial support in 2011, as in previous years, is on the consolidation of existing youth work provision and safeguarding front-line programmes, services and jobs, particularly in disadvantaged communities, through the youth service grants scheme, the special projects for youth scheme, the youth information centres, the young peoples' facilities and services fund, the local drugs task forces, initiatives such as the local youth club grants scheme, the national youth health and arts programmes, as well as EU initiatives such as youth in action.

In the light of budgetary constraints, the youth budgets in 2011 and 2012 will require careful management, with a focus on prioritising front-line services and protecting jobs and pay in so far as is possible. Officials from the Department have met representatives of the youth sector, including the City of Dublin Youth Service Board, CDYSB, on an ongoing basis to ascertain the sector's views on how best to minimise the impact of budgetary constraints with a view to consolidating, in so far as is practicable, the progress made in previous years. Every effort will be made to notify the various youth work organisations and administering agencies, including the CDYSB, of their 2012 allocations as speedily as possible. The Department has also exhorted all of the national youth organisations and vocational education committees to revisit their level of expenditure to determine where cost savings can be achieved.

The CDYSB is in receipt of funding from the youth affairs unit in the Department for a number of schemes and programmes. These are the special projects for youth scheme, the young people's facilities and services fund, rounds one and two, and the local drugs task force initiative. The 2011 allocation to the CDYSB for these schemes is almost €14 million.

The Minister is very much aware of the valuable services provided by the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service for young people aged between ten and 21 years in such areas as Bonnybrook, Darndale and Priorswood across Dublin 17. She visited the service last week. It provides young people with a wide range of programmes and activities, seven days a week, which reflect their needs, interests, capacity and age profile. These programmes and activities include personal and social development, with a particular focus on recreation, education and health. The service also has a significant and impressive youth justice element aimed at addressing anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking. Projects engage with young people in an open, creative and health focused way, using a variety of youth friendly approaches. A team of trained and dedicated staff work with and for young people in the Dublin 17 area, supporting them to achieve their potential and contribute positively to their communities.

In the context of the 2012 and future budgets, one of the key aims of youth policy development will be to ensure optimum use of all the financial and human resources available. Accordingly, the development of the Department's policy on young people will focus specifically on ensuring greater coherence, co-ordination and impact in youth policy and provision so as to ensure quality outcomes for all. It is intended that the policy framework will also facilitate and promote co-ordination and coherence across Departments and services and set out the priorities, rationale and criteria for future funding programmes. It will also accommodate issues relevant to young people within the ten to 24 year age range in informal or out-of-school settings that fall within the remit of the Department. The overall aim will be to clarify and enhance coherence, connectivity, co-ordination and delivery of youth and related out-of-school services for young people and to ensure such provision is both quality and outcomes-based. As part of this approach, the Department is in the process of commissioning a review of international best practice in the area of youth development and support. The findings from this work will inform the Department's policy objectives and future funding provision, with the aim of ensuring young people engaging in youth services derive maximum benefit from that engagement. Projects such as the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service will continue to play a central role in this provision.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate that the Minister of State is here to represent the Minister and acknowledge that it is difficult for her to answer some of the more specific questions posed, but I urge her to talk to the Minister about them. While that was a good general response written by the Department in acknowledging the value of youth work, there was not a great deal in it about the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service. It certainly will not provide any comfort for those in Darndale, Priorswood, Bonnybrook and Coolock who are worried about the continuation of their services. I would be a little concerned in that regard. Of course, it is important to have the correct policy frameworks and reviews in place. In fact, the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service was one of the first to sign up to a new project in respect of a quality mark in evaluating youth services and is fully in favour of ensuring every euro is spent properly and in line with best practice.

The Minister of State mentioned a review. I would be surprised if it was finalised before the budgets are drawn up for next year. I would be concerned if it was a holding tactic or to be used as an excuse to cut staff numbers. Will the Minister of State ask the Minister if the funding for the City of Dublin Youth Service Board in 2012 and, in turn, for the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service has been agreed to? It is only fair, if it has been agreed to, that they be made aware of this.

I note the Minister visited the service last week. She is a good and decent person who would want to help the sector. She needs to fight for it because, as I stated, cuts will have to be made somewhere. This would be a crazy place to make them, given all of the statistics we have available for the challenges being faced in Dublin 17. This is not the place to make cuts.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister is well aware of the excellent work being done by the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service. I am also conscious of the fact that in many areas youth workers and organisations are struggling. As they do valuable work, we must protect these services to the greatest extent possible. Regrettably, in the past three years the youth work budget was cut by 15%, as a result of which many youth organisations are struggling. However, there is a commitment to ensuring youth work will continue. We value very much the role it plays in communities, particularly in disadvantaged communities. As the Senator is aware, decisions on budgetary provisions for the new year have not yet been taken, but there is a clear commitment to support youth work services because their value is recognised.