Discussion with Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Friday, 19th April 2013

As I did not have the opportunity that Deputy Ó Caoláin had earlier this week, I will try to ask all of my questions. I welcome this opportunity to engage with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I agree with many of her comments. We saw the heads of the adoption legislation prior to the referendum, but it would be good if we could start teasing out some of the issues. We need a focused discussion. I have received a number of representations on several issues, for example, the right to identity, information and tracing. Perhaps this committee can play a role in teasing out those issues.

I will keep tripping over the term “child and family agency”, as we had grown used to the term “family support”. I wish to know more. It is not just about the word “support”, but about the term “family support”. I wish to understand what is behind the Government’s decision to remove the word “support”.

While I welcome the appointment of Ms Gibbons, who is of an outstanding calibre, as chair, why was the position not advertised? All appointments should be publicly advertised. I do not question Ms Gibbons’s calibre. I will be facilitative of the process.

I am still struggling with trying to understand what will comprise the child and family agency. We are awaiting the Bill, to which I look forward. In recent weeks, I have met public health nurses. There is a debate on whether they should be a part of the agency, both sides of which they have discussed with me. They believe that they have a role outside of the agency, but how can we develop that in parallel to the agency’s development? I have many ideas in that regard.

Regarding the three sites in terms of child poverty, I welcome the helpful information the Minister has provided the committee, but I am uncomfortable with a tendering process. Is there not a better way? Perhaps a decision could be based on deprivation levels. A rural area’s selection could also be ensured, as urban areas are not the only ones in which solutions must be found and mainstreamed. However, the idea of asking communities to tender while they are in poverty does not sit well with me in terms of clarity around how that process will work.

The Minister pointed me towards the “Minister for Justice and Law Reform” on the topic of direct provision. I will continue to pursue the matter. I am happy with her answer, but he is actually the Minister for Justice and Equality. Perhaps this is an old answer or he has been mistitled.

I am concerned about children in direct provision. I have visited two centres. That environment is damaging to children. In Dr. Geoffrey Shannon’s report last year, he asked for a report to be conducted into this situation. The committee hopes to hold a hearing on direct provision.

I wish to focus on youth work and its funding. Last December, I initiated a good debate in the Seanad on the value of youth work. The Minister is aware that information recently became known to the youth sector in response to a freedom of information request. That information outlined approved significant changes in the youth sector. The document could be described as a game changer. These decisions were made in the autumn, prior to our debate in the Seanad. Will the Minister confirm whether she has approved the City of Dublin Youth Services Board, CDYSB, a sub-committee of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, CDVEC, becoming the key agency to assume full national responsibility for administration, distribution and monitoring of youth work’s main funding schemes, thereby removing responsibility for administrating funds locally from a number of national voluntary youth organisations and individual VECs in every county? Are there plans to replace the existing funding schemes with two new schemes unilaterally and without awaiting the development of the strategic youth policy framework or the outcome of the value for money review, which the Minister recently commissioned, or without consulting stakeholders? I have read the documents carefully – they assert these positions. I want clarity on these issues. Assuming these positions are being taken, it is disappointing that the document was not put into the public domain during the Seanad debate.

I wish to address the issue of aftercare. The early child care sector has seen significant developments. It would be useful if regulations and eligibility criteria could be developed. Aftercare services are springing up on an ad hoc basis. We need to be clear on what the funding will be used for. It should not be allocated locally.

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