As the Committee is aware, I have over recent months overseen implementation of my 8-pointPre-School Quality Agenda, including putting in place much needed systems of support and regulation for pre-school services in Ireland.
As promised we have, for the first time, begun publishing pre-school inspections reports on the Pobal website, with nearly 2,000 pre-school inspection reports now online.
I have brought forward legislative changes in Child & Family Agency Act to:
– Provide for statutory registration of all pre-schools services;
– Introduce new enforcement powers for inspectors at pre-prosecution stage; and
– Increase penalties at District Court level for an offence under the Act.
New National Pre-School Quality Standards have been developed and will be launched shortly.
Minimum qualification requirements for staff working in pre-school services are being be increased.
Budget 2014 includes an allocation of €4.5 million:
– To establish a new National Quality Support Service for pre-school services.
– To recruit new inspectors (building on inspectors currently been recruited in 2013); and
– To support training and up-skilling (building on funding also announced in 2013).
I have announced Government’s approval for my proposals to strengthen the legislative provisions for aftercare, by amending the Child Care Act, 1991 to provide for a statutory right to the preparation of an aftercare plan and to draft heads of legislation for that purpose. Under the Child Care Act 1991 the Health Service Executive (HSE) has a statutory duty to promote the welfare of children up to 18 years.
Children who are in need of care and protection which cannot be provided by their family are received into care. It is crucial that an aftercare plan is prepared to identify the supports that young people need leaving care as they transition to adulthood.
The HSE’s responsibilities with respect of aftercare planning will transfer to the Child and Family Agency on its establishment. Legislative provisions regarding aftercare will be put in place to make explicit the Child and Family Agency’s obligations in this area. It is proposed to impose a statutory duty on the Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child.
Children and Young People Policy Framework
I have spoken to you previously about my intention to publish a National Children and Young People’s Policy Framework. It provides a set of principles and long term goals that will provide overall direction to planning and development of Government actions in relation to children and young people. In recent weeks, my Department has been finalising the cross-Departmental commitments in this framework. I have recently updated the Cabinet on progress and I hope to publish the framework early in 2014.
It will be a framework for all of Government setting out our ambition to improve outcomes for children and young people over the next 5 years. It will be supported by a number of more detailed strategies for specific age cohorts including the Ireland’s first-ever Early Years Strategy for 0 to 6’s informed by ‘Right from the Start’, the report of the Expert Advisory Group established to make recommendations for that purpose.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is amongst the newest Government departments. Already, there has been considerable success in achieving a number of very important Government commitments including holding the Children’s Referendum, providing for the establishment of the Child and Family Agency, commencing transfers from St Patrick’s Institution to Oberstown and expanding the response to area based poverty under the Area Based Childhood initiative. I am looking forward to the initiation of a new phase early in 2014 when, using the Children and Young People’s Policy Framework, we bring further direction and energy to achieving improvements in national outcomes for children and young people over the next five years.