19 December 2013

An Overview of my Ministerial and Legislative Achievements in 2013

As Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, I have been leading the Government’s comprehensive reform of child protection in Ireland.

2013 was a very busy year for the Government generally, and for my Department specifically. We took a great many important steps in our ambitious reform agenda to deliver real and major improvements for Irish children and families. Click "read more" for a detailed list of my legislative and ministerial achievements.

Child & Family Agency Bill enacted – Agency to be established in January 2014
The bill to establish the new Child & Family Agency has passed all stages in the Oireachtas. The establishment of the Agency is one of the largest and most ambitious public sector reforms being undertaken by this Government involving the bringing together of over 4,000 staff and a budget of nearly €600 million from three existing bodies.

Additional funding secured in Budget 2014 to support child protection reforms
An additional allocation of €6.7m the 2014 budget (rising to €12m in a full year) to support further child protection reforms, including additional recruitment.

Expanding special care provision in Ireland
In 2013, I announced plans to expand the number of special care places in Ireland from 17 at present to 35 by 2015.

First HIQA child protection inspection report
2013 saw the publication of the first report independent reports by HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) on inspection of child protection services. I initiated this new inspection regime to help drive standard-led approach to improving quality, consistency and accountability in child protection.

Implementing the Pre-school Quality Agenda
There has been major progress since July on the implementation of my 8-point plan for a Pre-school Quality Agenda.

Commenced the publication of pre-school inspections reports
As promised we have, for the first time, begun publishing pre-school inspections reports on the Pobal website. As of 16th December there were 1,912 pre-school inspection reports now online including the first 35 new reports.

New laws enacted on pre-school regulation and enforcement
The Oireachtas has passed all stages of the Child & Family Agency Bill which provides for statutory registration of all pre-schools service, new pre-prosecution enforcement powers for inspectors and increased penalties at District Court level.

Recruiting new Inspectors
The HSE is currently at an advanced stage of recruiting 5 additional inspectors in areas where gaps had been identified. Budget 2014 includes an allocation of €500,000 to further increase staffing levels to strengthen the preschool inspection system.

Funding secured for Pre-school Quality Support Service

Budget 2014 includes an allocation of €2.75m to establish a new National Quality Support Service which will  work directly with services to improve quality including assisting services to implement the Siolta framework and Aistear curriculum.

Increasing the minimum qualification requirements for pre-school staff
Minimum qualification requirements for staff working in pre-school services are being increased from September 2015 for existing services and from September 2014 for new services. Budget 2014 includes an allocation of €1.5m to support training for staff already working in the sector to meet the new qualification requirements.

Construction underway at Oberstown child detention facility

Construction has commenced on the new child detention facility at Oberstown in north Co Dublin. This €55 million project will deliver on the commitment to end the detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution.

€30 million ABC programme launched
In November, 13 sites were names for the new ABC (area based childhood) programme. This €30 million programme, co-funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, aims to improve outcomes for children in disadvantaged areas and delivers on a key Programme for Government commitment.

Government agreement on changes to law on Aftercare
In November, the Cabinet agreed a new policy to strengthen the legislative provisions relating to the duty to prepare a plan that identifies a child’s needs for aftercare supports. The legislation is currently being finalised.

€1.5 million announced for new youth cafes
In 2013, €1.5 million in capital funding was provided to fund 30 new youth cafes around the country, bringing the total investment by this Government in new youth cafés to €2.2 million.

€2.75 million announced to improve childcare facilities
In 2013, €2.75 million in capital funding was provided to fund improvements to childcare facilities throughout Ireland. This is the second year in a row that I have provided childcare capital funding, which had previously been discontinued in 2008 by the last Government.

€250,000 announced for new playgrounds
In 2013, €250,000 in capital funding was provided to local authorities towards the development and refurbishment of children’s play areas.

116000 Missing Children’s Hotline launched in Ireland
The 116000 Missing Children’s Hotline was finally launched in Ireland in April 2013 on foot of my initiative. This 24/7 support service is run by the ISPCC with financial support from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the EU.

Reporting to the UN
Ireland has submitted the State's Consolidated 3rd and 4th Reports to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Under the last Government, Ireland previously failed to submit the 3rd as originally required in 2009.

Launch of Report of Early Years Expert Advisory Group
 ‘Right from the Start’, the report of the Expert Advisory Group on Ireland’s first-ever Early Years Strategy was launched in October. This report and its recommendations will form the basis for the final strategy which will be published in early 2014.

Successful Presidency of EU Council of Youth Ministers
During Ireland’s EU Presidency, I served as President of the Council of Youth Ministers and secured EU agreement and the publication of a ‘Dublin Declaration’ recognising the role of youth work in supporting youth employability and in implementation of the Youth Guarantee.

Action Plan on Bullying launched
In January, I launched together with Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn the Government’s new ‘Action Plan on Bullying’.

Review of the Implementation of Youth Homelessness Strategy
In line with the Programme for Government, a Review of the Implementation of the Youth Homelessness Strategy and Young People's Homeless was completed and launched.

Adoption agreement concluded with the US

In September, inter-country adoption operating arrangements were concluded between Ireland and the United States of America.

Government agreed revised heads of Children First Bill

Following a comprehensive 700 page report form the Joint Oireachtas Committee, the Cabinet has agreed revised heads of Children First Bill and work is been finalised on this important legislation.

Important child protection reports published

2013 saw the publication of the pilot phase report of the HSE’s National Audit of Neglect; the interim report of Dr. Carol Coulter’s Child Care Law Reporting Project and the review of implementation of child protection inquires by Dr. Helen Buckley.