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Home > Joint Committee on Health and Children Update on Children and Youth Issues: Discussion.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health and Children Update on Children and Youth Issues: Discussion. (16 Feb 2012)


Update on Children and Youth Issues: Discussion
Thursday, 16 February 2012
Joint Committee on Health and Children debate

Chairman:   I welcome the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Ms Elizabeth Cannon, assistant secretary, Ms Mary McLoughlin, principal officer, Mr. John Lohan, principal officer, Ms Michele Clark, principal officer, and Mr. Peter Hanrahan, assistant principal. I reminded members and those in the Gallery to turn mobile phones off. Our meeting today is the first of those with the Minister. Members have submitted written responses and the Minister’s responses to them have been circulated. I ask the Minister to begin her opening statement.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):    I thank the Chairman and the joint committee for the invitation to attend the meeting. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all members of the joint committee and the Chairman, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, well in their work. I congratulate them on the work they have done already on the very important areas of alcohol and drugs as well as other areas.

Last year I had the opportunity to set out in detail for the committee the role and functions of my Department and the vision for Ireland’s children that we are working towards. The debate which followed was very helpful and a number of points were made by the committee which I hope to address in the course of my discussion with it. I look forward to constructive engagement with the committee as we shape the agenda for the new Department. I thank members for their contributions, not just at the committee but on the floors of the Dáil and Seanad in the various debates that have taken place on the range of issues that affect children.

I would like to provide a quick update on the work I have been doing and set out some key priorities for the coming year. I am aware we will have a separate meeting on the Estimates and a discussion on next year’s budget. That is a new procedure and should be very useful. Copies of my presentation have been circulated to the committee and I do not intend to go through it in detail because members have had an opportunity to read it. I will highlight a number of areas.

I went into the details of the mandate of the Department when I was before the committee previously. We have provision for a range of universal and targeted services. One universal scheme is the ECCE scheme. There are range of targeted services in other areas. We have a range of interventions with families, with which many members will be familiar. We are responsible for the harmonisation of policy across government Departments, which is a complex area.

One third of Ireland’s population is less than 26 years of age. Therefore, we have a significant group of young people. What is interesting at an international level is how much the economic benefits of early intervention are being focused on. They include better attendance in primary school; reductions in drug and alcohol abuse, which the committee has examined; better take-up of paid employment; and better longer-term outcomes. We have a range of high-quality information on early childhood care and its economic benefits. We need to do more research in Ireland on our services in that regard.

As the committee is aware, the Department was formally established on 2 June and I want to pay tribute to the complex work that went into its development and the support of the Attorney General in bringing together a wide range of functions, including education, welfare, criminal justice, early childhood care and other areas. We have developed a strategy statement.

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