Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth | Addressing inequalities affecting children
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the steps he proposes to take to address any or all inequalities affecting children; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
While the Department of Social Protection has lead responsibility on the issue of child poverty, my Department has taken steps to contribute to the addressing child poverty and related issues.
My Department is preparing a new policy framework for children and young people (0-24), covering the period 2023-2028 for publication later this year. This framework is adopting a rights-based approach, focused on realising the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and recent international initiatives aimed at addressing the specific vulnerabilities of those aged 18-24.
While the framework will work towards realising the rights of all children and young people, I am mindful that there are groups of children and young people with vulnerabilities which need to be specifically addressed. In drafting the framework, my Department is mindful of recent data and evidence on the needs of vulnerable groups of children, as well as the findings of consultations with children and young people from affected groups, and working across Government to ensure their vulnerabilities are addressed to the greatest possible extent.
Growing Up in Ireland, the national longitudinal study of children (funded and co-managed by DCEDIY since its inception in 2008), aims to inform Government policy relating to children, young people and their families. A key objective of the study is the identification of sources of inequality across all aspects of child development; this includes inequalities relating to gender, family structure, socio-economic status, and other socio-demographic indicators (including membership of minority groups). Across 11 waves of data collection from around 20,000 young people and their families (with extensive plans for increased data collection and a new birth cohort in the coming years), the study has repeatedly highlighted inequalities in terms of education, physical and mental well-being, and economic engagement (amongst other outcomes of child development). The study has and will continue to act as a key source of robust, reliable and contemporary information on the nature and extent of inequalities experienced by children and young people in Ireland today.
My Department is also committed to tackling disadvantage through high quality early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible. The Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) which enjoys uptakes rates in excess of 95% – has removed barriers to accessing pre-school education, with data from Growing Up in Ireland showing that more than 60% of low income families would not have been able to send their child to pre-school without this programme.
In addition, the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) – through a combination of universal and targeted subsidies, as well as sponsorship arrangements for vulnerable children, is substantially reducing the out of pocket early learning and childcare costs for families – with the highest levels of subsidies available to families on the lowest incomes.
Record numbers of children – more than 117,000 – are currently benefitting from the NCS – 59,000 more children than this time last year. Moreover, the number of providers offering the NCS has increased by more than 17% – owing to contractual conditions underpinning the new Core Funding Scheme.
Recent OECD data shows Ireland’s performance in supporting families, and particularly lone parent families, with the cost of early learning and childcare is markedly improving – with Ireland having the highest decrease in early learning and childcare costs to families across the EU over the period 2019-2021 and in 2021, net childcare costs as a share of the household’s net income for lone parents on low income fell below the EU average.
The data does not take account of significant enhancements I introduced to the NCS under Budgets 2022 and 2023 or further impacts of Core Funding – that included a freeze on fees.
In line with a commitment in First 5, and informed by recommendations in Partnership for the Public Good, officials in my Department are currently developing a tailored policy response in order to progress the development of a new strand of funding – Tackling Disadvantage: the Equal Participation Model.
Through this work, services will be provided with a proportionate mix of universal and targeted supports to support children and families accessing their services who are experiencing disadvantage. The consultation and engagement phase is underway to inform and shape this work, following on from a detailed scoping phase.
A pilot of the provision of hot meals to children in early learning and care settings has begun as one potential support.
I trust that this information on my Department’s efforts to tackle inequalities affecting children is helpful.
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