Minister’s speech for the launch of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014 – 2020
The Printworks, Dublin Castle
2pm 16 April 2014
Check Against Delivery
Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Deputies, Senators
Ladies and Gentlemen.
This is a first.
A groundbreaking first.
At various stages in this country’s history Governments have registered the central role, the pivotal place of children in our society. And then they have moved seamlessly on to view policy-making for children as an accidental inevitability: “Yes, of course, this will also apply to children.” As if they were adults, only not yet grown up.
This is the first Government in the history of the State that has refused to pay temporary lipservice to the needs of children. That has put them front and centre in this, the most ambitious, the most complex national policy framework ever to encompass the totality of what is required to achieve better outcomes and brighter futures for our children and our young people.
It is a first.
But it is just the latest in a string of firsts.
In January in Dublin Castle, an Taoiseach and I launched Tusla, Ireland’s first-ever Child & Family Agency. We have moved from a position where child and family welfare was barely a priority, to a position where it is now the sole focus of a single dedicated state agency.
We are taking 16 and 17 years old out of St. Patrick’s Institution – something talked about for decades but not being done till now.
We’re putting Children First guidelines on a statutory footing, to require reporting of child protection concerns; to lay down the statutory safeguarding obligations of organisations working with children.
We’ve introduced quality supports and regulation for childcare; putting inspection reports online for the first time; recruiting more inspectors; strengthening the legal framework for regulation, registration and enforcement; raising staff qualification standards and introducing a landmark new National Quality Support services
That said, child protection services continue to face significant challenges and demands.
Pockets of bad practice will continue to persist in childcare. Let’s not think everything has been sorted. It hasn’t.
However, the biggest challenge, in one way, is much broader.
It’s the challenge of changing our viewpoint, from looking back and responding – to looking forward and planning.
It’s the challenge of moving on from addressing the legacy of failings to promoting a culture and cross-government approach to doing better for all children; to improving outcomes for all children.
This must be seen NOT as just aspirational.
It should be seen as a policy imperative, as an absolute MUST in economic terms.
Our children are our present joy and future wealth.
When other Western countries are experiencing reducing birth rates, Ireland’s population of children and young people is growing. The total population of children and young people (aged 0-24 years) is 1.54 million. Since 2002 the 0-4 age group has grown by 32%.
The Government’s Medium-Term ‘Strategy for Growth’ rightly recognises that “our increasing child and youth population is a significant resource for our country…” and that “ensuring the best possible outcomes for this group is therefore an important element in our future economic planning.”
Supporting childhood is building for Ireland’s economic future.
But of course, childhood is not just a stopping point on the road to adulthood, it is itself a precious time of growth and development. Cherishing this time, recognising the rights of children to be children; and supporting their growth and development, is vital in its own right.
Ireland is doing many things right already.
The ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ Study has found that the vast majority of nine-year-olds are developing well without any significant social, emotional or behavioural problems.
However, still, a significant minority, 15% - 20% of children, were classified as showing significant levels of emotional or behavioural problems.
Similarly, while most children are healthy, 25% are overweight or obese.
While 92% of children complete secondary education only 13% of Traveller children do.
While most children live safe lives, we have over 40,000 referrals to child protection services annually.
As Minister, let me be clear, I want all children and young people to achieve the best outcomes, not just the 80%.
For this reason, the Government is today publishing a new, comprehensive and dynamic National Policy Framework for Children and Young People.
It outlines what we, across Government, aspire to and demand as the best outcomes for children and young people. It will set-out the transformational goals and implementation structures through which Government departments can work together to achieve these outcomes and to be accountable for progress.
The presence here today of an Taoiseach and Tánaiste demonstrates our commitment to working together.
Because it is only working together that we will unleash the real added-value and synergies that is on offer. No child must be allowed fall between the gaps between competing departments or fragmented policies.
So together, working from the outcomes and transformational goals of this Framework:
We will focus more on children’s early years – realising the potential of quality early years interventions to promoting best outcomes for children, and to generate longer-term returns to the state and society. In the coming months we’ll publish a detailed Early Years Strategy setting out the principles underpinning future investment in this important area.
We will work better together to protect young people at-risk - to make sure that young people who are marginalised, at-risk or who demonstrate challenging behaviour, get the supports they need.
We will promote positives influences for childhood – because it’s not about trying to control all negatives, which is not possible. It’s about involving children in activities that help their development and happiness.
We will tackle child poverty - setting a target of lifting 70,000 children out of poverty by 2020 through cooperation between Government departments; and increasing investment in services which can improve outcomes in relation to child poverty.
We will improve childhood health & wellbeing- in line with goals of ‘Healthy Ireland’, with a particular focus on promoting healthy behaviour and positive mental health.
We will enhance job opportunities for young people – building on the ‘Action Plan for Jobs’ and Youth Guarantee to increase the number of job opportunities available in Ireland for young people seeking employment while putting in place education, training, and placement programmes to enhance the employability of all young people, including those further away from the labour market.
Finally we will deliver better supports for families and parenting.
Raising a family has never been easy. But now, it’s challenging on so many fronts. And in some cases, it fails.
While in most cases the family is the most positive and formative influence on a child’s upbringing, the family, in some cases, can be quite the opposite.
Neglect remains the most common form of child abuse. It is vital that the State can intervene early and effectively in such cases. Protecting children and supporting families must go hand-in-hand.
Research in Ireland and internationally increasingly points to the benefits of positive parenting and supportive home environments in aiding childhood development, mitigating child poverty and influencing future prospect and social mobility.
I am committed to supporting parents and supporting families. This National Policy Framework makes real that commitment.
In conclusion – today represents a major breakthrough of massive proportions.
Just look at page 127 onward.
Commitments to action. Specified by Department.
That’s never happened before.
But committing to the actions stated is just the beginning of trying to get it right, starting with us up here in Government specifying what each and every Government Department will do between now and the end of the decade, but involving all of you: policy-makers, service providers, practitioners…
All of us.
Committing to a new approach, a new focus, based on the outcomes and transformational goals of this framework.
Committing to do all we can, working together, to deliver better outcomes and brighter future.
For all our children;
For all our young people;
For Ireland’s future.