Dáil Éireann - Volume 517 - 11 April, 2000

Written Answers. - Family Support Services.

86. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the progress in implementing the Report of the Commission on the Family; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10516/00]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The final report of the Commission on the Family, Strengthening Families for Life was published by the Government in July 1998. The report contains a comprehensive [1359] and in-depth analysis of the issues affecting families in Ireland and wide-ranging recommendations across several policy areas.

The Government is committed to adopting a “families first” approach by putting the family at the centre of all its policies. The family affairs unit which has been established in my Department with a range of responsibilities in relation to family services has a specific function to pursue the findings in the commission's report following their consideration by the Government.

Government priorities for the development of family policy and services in An Action Programme for the Millennium and in the review of the action programme have brought about significant progress in areas highlighted by the commission on the family.

For the third year in a row since this Government took office, significant extra resources, this year amounting to some £10 million, have been provided for the development of family services in my Department. This compares to £1.5 million in 1997. Major improvement in family services which I have introduced include:–

–A record £3.75 million this year for voluntary organisations providing marriage and child counselling services and bereavement counselling and support services. This is more than four times the amount provided in 1997. Some 400 voluntary groups have applied for grant funding this year. Applications are being processed at present in my Department.

–The nationwide family mediation service as promised in the Action Programme for the Millennium is now in place. The service is now available from centres in Cork, Tralee, Wexford, Athlone, Dundalk, Galway, Tallaght in west Dublin and Castlebar in addition to the Limerick centre and the Dublin centre which has been relocated to larger premises to deal with more clients. Last year more than 1,000 couples were assisted by the service. I now plan to establish the service on a statutory basis.

–Some 56 centres are now either up and running or in the process of being set up under the family and community services resource centre programme, under which ten centres were being funded at the beginning of 1998. The target is 100 over the coming years. This year some £3 million has been allocated to develop the programme.

I have introduced a families research programme to help shape the development of family policy and services in the future. A feasibility study into what would be involved in undertaking a national longitudinal study of children in Ireland is to be undertaken by my Department jointly with the Department of Health and Children. I expect to make an announcement about the commencement of the project in the next few weeks.

Family services projects providing high quality information about the range of supports available [1360] to families from State agencies and from the community and voluntary sector with a particular emphasis on services available locally are being piloted in three local offices of my Department – Cork, Waterford and Finglas in Dublin. The Government has allocated £12 million in the national development plan for the progressive expansion of the successful elements of the programme over the period 2000-06.

More than 1000 people from local voluntary groups that work with families have attended family service information fora which I have held throughout the country. The fora provide an opportunity to discuss the findings of the commission on the family and the needs of local communities in supporting families.

Government priorities to radically improve provision for pensioners, carers and dependent spouses and children in households on low incomes address areas highlighted by the commission in its report. The £428 million budget package for social welfare increases this year includes significant improvements in all rates of payment for pensioners, monthly increases in child benefit of £8 per child for the first and second child and £10 for subsequent children and a new carers benefit to enable carers to give up work temporarily to provide care full time while still retaining their employment rights.

The overall package provides in addition for increases of over 5% in other payments, improvements in employment supports, in the means test and in the free schemes for carers and a new widowed parents grant of £1,000 – in all a radical and innovative package to improve the position of those who are most vulnerable in society and to support families in carrying out their essential caring responsibilities for children and other dependent family members.

My colleagues in Government are progressing a number of significant policy issues in their own areas of responsibility in line with the Government's pro-families approach. The Minister for Education and Science has a number of initiatives under way in relation to early education, investment at primary level in schools and in tackling educational disadvantage. The Minister for Health and Children has announced proposals for a national children's strategy to support the delivery of an integrated childcare policy. Progress has been made in relation to the introduction of parental leave and investment in childcare projects in disadvantaged communities. In the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness the Government and social partners are committed to support family life, offer choices for families and equal opportunities for both men and women to play an active caring role in families through a range of measures to address childcare needs and promote the adoption of family friendly work practices and policies.