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Ireland: committed to better outcomes for all children by 2020

Children’s welfare has been a key focal point of recent policy and legislative developments in Ireland, evidenced by a number of strategies, actions plan and programmes that have been adopted over recent years.

Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The national policy framework for children & young people 2016-2020 (BOBF), launched by Government in 2014, provides the overarching framework for the development and implementation of policy and services for children and young people, from birth to under 25 years of age.

Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures adopts a whole-of-Government approach to improving outcomes for children and young people and is underpinned by a number of constituent strategies in the areas of early years, youth and participation. It establishes a shared set of national outcomes for children and young people towards which all government departments and agencies, statutory services and the voluntary and community sectors will work.

The first annual reportpdf on Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures was published in 2015. This covers the progress made from the launch in April 2014 to 2015.

Children as a whole-of-Government responsibility 

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), established in 2011, brings together a number of key areas of policy and provision for children, young people and families. The mandate of the Department encompasses distinct strands, from targeted and universal interventions to work to on harmonising policy and provision across Government with a wide range of stakeholders to improve outcomes for children, young people and families.

The establishment of the new Child and Family Agency in 2014 reflects the Programme for Government commitment to transform Ireland’s child and family services. The Agency brings a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children’s services.

Other cross-Governmental polices working towards improving outcomes for children include:

  • The Healthy Ireland  frameworkwhich contains commitment to tackle health inequalities across the population generally but including child and youth stages.
  • Development of child- and youth-friendly sustainable communities through adopting appropriate policies and objectives in County/City Development Plans and Plans for Child-friendly Communities led by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
  • The National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision Making (2015-2020)pdf, the first constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures launched in June 2015, seeks to ensure that children and young people have a voice in decisions affecting them.
  • The National Youth Strategy (2015-2020)pdf, the second constituent strategy launched in October 2015, aims to enable all young people aged 10-24 to realise their maximum potential. Actions are set out across the five national outcomes areas established by Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

Supporting access to adequate resources 

Supporting parents is one of the broad objectives of child and family income support programmes. The Statement of Government Priorities 2014 - 2016pdf commits to delivering a new deal on living standards to ensure that thebenefits of recovery are felt by low- and middle-income working families across the country. The Government is prioritising measures to assist low-income families by improving the system of child income supports while rebalancing access to subsidised childcare, to ensure that those moving from welfare to work are better off in work.

Families with children are supported by a number of payments. The Department of Social Protection payments include:

The Department of Social Protection spends €3 billion per annum, the equivalent of 15 per cent of the total social protection budget, in supporting families with children. See welfare.iepdf for further information on DSP’s annual budget provisions.

Focusing on child poverty as a policy priority

Typically, three indicators are used to set the national poverty target in Ireland: low income or ‘at-risk-of-poverty’, defined as individuals whose equivalised income is below 60% of the median; deprivation of material goods, defined as individuals in households lacking at least 2 of 11 consensual necessities, and the overlap of the two, known as consistent poverty.

In recognition of the higher risks and life-long consequences of child poverty, a child-specific poverty target was set in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

The target is to lift over 70,000 children (aged 0-17 years) out of consistent poverty by 2020, a reduction of at least two-thirds on the 2011 level. This target will include reducing the higher consistent poverty risk for households with children as compared to non-child households (8.8% vs 4.2%), and for children as compared to adults (aged 18 years and over) (9.3% vs. 6%).

The annual Social Inclusion Monitor published by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) reports progress on the child poverty target and related indicators as one of six focal elements. As part of the achievement of this target, the Department has identified child poverty as a cross-sectoral priority within Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. The Target will be achieved through commitments to improve rates of parental employment and increased investment in evidence-based, effective services that can improve child poverty outcomes.

Using the EU measure at-risk-of-poverty or exclusion (AROPE), the rate for children under 18 years in 2014 was 30.3% in Ireland as compared to an EU28 average of 27.8%. Social transfers play a major role in poverty reduction in Ireland, with 3% of the GDP being spent in 2012 on social protection benefits compared with the average of 2.3% across EU member states. In 2014, social transfers reduced the at-risk-of poverty rate for children from 44.6% to 17.1%, a poverty reduction effect of 61.7% (PREST). The comparative PREST for the EU28 is 39% (Eurostat EU-SILC indicators). Ireland is among the best performing countries in the EU in this regard.

As part of the achievement of this target, the Department of Social Protection has identified child poverty as a cross-sectoral priority within Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures.

Addressing unemployment and youth unemployment 

The key relationship between parental employment status and child well-being is well established. 

In 2014 the employment rate for adults aged 15-64 was 61.7% (EU average was 64.9%). The employment rate for men was 66.9% and 56.7% for women (compared with the EU average employment rate of men and women at 70.1% and 59.6% respectively).

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.8% (Q4 2015 Eurostat estimate); while it has fallen from a peak of 15% in early 2012, the rate remains unacceptably high.

In Q4 2015 the seasonally adjusted youth unemployment rate (under 25) was 19.4%. About 33.2%, of the young unemployed in Q2 2015 were out of work for more than one year. The absolute number of young unemployed people has fallen from close to 80,000 on average in 2009 to 41,900 on average in Q2, 2015. As a result of this fall, young people now represent 19% of all the unemployed, down from a share of 35% in mid-2008.

The Irish Government’s Pathways to Workpdf2016-2020 sets out an action plan for improving the employment prospects of all jobseekers. It continues to focus on youth unemployment, particularly those young unemployed most distant from the labour market.

Since the inception of Pathways to Work in 2012, employment and entitlement services have been brought together in ‘one-stop shop’ Intreo centers; new schemes and employment supports have been introduced, while some existing schemes have been expanded. A ‘social contract’ of rights and responsibilities between jobseekers and the State has been implemented. The Further Education and Training (FET) sector has been significantly re-organised. A Labour Market Council has been established to monitor and advise on the implementation of the Strategy.

The Youth Guarantee Implementation Planpdf (YGIP), launched in January 2014 as part of the overall Pathways to Work Strategy, additionally sets out targets to address youth unemployment. It is the national response to the EU Youth Guarantee Recommendation. The main plank of the YGIP is assistance to young people in finding and securing a sustainable job, through monthly engagement by case officers with the young unemployed and the implementation of a personal progression plan. For those who do not find employment, additional offers are provided for. Most such offers (over 70%) are in further education or training while the rest is in community-based employment programmes such as Community Employment Scheme, Gateway and Tús, or through the JobsPlus  employment subsidy for private employment.

The National Youth Strategy (2015-2020)pdf set out several actions to ensure that young people are better supported to participate in the labour market through enhanced employability skills that complement formal learning and entrepreneurship opportunities including the Youth Employability Initiativepdf where youth services are to target young people who are not in employment, education or training (or at risk of becoming such person).

Strengthening access to affordable quality services 

Access to affordable quality services has a particular relevance to the prevention of child poverty, especially in the formative years of a child’s life.

In 2013, 29% of Irish children aged 0-3 were in formal childcare institutions, a slightly higher proportion than the EU28 average rate of 27%. There was a higher proportion of older children (aged 3 to compulsory school age) in formal childcare settings in 2013, compared to the EU average (89% in Ireland, compared to 82% for the EU28).

Under the European Semester process, to which Ireland is subject, the European Council issued advice in the form of a Country Specific Recommendationpdf Choose translations of the previous link  (CSR) in 2014 requiring Ireland to make improvements in facilitating female labour market participation, through improved access to more affordable full time childcare facilities. The Inter-Departmental Group published its reportpdf that sets out options for reforming childcare provision in Ireland, with due regard to CSR recommendations. Based on the recommendations of the report, Budget 2016 pdfextended the free pre-school year under the Early Childhood Care and Education programme to cater for children from the age of three until the beginning of primary school. The Group also recommended introducing a single childcare subvention scheme in place of various programmes to support parents who participate in education, training and at work as well as developing a model of after-school care having regard to available models of provision for this age group in Ireland and elsewhere.

One of the key aims of Better Outcomes Brighter Futures is to build quality services which are ‘outcomes-driven, efficient and effective’. Government will consider national and international evidence on effectiveness of expenditure and using evidence to inform resource allocation.

Resourcing of services will also be considered in the context of the need to appropriately rebalance the focus from crisis intervention towards prevention and early intervention. An example of this approach is the Area Based Childhood Programme (ABC) that draws on previous early intervention and prevention initiatives.

Through the ABC programme, funding and support are given to a consortium of services in 13 disadvantaged areas for the period of 2013-2016. The programme is expected to improve outcomes in terms of child health and development, children’s learning and parenting through improved, evidence-based and coordinated response involving a range of services.  However, the ultimate goal is to mainstream learning from the ABC programme to respective policy and practice domains, with a view to responding to child poverty and thus improve children’s lives in a strategic manner.

Targeted support is also provided for disadvantaged, marginalised and at risk young people through the Special Projects for Youth Scheme, the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, and Local Drugs Task Force projects. National Youth Strategy 2015-2020pdf, while a universal strategy, has a particular focus on meeting the needs of young people experiencing the poorest outcomes.

Children and Young People’s Services Committees (CYPSCs) bring together the main statutory, community and voluntary providers of services to children and young people at county level. Their role is to enhance interagency co-operation and coordination to realise the five national outcomes in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. CYPSCs will link with Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs), and input into Local Economic and Community Plans (LECPs).


On-going developments in child and family policy in Ireland, in particular the establishment of the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The national policy framework for children & young people 2016-2020 (BOBF), support the EC Recommendation and will assist in achieving better outcomes and brighter futures for all children and their families.

The information in the country profile was last updated in January 2016.