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Ireland – committed to better outcomes for all children by 2020

In Ireland, children’s welfare is the responsibility of various ministerial bodies and the subject of a number strategies, action plans and programmes.

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 0 to 25 years.

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.

Children as a whole-of-Government responsibility 

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) 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 

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 - 2016pdfcommits 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 commits to 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:

Altogether, the Department of Social Protection will spend almost €3 billion in 2015 in providing income support for families through these payments.  

Financial support for families and children in Ireland represented 3.4% of GDP in 2012 compared to an EU average of 2.2%. 

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 target was set in the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020. 

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 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. 

Social transfers play a major role in poverty reduction in Ireland. In 2013, social transfers reduced the at-risk-of poverty rate for children from 45.5% to 16%, a poverty reduction effect of 65% (PREST). The comparative PREST for the EU28 is 15% (Eurostat EU-SILC indicators). Ireland is among the best performing countries in the EU in this regard

The Department of Social Protection, in conjunction with its partner Departments and with stakeholders from the voluntary and community sector, is currently working to develop a cross-government multidimensional approach to tackling child poverty 

Addressing unemployment and youth unemployment 

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

In 2013 the employment rate for adults aged 15-64 was 60.5% (65.5% for adults aged 20-64). The employment rate for men was 65.1% in 2013 and 55.9% for women (compared with the EU average employment rate of men and women at 69.4% and 58.8% respectively). 

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is currently 10.0% (January, 2015 Eurostat estimate); while it has fallen from a peak of 15% in early 2012, the rate remains unacceptably high. 

Overall, the under-25 age group had an unemployment rate of 23.9% in 2014. About 38%, on average, of the young unemployed in 2014 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 47,000 on average in 2014. As a result of this fall, young people now represent 19% of all the unemployed, down from a share of 35% in mid-2008. 

Based on current trends and projections, the youth unemployment rate should fall below 20% in 2015. 

The Irish Government’s Pathways to Workpdfsets out an action plan for improving the employment prospects of all jobseekers, including those with children. Since the inception of Pathways to Work in 2012, employment and entitlement services have been brought together in ‘one-stop shop’ Intreo centres; 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. Pathways to Work 2015 will enhance reforms already underway especially for the long-term unemployed and youth unemployed. This will include the implementation of a new employment services model, JobPath, by mid-2015. 

The Youth Guarantee Implementation Planpdf, 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. 

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. An Inter-Departmental Group is currently considering childcare provision across the 0 to 6 age group as well as the after-school needs of older school-going children with a view to developing a coherent whole-of-Government approach to investment in childcare services, including the issues raised in the CSR. The Group’s work involves, inter alia, identifying policy objectives to guide investment in contributing towards improvements in social inclusion and poverty reduction. 

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). The ABC programme aims to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country. The programme has a particular emphasis on improving health, educational and social outcomes for children and young people, and on improving the effectiveness of existing services for them. Through the ABC programme, funding and support are given to a collaboration of services in areas selected by Government as meeting ABC objectives. Investment is currently being extended from the original three existing Areas to a further ten Areas 

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.


On-going developments in child and family policy in Ireland, in particular the establishment of the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 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 April 2015.

Additional information

The Irish  Programme for Government includes series of commitments:

  • Holding of a Referendum in relation to the rights of children under the Constitution,
  • The establishment of a Child and Family Support Agency on a statutory basis in order to fundamentally reform the delivery of child protection services and remove responsibility of these from the Health Services Executive.
    • Implementing the recommendations of the Ryan Report, including putting the Children First: National Guidance on a statutory footing and legislating for the use of ‘soft information’.
    • Maintaining the free pre-school year and improving its quality as resources allow. Enacting legislation to consolidate and reform the law on adoption.
    • Investing in a targeted early childhood education programme for disadvantaged children, building on existing targeted pre-school supports for families most in need of assistance, such as the ‘youngballymun’ project;
    • Breaking the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched by adopting a new area based approach to child poverty, which draws on best international practice and existing services to tackle every aspect of child poverty.