Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
The Deputy and I have engaged in substantial discussion on this issue. I addressed similar issues with Deputy Funchion earlier today. I am strongly committed to supporting children to develop to their full potential, especially those who are most disadvantaged. The national childcare scheme has been designed specifically with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in mind. It represents the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for early learning and childcare. It marks a shift away from previous schemes, which were based on medical card and social protection entitlements, to a more progressive system of universal and income-based subsidies. Under the NCS, significantly more families are eligible for support, with families on the lowest incomes getting the most support.
Similar to schemes in other jurisdictions, the scheme is designed to ensure access to early learning and childcare is provided at a level necessary to support positive child development outcomes, regardless of whether parents are in work or study. Where parents are not engaged in work or study, the NCS subsidises up to 20 hours per week. Where parents are engaged in work or study, the scheme subsidises up to 45 hours of per week. As Members know, the definition of work or study is broad and covers all forms of work or study arrangements. The minimum number of hours required to activate the full amount is small, at just two hours per week.
As we have discussed, the NCS includes sponsorship arrangements that allow for additional support for vulnerable families where there is a need for early learning and childcare on the grounds of child development or child welfare. I have engaged with the sponsorship bodies, particularly Tusla, to encourage them to take a wide definition of children’s vulnerability and this has seen an increase in the number of sponsorships being provided.
In line with the Childcare Support Act, I recently commissioned a review of the national childcare scheme. This will assess how well the scheme is serving the needs of children, among other issues. As the Deputy is aware, I specifically asked that the review deal with the issue of disadvantage.