Thursday, 20 September 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Affordable Childcare Scheme
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Zappone, back and look forward to working with her again this year. I welcome the children in the Public Gallery. This morning's session relates to children and youth affairs, so it is great they are present.
I find myself repeating this question on the status of the roll-out of the affordable childcare scheme. Will the Minister make a statement on it?
I thank the Deputy. It is great to be back and working with her also. I welcome also the children in the Public Gallery.
My Department is working hard to develop the new national affordable childcare scheme and I am pleased to say we are making good progress. The scheme will establish and provide financial support for parents and will also provide a sustainable platform for investment in the childcare sector for generations to come. Deputies will be aware that legislation establishing the new affordable childcare scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was enacted before the summer recess. This will be underpinned by detailed secondary legislation and formal policy guidelines, both of which are currently in development, along with the regulations to provide for the registration of school-age childcare services by Tusla. These regulations will he introduced in advance of the affordable childcare scheme to allow school-age childcare services to register and thereby participate in the scheme from the outset.
Following a full open tender public procurement process, the contract for the development of the scheme’s ICT system has been awarded. Now that a contractor is in place, my officials are finalising a detailed project plan and I will shortly confirm and communicate our plans for the launch of the affordable childcare scheme to Government, and more widely. Work is also progressing on several other fronts, including the preparation of timely and user-friendly information, resources and supports for parents, providers and other stakeholders. Alongside this, I am committed to ongoing consultation and engagement with all stakeholders in the run up to the introduction of the scheme.
Finally, the interim measures which I introduced last September to fast-track some of the benefits of the affordable childcare scheme have already supported more than 84,000 children and will remain in place until the new scheme goes live.
We are turning Ireland’s childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world into one of the best. This is a massive challenge and I am delighted that we are well on the way to delivering the childcare supports that Irish families need and deserve.
I thank the Minister and welcome her update. It is regrettable that the ICT system has taken so long to put in place but I welcome the announcement that the contract has been awarded. Can the Minister indicate the timeline for this? Can she see us having the affordable childcare ICT system in place this time next year? Will it be up and running? A conversation the Minister and I have all the time is on 9,000 families who will possibly not make it due to the fact that they are so close to the €47,500 qualifying income level. Will other families be in this position this time next year? Can the Minister explain the secondary legislation needed to secure the roll-out of the affordable childcare scheme? How can we work with her on that?
The delay in the ICT system is regrettable at one level, but it is really important to get this right as it will provide a sustainable platform for generations of families to come. It is one of the most ambitious ICT projects the Government is currently undertaking and will provide a model for future approaches to new ICT platforms, including the one my colleague in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is anticipating regarding pension reform. It is very important that we get this right.
Notwithstanding this unanticipated delay, as the Deputy is aware, we have fast-tracked a number of measures from this September onwards, where families are receiving more money. The Deputy referred to the possibility that 9,000 families may not be included given the fact we are not into the absolute affordable child scheme. That was an estimate at the time. We do not expect the figure to be as high as that. We know that there are huge numbers of families and children who are receiving substantially more money as and from this September.
In terms of the affordable childcare scheme, and this is something I flagged with the Minister earlier this summer, where children are currently availing of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme in normal settings but need to attend special care units as well, can the system administer services to both? If a family has a child with Down's syndrome, can the child attend the special needs unit in the morning and an affordable childcare setting in the afternoon or later on in the day, so the child integrates fully? It is something that has been raised with me a lot during the summer. In Grovelands Childcare, a crèche in the Minister of State, Deputy Moran's constituency, there are four children attending a particular setting. How are we going to integrate children with disabilities?
That is a very important question and I am sure it influences and impacts many other children inside as well as outside of the Deputy's constituency. As the Deputy is fully aware, there are three primary objectives to this radical approach to childcare.
Our ambition is that it will be accessible, affordable and of high quality. It is the accessible aspect about which the Deputy is speaking. As she is also aware, we have invested hugely in measures within early childcare settings in the light of the access and inclusion model, AIM, programme that support the children in participating in what are now mainstream services. On the specific issue to which the Deputy refers, it is important and if my officials are not already looking at it, I will ask them to look at it again. We have time to plan for this and given the importance of the accessibility aspect of our objectives, I am certain that we can find ways to ensure it will be accommodated.