Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Affordable Childcare Scheme Implementation
3. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme; the date by which the information and communications technology system will be operational; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46137/18]
Will the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs tell us about the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme and the date by which the information and communications technology system will be operational?
I am delighted to report positive progress regarding the development of the affordable childcare scheme and to confirm that I plan to introduce the scheme in October 2019. The scheme will open to applications in October 2019 with payments flowing from November 2019. The launch of this scheme will alter the landscape of childcare in Ireland. It will provide financial support for parents, establish a sustainable platform for investment in the childcare sector for decades to come and, crucially, allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life.
Legislation establishing the new affordable childcare scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was signed by the President in July. This will be underpinned by detailed secondary legislation and formal policy guidelines. We will also bring forward regulations providing, for the first time, for the registration of school age childcare services by the Tusla early years inspectorate. This will ensure that such services can participate in the scheme from its inception.
Regarding the ICT system, my Department concluded a full open tender public procurement process earlier this year. A contract was awarded and our IT development contractor, Codec, is busy working with officials from both the Department and Pobal to develop the system. Consultation and engagement with stakeholders is ongoing and, in the new year, a comprehensive awareness campaign will be launched for parents and the public, alongside training and information supports for childcare providers and other key stakeholders. Finally, budget 2019 provided for significant enhancements to the scheme which will ensure that an even greater number of families will now benefit from it once launched.
I thank the Minister for all of that information. The one question I have is on her degree of confidence that the scheme will be delivered in October 2019. To reel back through the years, the scheme was announced in budget 2016 but we realised legislative changes were required in March 2017. That meant we did not hit the targeted launch in 2017. We looked forward to 2018, but failed to deliver on that target also. The target is now 2019, which is why I ask about Codec and the Department's work. Are trials taking place? Is the scheme up and running in some of the various city and county childcare areas? Where exactly are we with a timeline? There is no point having an awareness programme if we are not fully confident that we are going to be able to deliver. Why is the target October 2019 instead of August 2019? Why not have it in place before the new year starts? It should be out ambition to deliver the scheme for August 2019.
On the Deputy's last point, if I said I hoped we could deliver it by August 2019, I would not meet that target. I know that right now. The Deputy is right as an Opposition Member to make critical comments on not meeting other targets. We know that because of the work that remains to be done, not only in relation to ICT but its underpinnings in the use of the mygov.iewebsite and the cards families will need to access through the Department of Social Protection to apply for the subsidies in the great scheme that will be available. We hope to have it available and up and running in November 2019. It will not be available until then because of issues around the GDPR and mygov.iewhich must be resolved to allow families to get the subsidy in November. However, applications will be accepted in October.
Is the Minister saying that the families who apply in October 2019 will receive an immediate benefit under the scheme from November 2019? It is not the families coming forward in August 2020 that will the first families to benefit. Rather, it will be the families in next year's cycle who will benefit. I pick up on the Minister's point about mygov.ie. Is it the case that when some families engage for the first time, they might find themselves very close to or outside a threshold? Will they have to go through other avenues within the social protection system to apply for cards or will the website cut away all of that red tape so that the decision will be made through mygov.iein conjunction with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs?
In reply to the Deputy's first question, the single streamlined scheme will be implemented from November 2019. As the Deputy knows, families are currently accessing different schemes and providers are coping with administering those. From November, however, the scheme will be implemented and the new thresholds will apply. In light of the huge transition from one way of doing things to where we want to be, we are allowing families to continue to access the subsidisation of their childcare supports in the way they have been doing. They will be given time to move over to this new approach. They will have a number of months. We must also conduct a very significant awareness and information campaign from the beginning, probably, of next year to get people ready.