Thursday, 14 May 2009
Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the need for the Minister for Health and Children to outline to the House the details of the way the Government scheme to provide a child care place for three year old children will function, the payment methods, the number of available places and the level of uptake in the scheme he expects from child care providers. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been here all day but this is an important issue and many questions arise from it.
I welcome the introduction of a pre-school year while recognising the negative impact the loss of the early child supplement income will have on all families, particularly the most vulnerable. I am concerned about some of the practical implementations of this pre-school year considering that in the weeks following the announcement of the scheme, many pre-school providers raised questions and expressed genuine concerns about the scheme. Such concerns included the lack of information on the implementation of the new scheme, the duration of the capitation grant and the payment of top-ups. In particular, service providers questioned the adequacy of the capitation grant in meeting the cost of providing the service and the difficulties some providers will experience in that regard. I am aware there is concern about that in many of the pre-schools and child care services in Lucan and Clondalkin.
I want to read into the record an e-mail I got from somebody who is involved in child care. She states:
I am the owner and manager of a pre-school for the past 7 years. I operate 2 sessions per day, Monday to Thursday, for 10 months of the year (43 weeks). While I welcome the new venture by the government to provide free pre-school education, I am appalled by the manner in which the scheme is being railroaded in without prior consultation with pre-school providers and without due consideration to the quality services we have spent years building only to be undermined and dictated to in this manner.
That is an indication of the concern of people already providing the service. The e-mail further states:
The capitation grant, as suggested, will be provided based on a 38 week service. The majority of pre-school services operate from September to the end of June (43 weeks) and incorporate 4 weeks holidays into their fee in order to pay staff wages. The grant is set at €2,450 and pre-school providers are not permitted to redress the shortfall from [people who attend their services].
Obviously that does not allow for any holiday periods. This woman states she estimates her income will be down €11,000 per annum due to providing a five day service as opposed to a four day one and due to the scheme not allowing for a 43 week provision of service.
These are the two specific issues which my constituent has raised. Will the Minister outline what consultation he intends to undertake with the sector? What will he do about the issue of staff holidays and the longer period of service? The scheme also demands that the provider must have eight children to avail of the scheme. What happens if the provider thought she could fill the places but cannot do so and is down one or two places? How many providers will avail of the scheme? How many places are available now and how many does the Minister envisage will be available as the scheme is implemented? Is the Minister willing to review the details of the scheme to address some of the concerns of child care service providers?