Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Preschool Services

10:30 am

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Assisting families to access high quality and affordable early learning and care, ELC, and school-age childcare, SAC, is a priority for me as Minister. Government investment in childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the past four budgets, with €575 million allocated in 2019. This investment has provided for record numbers of children benefitting from my Department's ELC and SAC programmes in 2018 and 2019. It has also provided for significant increases to the beneficiary payments to childcare providers, including a 7% increase to early childhood care and education, ECCE, providers in 2018, while targeted childcare supports provided under the community childcare subvention scheme and the training and employment childcare scheme were enhanced significantly in September 2017, some by up to 50%.

I want investment in this area to continue to increase significantly over the coming years. I am, therefore, delighted that First 5, the whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families, commits to doubling investment over the next ten years. The national childcare scheme will mark another significant milestone for early learning and care and school-age childcare and create an infrastructure through which the Government can further increase investment in services over this period.

Naíonra Bhaile Chruaich is a small service in a remote and sparsely populated region of Mayo, as ably described by the Senator. I understand that the service has been facing sustainability challenges due to declining registrations and is expecting a further decline in demand in 2019-20. The current programmes do not differentiate between the geographical locations of services to provide ELC and SAC services to as many children and families as possible in a fair and equitable manner. However, the First 5 strategy commits to undertake research on the ELC and SAC needs of parents who work atypical hours or live in rural communities, and develop recommendations for further action in this respect. That will be progressed in 2020.

In the meantime, I fully recognise the challenges that may be faced by community services, including those such as Naíonra Bhaile Chruaich, which are situated in rural or isolated locations. That is why my Department has developed a strong case management system operated by Pobal through which a dedicated team assists services facing challenges. This assistance may include expert guidance, a review of the financial position of the service and an assessment of its operating and business model. I understand that the service in question has sought assistance from Pobal case management. I urge staff to continue engaging with the Pobal case management team, which will be able to provide these supports in partnership with the Mayo county childcare committee.

In addition to the non-financial supports I outlined, my Department has made a number of financial supports available to community services facing specific challenges to their ongoing sustainability, including a once-off financial support for services in rural and isolated areas that suffer from falling or fluctuating demand. These once-off financial supports are intended to assist services in transitioning to a sustainable operating model and may be accessed through Pobal case management following a standardised financial assessment process.


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