Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Child Care Services Provision
I welcome the Minister to the House.
I spoke briefly to him about this privately a number of days ago and gave him notice that I might raise this issue because it has been raised with me. This issue is the serious situation in the Manor Childcare Centre in Waterford city, where 16 staff members were served with redundancy notice by the board. I have met both the board and all members of staff in the last week. Facilitated discussions are ongoing between the board and the staff and I do not want to get into those issues because I wish both parties well in trying to resolve them.
As a former member of a voluntary board of a community development project - those boards have now been dissolved - I have sympathy with the board in the sense that it can only work with the money it has. It can only work with whatever income streams it gets to manage a project, in this case the child care centre. The board is very clear in this instance that the money is not there to meet the demand. In other words, the income is not enough to meet the expenditure. That includes the staffing levels and also running the centre itself. Much of this comes down to how we fund community child care places. This has been a longstanding issue for people who work in this sector and for parents who send their children to these community child care centres. There is a view that the funding is not sustainable and it is very complex and convoluted. There is also a sense that what is happening in this child care centre in Waterford is happening in many child care centres across the State and that there are serious challenges which must be met.
I know from someone who lived in that area for many years that this is a first-class centre, which provides a first-class service. Over 100 children use it. It is in an area which is deemed to be marginalised and disadvantaged. It provides a vital service for people who are getting back into employment, many of them part-time workers, and it is an enormous benefit. The centre itself is in a great building that cost €1.5 million. This centre may close - that is how stark the reality is - and if it does, leaving aside the impact it has on the staff and the children, what are we to do with the centre and the building the State invested so much money in? That is how critical this issue is.
There are three issues. The first is the national funding that is provided to these centres and this centre specifically. The board has been in contact with the Minister's office and with Pobal, seeking extra funding. Will extra funding be made available to keep the centre open? Is there any possibility of that happening? Second, is the Minister aware of how serious the issue is? Is he aware how many children attend the crèche and how many families depend on it? Finally, has he any plans generally to change the funding to community crèches? Is he aware that this is not just an issue in Waterford, but that there are issues in relation to how the crèches are funded generally, on a national scale, and not just in relation to Waterford? The Minister might be kind enough to respond to these questions.
Bhí mé ag caint leis an Seanadóir an tseachtain seo caite mar gheall ar seo. The Manor Childcare Centre is a community-based not-for-profit facility, which has provided child care services for the local community since 2008. Community not-for-profit child care services have an important role to play in the provision of child care services, particularly for disadvantaged families. There are in the region of 900 community services providing a range of child care services to communities throughout the country. Many of these services, including the Manor Childcare Centre, were built with capital funding provided by the State.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs supports a number of targeted child care programmes that assist parents with the cost of child care. This funding is provided directly to child care services, both community and private, that are participating in the programmes and have children enrolled who satisfy the programmes' eligibility criteria. Annual funding allocations under the programmes are based on a year which begins each September and ends in August of the following year.
The Manor Childcare Centre participates in the three major support programmes implemented by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and significant funding has been provided to this service in recent years. In the year September 2013 to August 2014, funding totalling €47,800 was provided to the service for the delivery of the universal free pre-school year under the early childhood care and education programme. The enrolment figures for this academic year, September 2014 to June 2015, indicate that funding in the current year will be in the region of €63,000, which is a considerable increase.
The training and employment child care programme provides funding to support eligible parents returning to the workforce or engaging in training and education courses. For the last year, funding totalling €39,700 was allocated to the Manor Childcare Centre to provide for parents who qualified for support under the programme. To date, the enrolment figures for qualifying parents seeking child care in this facility suggest that the funding generated under the programme may be considerably less than in the last year. However, it is difficult to project with accuracy the final funding figure, as it is dependent on the number of appropriate job and training opportunities that may emerge in the area and the number of parents who qualify for support under the programme.
Funding totalling €72,600 was provided to the service in the 2013-2014 year under the community child care subvention programme, which supports low income and disadvantaged families. The projected overall funding to the service for the 2014-15 year will be determined when the parental return process is completed later this year. The community child care subvention programme provides support to eligible parents to meet the weekly cost of child care, with the maximum weekly support being €95 per week for a full day care place. The parent, or in some cases Tusla, would be expected to provide the balance of the cost of the weekly child care provision.
In addition to the support provided under the programmes implemented by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which I have just outlined, further funding was provided directly to the service by Tusla to help ensure the service was able to address the considerable disadvantage experienced by some parents using the facility. I understand that this strand of funding will be in the order of €5,000 in 2015.
My Department has in place advisory support to providers when issues like this arise from time to time. This advice is provided through the local child care committee structure and nationally by Pobal. I had the pleasure of meeting the new combined Waterford City and County Childcare Committee at its initial meeting. Pobal and Waterford Childcare Committee are both engaging with the Manor Childcare Centre in an effort to find a resolution to the difficulties the service is currently faced with. Both organisations have considerable experience of supporting services to find solutions to sustainability, governance and management issues, and they will make every effort to support the Manor Childcare Centre. My officials are in touch with Pobal regarding the centre and will continue to be informed of progress in finding a solution to the issues involved. This is an important service to the people of Waterford, to the children in particular, and it is one that Senator Maurice Cummins has brought to my attention, as has Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey.
I welcome the fact that Pobal and the Waterford Childcare Committee are working with the board and the staff to try to find a resolution, and that the Minister's staff are also assisting in that. The problem is the income. The board does not have enough income to sustain the service and the staff are being asked to take an 8% pay cut. Most of these staff earn less than €250 a week. Consider that someone who has gone through college, has a degree and is providing a first-class child care service is on less than €250 a week for a full-time job and is being asked to take an 8% pay cut. That is the position the board has been put in. It does not want to impose pay cuts of that nature but has no choice because, notwithstanding the figures given by the Minister, there is not enough money going into the centre to run it. We are now at a crisis point as the staff are adamant that they will not take an 8% pay cut.
One must support their right to say that, particularly in view of the level of their remuneration.
Where does all of this leave us? I do not want to hear that the Minister and his officials are engaged and offering support but rather that they are actively participating in finding a solution. Part of such a solution is discovering whether there is a possibility that additional funding might be made available in order to ensure that the centre can meet its expenditure needs. Every organisation is obliged to cut its cloth to suit its measure but there appears to be a serious deficit between what the centre takes in and how much it costs to provide the service. However, this service is necessary for those 100 children and their parents who avail of it. The Minister referred to €70,000 in State funding being invested but if the centre closes and if people are left without access to child care service, then the cost to the State might be a great deal more.
We have had similar difficulties with other facilities in the past year. Interventions on the part of Pobal and Tusla were of assistance in resolving those difficulties. The problems that arise do not always relate to money and they can sometimes involve governance or management. The Senator referred to staff being asked to accept pay reductions. It must be acknowledged that staff were given an increase this year. In short, this is an important service that we want to be maintained. The agency and Pobal will work with the Manor child care facility to resolve existing issues.