Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Early Child Care Education
23. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if progress has been made on introducing a second year of the early childhood care and education programme; if there is an indicative timeframe for its introduction in view of the success, as verified by research, of the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43964/14]
The Early Childhood Care and Education programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children before commencing primary school.
Despite the challenging budgetary situation, the pre-school year has been maintained as a universal and free programme, ensuring that a significant number of children can avail of quality pre-school services who would not otherwise be in a position to do so.
There is an increasing body of Irish and International evidence quantifying the benefits of early years interventions in terms of improving outcomes for children and in delivering significant economic and societal return to the State. In this context I believe the introduction of a second year would benefit children’s educational and developmental outcomes.
The introduction of a second pre-school year would require considerable additional funding, broadly in line with the cost of the current one-year provision, which is €175 million per annum. This additional funding is not currently available due to the financial constraints under which the Government is operating. In addition, all of the available evidence indicates that the quality of the pre-school provision is key to good outcomes for children. The implementation of the actions contained in the Early Years Quality Agenda, which involves a range of actions in key areas aimed at improving quality within early years services and enhancing the regulatory regime, is a key building block for any further extension of universal childcare provision.
Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures,the national policy framework for children and young people 2014-2020, recognises the value of early childhood care and education in supporting children's early cognitive, social and emotional development, and the Government is committed to the introduction of a second free pre-school year within the lifetime of the framework once the required quality standards are achieved and subject to the availability of resources. My Department and I will be keeping this commitment under review in the context of the progress of the Early Years Quality Agenda.