Thursday, 3 October 2019
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
331. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to reduce the costs on parents that send their children to childminders that are not registered with Tulsa; and when this issue will be advanced. [40345/19]
The National Childcare Scheme, which will open for applications shortly, will be open to all Tusla-registered childminders. Currently only childminders who care for 7 or more children, or 4 or more preschool children, are able to register with Tusla. To address this limitation while protecting children and providing assurance of the quality of childminding provision, First 5 - the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2018-2028- committed to extend regulation to all other paid, non-relative childminders on a phased basis over the lifetime of First 5.
As a first step, in August of this year I launched a Draft Childminding Action Plan, for the purposes of public consultation. The overall objective of the Draft Action Plan is to improve access to high quality and affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare through childminding. To do this, the Draft Action Plan sets out an incremental and supportive pathway to regulatory reforms.
The Draft Action Plan proposes that the Child Care Act 1991 would be amended to enable registration with Tusla - and participation in the National Childcare Scheme - by a wider cohort of childminders in Phase 2 of the Action Plan. While I am keen for this step to be taken at the earliest possible opportunity, it will be important that this step is only taken when preparations are complete, including: when new Regulations are in place that are proportionate and appropriate to the home setting in which childminders work; when the Tusla Inspectorate is ready to register and inspect all non-relative childminders; and when more detailed costings have been completed on the budgetary implications for the National Childcare Scheme.
The public consultation process on the Draft Action Plan is currently underway and includes a call for submissions, an online survey, an open policy debate and focus groups of childminders. The findings from the consultations will be carefully considered during the revision of the Draft Action Plan.
332. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to address childcare costs; the rank of Ireland in the EU in terms of childcare costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40480/19]
Over the past four budgets, State investment in early learning and care and school age childcare has increased by some 117% - rising from €260m in 2015 to €574m in 2019. This investment has been targeted at improving access to high-quality, affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare. All three objectives - access, affordability and quality - are critical to parents and children and one impacts on the other, hence a comprehensive response is required.
In terms of affordability, the numbers of children benefitting from State supported early learning and care and school age childcare in Ireland has doubled since 2015. Free preschool provided under the ECCE Programme has increased from one year to two, saving working parents €5,000 over the two years. This Programme benefits over 100,000 children annually. There have been significant increases in subsidies for families on lower incomes, rising from €95 per child per week in 2016 to as much as €145 per child per week from 2017. A new universal subsidy for under threes was also introduced in 2017 totalling €1040 per annum. The latter two measures benefitted approximately 80,000 children last year.
Affordability does remain an issue. Indeed, new data from Pobal’s Annual Sector Profile 2018/2019 shows the average fee for full-time provision now stands at €184 per week - an increase of 3.6% since last year. The lowest full-time fees were recorded in Co. Leitrim at €148 per week, with the highest full-time fees recorded in Dublin (Dun Laoghaire Rathdown), at €246 per week for children
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), when introduced shortly, will see further progress on this. On its introduction, the NCS will ensure that families on NET household incomes of less than €60,000 will receive some type of subsidy, with those on less than €26,000 (NET) receiving the maximum subsidy which is as much as €200 per child per week.
The OECD has compared the supports for early learning and care and school-age childcare previously available in Ireland with the expected impact of the NCS. For a lone parent working, net costs in Ireland in 2015 were the highest among all OECD countries ( and second highest for couples). The OECD estimated that NCS will bring net costs down to make Ireland only the 11th highest in the OECD for lone parents, or closer to the OECD average.