Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
National Childcare Scheme
1082. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if services in respect of the national childcare scheme and proposed changes to the funding model (details supplied) will be affected; if so, if interim emergency funding will be provided in order to maintain these vital services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2681/20]
I thank the Deputy for his question. I am aware of potential challenges that some School-Age Childcare (SAC) services may face as legacy childcare schemes are phased out in favour of the National Childcare Scheme. As explained below, the policy intent of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) followed much consideration and aims to better serve children and families in the short, medium and long term. A number of mitigations were however also put in place to help services in this transitional phase to address these challenges.
The Childcare Support Act, from which the NCS stems, includes a number of policy objectives related to combatting poverty and avoiding poverty traps which were inherent in the old schemes. The NCS provides that children will have access to development or education every day for a minimum of three hours, whether it is provided through school or subsidised Early Learning and Care (ELC). This is referred to as ‘Standard Hours’, and children are eligible if at least one parent or guardian is not in work, education or training. Where both of a child’s parents or guardians are in work, education or training, or their single parent in lone parent circumstances, the child may be eligible for up to eight hours of subsidised ELC per day. This level of eligibility is referred to as ‘Enhanced Hours.’ Under Budget 2020, these will increase to four hours per day (20 per week) and nine hours per day (45 per week) respectively in September.
Enhanced Hours includes additional ‘wrap-around’ hours on top of time spent in school or accessing ECCE; time spent in school or an ECCE service is subtracted from the total. Standard Hours do not ‘wrap around’ school hours, however. Children eligible for Standard Hours will not be eligible for subsidised hours of care outside of school during term time, given that a parent/guardian is at home and the child will have already received the development or education NCS is intended to provide to all children while at school.
While there is a potential challenge for some School-Age Childcare services currently reliant on CCSP for their income, services have a number of options to consider. If a high proportion of their client-base will be eligible for Standard Hours only, they may no longer have enough children attending to be viable. Some of the parents may be incentivised to take up a training programme or some part-time work in which instance they will have access to 40/45 hours per week for a younger child or 17/22 hours for a school age child. Some geographical areas have a shortage of school-age childcare places. Services in these areas may be able to offer a service to new children. The School-Age Childcare Action Plan published in 2017 set out a range of actions to develop school-age childcare services. Subsidies available under the National Childcare Scheme are expected to create greater demand for these services and hence may compensate many services for loss of income from legacy schemes.
In addition, under Budget 2020, the existing “saver” arrangement was extended, to ensure that no one loses out in the initial transition to the new Scheme. In this Budget, additional funding was secured to extend the savers beyond August 2020. This means that persons who are registered on the CCS or TEC schemes before they close, and who retain their eligibility, will be able to remain on them indefinitely, for example, until they no longer require early learning and care or school age childcare. Officials in my Department have been made aware of some confusion on this point in the sector, so it bears emphasis that the ‘savers’ arrangement allows children registered for CCSP in November 2019 to continue accessing those subsidies for as long as they are eligible. This means that numbers of children accessing CCSP will gradually taper off rather than ceasing abruptly, giving services time to adapt.
A new funding model for all services, and with a specific focus on catering to disadvantaged children, is also under development as part of First Five. My Department is currently supporting an international Expert Group and will begin a series of consultations with national stakeholders later this month. SAC services that experience challenges arising from the phasing out of CCSP, and which find that the wider benefits of the National Childcare Scheme have not compensated for this, may well be eligible for other funding supports under this new funding model when it is launched.
Any SAC services that currently faces challenges – arising from any cause – are encouraged to access Case Management support. My Department oversees a Case Management process through which local City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) and Pobal work together to assess and provide support to services in difficulty. All services who require support should contact their local CCC in the first instance.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), previously known as the Affordable Childcare Scheme, provides the first statutory entitlement to financial support for childcare, opened to online applications on 20thNovember 2019. A paper based application process will be available very shortly. The Scheme aims to:
- improve outcomes for children,
- reduce poverty,
- facilitate labour activation, and,
- tangibly reduce the cost of childcare for tens of thousands of families.
I am delighted with the very high volume of applications received so far. Over 29,700 applications, relating to over 38,800 children, have already been successfully submitted and over 33,600 awards have been communicated to parents. These cover both universal and income based subsidies. Parents must bring this award to their childcare provider and once their provider has registered the details, payments begin to flow.
The Scheme provides the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for childcare. To date, 3,646 childcare services have contracted to provide the NCS. Over 4,000 providers availed of training in advance of the Scheme’s launch.
"Sponsored" applications are now being processed under the Scheme, with over 100 completed sponsor applications received to date. The Childcare Support Act 2018 makes provision for referrals from sponsor bodies for children in certain disadvantaged or challenging circumstances. Where such a referral is made by a sponsor body, the child will automatically qualify for a subsidy for the number of hours considered appropriate by the sponsor, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week, without their family having to satisfy the scheme’s eligibility, income or enhanced hours requirements.
Arrangements are in place to monitor the success of the National Childcare Scheme in meeting its objectives, and the Scheme has been designed to be flexible and responsive. Section 26 of the Childcare Support Act 2018 provides for a review of the operation of the scheme to commence 12 months after the first payment of subsidies under the scheme. A report of this review will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. The stated policy intention of section 26 of the legislation was to ensure an early review of the Scheme to identify, in a timely way, any key issues or challenges which need to be addressed rapidly. A longer-term review will also be carried out after three years.
The Scheme also has a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework in place to support both ongoing and periodic assessment of the Scheme’s success in meeting its objectives, including its objectives in supporting labour market activation and female labour market activation. It sets out the measures which policy-makers will use to monitor the Scheme on a continual basis, as well as to evaluate the Scheme at regular intervals, through a system of regular reporting by Pobal to the Department.
Information on the scheme for parents and providers is available at ncs.gov.ie