Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Childcare Services

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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1123. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if pharmacists will be included in the proposed childcare scheme for front-line essential healthcare workers in view of the fact the HSE and the Department of Health have accepted and confirmed that pharmacists are essential front-line healthcare staff. [6006/20]

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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The Deputy will be aware that the Temporary Childcare Scheme for Essential Health Workers was cancelled on the 13th May.

My primary focus now, and that of my Department, is to work towards the significant challenges of a phased reopening of early learning and childcare facilities for 29th June, in line with the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.

I have established an advisory group to support this process and I have chaired two meetings of this group.

My Department will be communicating with the wider childcare sector in the coming weeks as plans advance 

Identifying essential workers, as referred to by the Deputy, is part of the wider Government effort to ensure that society and businesses are re-opened in a carefully managed and safe manner.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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1124. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if childcare centres will be provided with a list of essential workers in order that they can determine which children will be able to attend crèche from 29 June 2020; and if so, when this list will be published in order that parents can be informed accordingly. [6028/20]

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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On Friday 1 May, the Government released its Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which sets out Ireland's plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions through five phases. The re-opening of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare (ELC and SAC) services will be guided by this framework and will be underpinned by the Government's Return to Work Safely Protocol, expert advice, available evidence and consultation with ELC and SAC stakeholder representatives and providers themselves.

The future stages of the Roadmap's re-opening of ELC/SAC services are stated as follows:

Phase 3 (29 June), opening of crèches, childminders and preschools for children of essential workers in a phased manner with social distancing and other requirements applying.

Phase 4 (20 July), opening of crèches, childminders and preschools for children of all other workers on a gradually increasing phased basis and slowly increasing thereafter.

The sector has many questions regarding how the Roadmap will be implemented to enable services to re-open. While the COVID-19 emergency called for overnight action on closures, it is my ambition that the phased re-opening will enable sufficient time and planning to re-open in  an orderly, safe and sustainable manner. I would like to reassure providers, practitioners, parents and children that I will be doing my utmost to support the sector in offering as smooth a transition as possible to the phased and restricted re-opening of ELC and SAC services.

My Department is currently working with the sector to answer the many questions that exist. This is complex work and must balance a number of important issues, including those mentioned by the Deputy around capacity. Informed by NPHET and public health guidance, consideration is being given to a range of these issues, including:

- Minimising  the public health risk, especially given the difficulty of maintaining social distancing among young children and those caring for them,

- Ensuring the need for any restrictions to be consistent with young children’s well-being and      development needs and for ELC and SAC provision at each phase to be child-centred

- Providing ELC for preschool children, meeting parental demand for ELC and SAC as      the economy reopens, and meeting the commitment to retain places for families who paid for ELC and SAC before COVID-19, all while restricting capacity and thereby reducing adult-child      ratios. 

- Ensuring financial sustainability of the sector when capacity restrictions limit income and parents cannot afford to cover any higher costs with higher fees.

- Ensuring  a sufficient number of qualified ELC and SAC practitioners, given likelihood of reduced adult-child ratios and existing challenges with recruitment and retention.

I am actively engaging with key stakeholders in the sector to make sure that the work on re-opening services is informed by the practical reality across the country. I have established and Chair an Advisory Group that includes representatives chosen by the sector, specifically the Association of Childhood Professionals, Community Forum, Early Childhood Ireland, National Childhood Network, PLÉ and Seas Suas. The group also includes Tusla, Pobal, SIPTU and Childminding Ireland. The first meeting of this Advisory Group took place on 13 May and I held follow up meetings on 15 and 19 May. A schedule of weekly meetings has also been agreed.

The proposals for re-opening which are in development will have due regard to Public Health guidance  over the phases of easing of restrictions.  I am conscious that the proposed timelines are subject to further NPHET advice, and decisions from Government.

There are a number of key decisions to be made across Government that will impact significantly on the ELC and SAC sector, including the future of emergency measures such as the Revenue operated Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection operated Pandemic Unemployment Payment, and other business supports. The proposals for re-opening ELC and SAC services necessarily interact with these schemes and so I will be relying on whole of Government plans, which impact the ELC and SAC sector.

Identifying essential workers, as referred to by the Deputy, is part of the wider Government effort to ensure that society and businesses are re-opened in a carefully managed and safe manner. I will continue to engage and communicate with the ELC and SAC sector on the details of the planned phased re-opening and I will ensure that they have absolute clarity on which families they can serve on June 29th and thereafter.

It is my fervent hope that every ELC and SAC service  around the country is currently considering how it can be part of helping Ireland get back to work, and how it can support children from June 29th in the very difficult circumstances they have experienced in recent months.

I will undertake to update the Deputy as soon as the work on re-opening services is at a more advanced stage.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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1125. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if childcare providers will be provided with guidelines prior to the re-opening of services; and when these guidelines will be published. [6029/20]

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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1129. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if appropriate health and safety signage will be provided to childcare facilities for display prior to recommencing operation on 29 July 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6035/20]

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1125 and 1129 together.

On Friday 1 May, the Government released its Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which sets out Ireland's plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions through five phases. The re-opening of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare (ELC and SAC) services will be guided by this framework and will be underpinned by the Government's Return to Work Safely Protocol, expert advice, available evidence and consultation with ELC and SAC stakeholder representatives and providers themselves.

The future stages of the Roadmap's re-opening of ELC/SAC services are stated as follows:

Phase 3 (29 June), opening of crèches, childminders and preschools for children of essential workers in a phased manner with social distancing and other requirements applying.

Phase 4 (20 July), opening of crèches, childminders and preschools for children of all other workers on a gradually increasing phased basis and slowly increasing thereafter.

The sector has many questions regarding how the Roadmap will be implemented to enable services to re-open. While the COVID-19 emergency called for overnight action on closures, it is my ambition that the phased re-opening will enable sufficient time and planning to re-open in  an orderly, safe and sustainable manner. I would like to reassure providers, practitioners, parents and children that I will be doing my utmost to support the sector in offering as smooth a transition as possible to the phased and restricted re-opening of ELC and SAC services.

My Department is currently working with the sector to answer the many questions that exist. This is complex work and must balance a number of important issues, including those mentioned by the Deputy around capacity. Guidelines, signage and other materials will be considered as part of the proposals. My Department will be seeking public health advice in relation to the plans being put forward. Informed by this advice, consideration is being given to a range of these issues, including:

- Minimising  the public health risk, especially given the difficulty of maintaining  social distancing among young children and those caring for them,

- Ensuring  the need for any restrictions to be consistent with young children’s  well-being and      development needs and for ELC and  SAC provision at each phase to be child-centred

- Providing  ELC for preschool children, meeting parental demand for ELC and SAC as      the economy reopens, and meeting the commitment to retain places for families who paid for ELC and SAC before COVID-19, all while restricting capacity and thereby reducing adult-child ratios. 

- Ensuring financial sustainability of the sector when capacity restrictions limit income and parents cannot afford to cover any higher costs with higher fees.

- Ensuring a sufficient number of qualified ELC and SAC practitioners, given likelihood of reduced adult-child ratios and existing challenges with recruitment and retention.

I am actively engaging with key stakeholders in the sector to make sure that the work on re-opening services is informed by the practical reality across the country. I have established and Chair an Advisory Group that includes representatives chosen by the sector, specifically the Association of Childhood Professionals, Community Forum, Early Childhood Ireland, National Childhood Network, PLÉ and Seas Suas. The group also includes Tusla, Pobal, SIPTU and Childminding Ireland. The first meeting of this Advisory Group took place on 13 May and I held follow up meetings on 15 and 19 May. A schedule of weekly meetings has also been agreed.

The proposals for re-opening which are in development will have due regard to Public Health guidance  over the phases of easing of restrictions.  I am conscious that the proposed timelines are subject to further NPHET advice, and decisions from Government.

There are a number of key decisions to be made across Government that will impact significantly on the ELC and SAC sector, including the future of emergency measures such as the Revenue operated Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection operated Pandemic Unemployment Payment, and other business supports. The proposals for re-opening ELC and SAC services necessarily interact with these schemes and so I will be relying on whole of Government plans, which impact the ELC and SAC sector.

It is my fervent hope that every ELC and SAC service  around the country is currently considering how it can be part of helping Ireland get back to work, and how it can support children from June 29th in the very difficult circumstances they have experienced in recent months.  

I will undertake to update the Deputy as soon as the work on re-opening services is at a more advanced stage. I am committed to sharing guidelines as soon as possible after they have been finalised with the assistance of the Advisory Group.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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1126. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the days childcare services will be open for all children from 20 July 2020 in view of the fact that the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business implies that it will only be one or two days per week initially; if she will liaise with childcare providers in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6030/20]

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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On Friday 1 May, the Government released its Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which sets out Ireland's plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions through five phases. The re-opening of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare (ELC and SAC) services will be guided by this framework and will be underpinned by the Government's Return to Work Safely Protocol, expert advice, available evidence and consultation with ELC and SAC stakeholder representatives and providers themselves.

The Roadmap proposes the gradual re-opening of ELC/SAC services across all Phases, in particular Phases 1, 3 and 4. The Roadmap references a number of possible scenarios therein, including those referenced by the Deputy of some services re-opening for one or two days per week, for example. I would note however that the Roadmap provides a pathway towards re-opening rather than the detailed policies for re-opening.

The sector has many questions regarding how the Roadmap will be implemented to enable services to re-open. While the COVID-19 emergency called for overnight action on closures, it is my ambition that the phased re-opening will enable sufficient time and planning to re-open in an orderly, safe and sustainable manner. I would like to reassure providers, practitioners, parents and children that I will be doing my utmost to support the sector in offering as smooth a transition as possible to the phased and restricted re-opening of ELC and SAC services.

My Department is currently working with the sector to answer the many questions that exist. This is complex work and must balance a number of important issues, including those mentioned by the Deputy around capacity. Informed by NPHET and public health guidance, consideration is being given to a range of these issues, including:

- Minimising the public health risk, especially given the difficulty of maintaining social distancing among young children and those caring for them,

- Ensuring the need for any restrictions to be consistent with young children’s well-being and development needs and for ELC and SAC provision at each phase to be child-centred

- Providing ELC for preschool children, meeting parental demand for ELC and SAC as the economy reopens, and meeting the commitment to retain places for families who paid for ELC and SAC before COVID-19, all while restricting capacity and thereby reducing adult-child ratios.

-Ensuring financial sustainability of the sector when capacity restrictions limit income and parents cannot afford to cover any higher costs with higher fees.

- Ensuring a sufficient number of qualified ELC and SAC practitioners, given likelihood of reduced adult-child ratios and existing challenges with recruitment and retention.

I am actively engaging with key stakeholders in the sector to make sure that the work on re-opening services is informed by the practical reality across the country. I have established and Chair an Advisory Group that includes representatives chosen by the sector, specifically the Association of Childhood Professionals, Community Forum, Early Childhood Ireland, National Childhood Network, PLÉ and Seas Suas. The group also includes Tusla, Pobal, SIPTU and Childminding Ireland. The first meeting of this Advisory Group took place on 13 May and I held follow up meetings on 15 and 19 May. A schedule of weekly meetings has also been agreed.

The proposals for re-opening which are in development will have due regard to Public Health guidance over the phases of easing of restrictions. I am conscious that the proposed timelines are subject to further NPHET advice, and decisions from Government.

There are a number of key decisions to be made across Government that will impact significantly on the ELC and SAC sector, including the future of emergency measures such as the Revenue operated Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection operated Pandemic Unemployment Payment, and other business supports. The proposals for re-opening ELC and SAC services necessarily interact with these schemes and so I will be relying on whole of Government plans, which impact the ELC and SAC sector.

It is my fervent hope that every ELC and SAC service around the country is currently considering how it can be part of helping Ireland get back to work, and how it can support children from June 29th in the very difficult circumstances they have experienced in recent months.

I hope the Deputy can appreciate that the issues raised are under consideration but that I cannot provide more detail at this time while proposals are in development. I am committed to sharing detailed information as soon as it is finalised with the assistance of the Advisory Group. I will undertake to update the Deputy as soon as possible.

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