Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Childcare Services

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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1157. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the assistance that will be provided to small crèches to assist them in reopening safely at the appropriate time. [6855/20]

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 Return to Work Safely Protocol, expert advice, available evidence and consultation with ELC and SAC stakeholder representatives and providers themselves.

The future phases 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 swift action on closures, it is my ambition that the phased re-opening will allow for sufficient time and planning to make best use of public funding to support the safe and sustainable re-opening of the sector. I would like to reassure providers, practitioners, parents and children that I will be doing my utmost to enable as smooth a transition as possible to the phased and restricted re-opening of ELC and SAC services.

My Department is currently developing and costing proposals for reopening in line with the Roadmap. This is complex work and must balance a number of important issues. 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, and the need for any restrictions to be consistent with young children’s well-being and development needs.

- Providing early learning and childcare for preschool children, meeting parental demand for early learning and childcare as the economy reopens, and meeting the commitment to retain places for families who paid for early learning and childcare 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 early learning and childcare 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 membership from across the sector, specifically the Association of Childhood Professionals, Childminding Ireland, Crann, Early Childhood Ireland, National Childhood Network, PLÉ, Pobal, Seas Seas, SIPTU and Tusla. The first meeting of this Advisory Group took place on 13 May with the second meeting on 15 May.

The proposals for re-opening which are in development will seek to implement the Public Health Framework effectively and safely across the ELC and SAC sector 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 continuation, introduction or cessation 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 existing schemes and so I will be relying on the continued close working relationships with other Ministers 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.

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