Written answers

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Covid-19 Pandemic

Sorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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727. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of childcare providers in County Longford that have reopened; the number that are accepting the same number of children as before the Covid-19 restrictions; the number that have reopened on reduced numbers; and the number that are no longer taking children under one year old. [18694/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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There are 34 registered early learning care (ELC) and school aged care (SAC) services in Co. Longford. 14 of these services have reopened since June 29, which is 40% of the total number of services.

Usually 60% of services nationally close in the months of July and August. 

My Department does not have data on the number of children who have returned to childcare services to date in Co. Longford, as services are not required to notify my Department of the number of children whose parents pay fees in full.  My Department does not have details of the number of services which do not take children from the age of one only.  This is a commercial matter for service providers.

Sorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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728. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of childcare providers in County Westmeath that have reopened; the number that are accepting the same number of children as before the Covid-19 restrictions; the number that have reopened on reduced numbers; and the number that are no longer taking children under one year old. [18695/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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There are 84 registered early learning care (ELC) and school aged care (SAC) services in Co. Westmeath.  28 of these services have reopened since June 29. 

Usually 60% of services close in the months of July and August.  As of 27 July 2020, nationally 85% of the services which were open in July 2019 have reopened since they were permitted to do so on 29 June.  Westmeath fits the national profile, with 85% of services usually open in the summer months reopen.

My Department does not have data on the number of children who have returned to childcare services to date in Co. Westmeath, as services are not required to notify my Department of the number of children whose parents pay fees in full.  My Department does not have details of the number of services which do not take children from the age of one only.  This is a matter for service providers.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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730. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reduction in the number of crèches providing care for children under one year old compared to the situation before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic by county; the steps he plans to take to support parents who require childcare and who have no crèche available near them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18749/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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My Department does not record data in relation to the number of services providing early years care to children aged under one year.

If parents are experiencing difficulty securing a place for their child, they can contact their local County Childcare Committee (CCC) who can advise them on all childcare options in their locality.  A list of all CCCs can be found on myccc.ie

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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731. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many privately-run childcare facilities are closing permanently as a result of ongoing difficulties arising from the Covid-19 pandemic; if further financial supports will be made available to allow such facilities continue to operate; if it will be ensured that all allocated funding to a particular childcare facility (details supplied) is paid without delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19041/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I recognise the importance of the early learning and childcare sector for children’s positive development and in terms of supporting the economy to return to normal. On 25 July I announced a package of measures to support the Early Learning and Care and School-Age Care Childcare sector as remaining services reopen in late August/early September.

The funding package will enable providers to continue to operate with lower capacity and extra operating costs. The continued financial support will benefit parents as well as providers as providers will not need to pass on increased costs to parents through increased fees.

The details of the package are as follows:

Part 1: DCYA and Revenue Funding Measures

The funding package for the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) sector from 24 August to end 2020 includes:

- Continuation of all DCYA ELC and SAC subsidy schemes (NCS, CCSP, TEC) and resumption of the ECCE Programme at existing capitation and subsidy rates, including ECCE Higher Capitation;

- Access to the Revenue-operated EWSS. This will cover an average of 38% of the costs of individual services.

- A sustainability fund will be accessible to providers (not-for-profit and for-profit) who can demonstrate that the other measures are not sufficient by themselves to enable viable operation of their business.

- The cost of the funding package to 31 December is estimated at €87.4m EWSS and €211m for Department schemes and sustainability. This totals €298.4m.

Part 2: Temporary changes to administrative procedures

- In addition to this funding package, my Department has introduced, on a temporary basis, added flexibility on attendance rules due to the likelihood in greater variability in patterns of usage (see below).  This will assist providers to maximise income and reduce costs.

- That NCS will allow for 2 hours variation in attendance against registration per week without triggering a report. This is not 2 extra hours per week in terms of registrations; it is a fluctuation against normal attendance patterns which is exceptional to the current environment. Providers will revert to actual attendance levels when the emergency levels are no longer deemed to be required.

- For non NCS: A 30 minute variance tolerance per day per child; e.g. if the child is being picked up at 4 hours 45 minutes attendance, this will enable the crèche retain the full-time rate. The purpose of this is to facilitate staggered drop-ins/pick-ups necessary to avoid clustering of parents/children at those times. This is expected to apply to non-ECCE services only.

- Both these measures are exceptional and will last until end 2020. The situation will be reviewed at that time; record keeping, attendance tracking reporting arrangements and compliance facilitation remains in place for the duration.

Part 3: Other Supports Available Across Government

The July Stimulus includes other supports that ELC and SAC services may be eligible for, depending on the specific circumstances and eligibility criteria, including:

- The Credit Guarantee Scheme

- The 6-month waiver of commercial rates

- The Restart Grant for Enterprises

- The early carry-back of trading losses for previously profitable companies

- The new income tax relief for self-employed individuals who were profitable in 2019 but, as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, incur losses in 2020

- Legislation for the previously announced warehousing of tax liabilities

- Liquidity and enterprise investment measures provided via MicroFinance Ireland and LEOs

The above is in addition to the €14.2m Capital Grants and the €18m Reopening Support Grants that have been made available to services and which the deadline of 28 August for application applies.

My Department oversees a Case Management process through which local CCCs and Pobal work together to assess and provide support to early learning and care services. This can include help with completing and interpreting analysis of staff ratios, fee setting and cash flow, as well as more specialised advice and support appropriate to individual circumstances. Pobal co-ordinate the overall case management process with the CCC administering initial, and on-going, case management assistance.

Case Management support is available for all services. Support is available to help services remain open if it is an option they would like to consider. Any service that believes they may require support should contact their local CCC in the first instance. Even in cases where a service decides they cannot remain open, Case Management support can still be provided to aid an orderly wind down and if possible, the transfer of the service to an alternative provider.

In relation to the particular childcare facility raised by the Deputy, I understand that payments to the service have been put on hold due to their current listing on the CRO as not of "Normal" status which is a prerequisite for payment .  

It is normal procedure to put services with this status on hold until they have filed their accounts and thereby return to “Normal” status. Once the service meets the conditions set out to them in relation to regaining their “Normal” CRO status, the Department will release the funding due to the service.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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732. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the guidance available to childcare facilities regarding September 2020 reopening, specifically for drop offs, afterschool programmes and situations in which it is not feasible for pods and classes to avoid mixing; when further guidance will be published on these matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19062/20]

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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733. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the guidance available to childcare facilities for providing breakfast to students in cases in which it will not be feasible to do so on a pod and class basis and in which time prohibits the scheduling of rotation and cleaning between such a rotation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19063/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 732 and 733 together.

Expert guidance on the safe reopening of Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic was published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on 29 May. The guidance recommends use of a “play pod” model, where possible, which restricts interactions between closed groups of children and adults as an alternative to social distancing, on the basis that social distancing is not possible between young children. Generally speaking the objective is to limit contact and sharing of common facilities between people in different play pods rather than to avoid all contact and sharing between play pods, as the latter will not be possible.

My officials have been working with the HPSC to produce a next version of the Guidance which will include advice on the safe interaction between schools and childcare facilities where children attend both. It is envisaged that this guidance will be available soon.

It is important to note that the HPSC Guidance and all of the reopening supports for services available on the First 5 website apply to both Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare.

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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734. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the guidance available to childcare facilities providing after-school services on cleaning rooms between rotations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19064/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Expert guidance on the safe reopening of Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic was published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on Friday, 29 May. The guidance recommends use of a “play pod” model which restricts interactions between closed groups of children and adults as an alternative to social distancing, on the basis that social distancing is not possible between young children.  Generally speaking the objective is to limit contact and sharing of common facilities between people in different play pods rather than to avoid all contact and sharing between play pods, as the latter will not be possible.

On 5 June, my Department launched a range of online resources and guidance to support service providers, practitioners and parents to prepare for the reopening of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare settings, including childminders. The Guidance for Reopening webpage is available on the First 5 website: https://first5.gov.ie/practitioners/reopening.  The resources provided on the site include FAQs for providers in which it is specifically noted that separate sessions may be operated in the same space at different times so long as the space is cleaned between sessions and toys are not shared by different groups / play pods.

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