Written answers

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Childcare Services

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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252. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if consideration has been given to providing assistance in the form of additional funding for resources and training to childcare providers to encourage them to continue taking on children under 12 months of age (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19394/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Officials in my Department have been monitoring closely developments in relation to early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) sectoral capacity, including the supply of, and demand for, places as COVID-19 restrictions ease. Supporting services as they reopen, and ensuring that capacity is sufficient to meet demand, is a key priority of my Department. The following points are critical:

- The Annual Early Years Sector Profile 2019 demonstrated that, prior to the disruption caused by COVID-19, the sector was running at near capacity, with some capacity issues emerging in certain areas and for certain groups, including children under 3.

- The expert guidance on the safe reopening of ELC and SAC services during the COVID-19 pandemic was published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on 29 May. The Department believes that most services should be able to comply with the public health advice with no or little reduction in capacity.

- Recent IPSOS/MRBI surveys of parents commissioned by my Department indicate a drop in the number of families likely to seek to access ELC and SAC in the initial weeks of reopening.

- Previously, to address emerging capacity issues for younger children, my Department targeted its capital funding towards maintaining and extending the supply of publicly subsidised places. In 2019, for example, 1,321 new places for children under 3 were created at a cost of €4 million.

- Further, in recognition of the higher cost of delivering ELC to young children due to ratio requirements and to remove any disincentives for providers to offer places for babies and toddlers, the National Childcare Scheme provides a progressive system of subsidies starting with the highest subsidy rates for children under 1 with graded rates for those aged from one year and upwards.

- Childminders form a key part of service provision for young children. To support the registration of more childminders with Tusla, so as to allow them access subsidies under the NCS, my Department has recruited a National Childminding Coordinator along with a team of Development Officers around the country.

It is clear, however, that further capacity is required and that is why I am continuing my intensive efforts in this area.

In the context of services reopening and operating in a COVID-19 environment, the funding package I announced on 25 July will enable providers to continue to operate with lower capacity and extra operating costs. This 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 suite of resources provided to support reopening, which includes training supports, is continually updated. Indeed, the HPSC will host a webinar on Infection Control Guidance for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare Settings this coming Friday.

In the more medium term, preparations are underway to develop a strategic capital investment plan to ensure effective allocation of €250 million that has been earmarked for ELC and SAC in Project 2040. My Department is also finalising an Action Plan for Childminding that will set out all the steps we will take to improve access to high quality and subsidised childminding services in the coming years for all children.

I am committed to continuing to advance a range of measures to improve access to childcare places, particularly for younger children.

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