Written answers

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Childcare Services

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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254. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if crèches are obliged to refund fees paid by parents for the two weeks during which there was no service since 17 March 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19439/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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My Department has introduced a range of supports for Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) facilities, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These supports have aimed to maintain the sustainability of the sector and to maintain the affordability of services for parents.

Following the closure of ELC and SAC services on 12 March 2020, my Department continued to make ELC and SAC programme payments on an ex-gratia basis. This temporary arrangement was an immediate response to the closures for the purpose of the sustainability of the sector while more appropriate policy responses were being considered. No special conditions were attached to these payments, and arrangements for the payment of parental fees are a matter between parents and providers. There is therefore no obligation for services to refund parental fees for the two weeks following 17 March. However, subsequent schemes to support the ELC and SAC sector during this period did introduce certain fee controls to maintain affordability for parents.

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (TWSCS) was introduced on 6 April. This supplemented the Revenue-operated Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme by providing a top up for staff wages and a contribution to ongoing overhead costs. One of the conditions of payment under the TWSCS is that services would not charge parents fees for the period of the TWSCS. That period was from 6 April to 28 June.

From 29 June, as services began to reopen, my Department provided a major funding package to facilitate the reopening of ELC and SAC services. This funding package provided a Reopening Support Payment (RSP) to allow providers to operate with potentially less parental income and to assist in meeting the possible costs associated with complying with public health requirements. It is a condition of the Reopening Support Payment that participating services must apply the Registered Fees List that was in place on 12 March 2020, without amendments, for the duration of the scheme, until 23 August. Where possible, services are also requested to avoid charging fees, deposits or other measures to hold places.

On 25 July I announced a package of measures to support the ELC and SAC sector as remaining services reopen in late August and early September. This is a substantial investment of just under €300 million in the period from 24 August to the end of the year. It recognises the importance of the sector for children’s positive development and in terms of supporting the economy to return to normal.

This package will help services already open to stay open, and it will help all those other ELC and SAC services that are due to open at the end of August / early September to do so. The €300m package to the end of the year should also prevent parents from having to pay higher fees to cover extra COVID-related costs.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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255. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when the Crowe report will be published and made available; the reason for the delay in publication to date despite the fact that it has been cited as a document that will inform decisions made regarding the childcare sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19443/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Crowe was commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to undertake an independent review on the cost of providing quality childcare in Ireland. Preparation was underway to launch the report in April 2020. However, owing to other pressing demands caused by COVID-19, its launch was postponed and is now planned for September / October.

The brief for the Review included:

- analysing the current costs of providing childcare and the factors that impact on these costs;

- the development and delivery of a model of the unit costs of providing childcare that allows analysis of policy changes and variation in cost-drivers, including the potential impact of professionalisation; and

- providing an objective, high-level market analysis of the childcare sector in Ireland, including analysis of fee levels charged to parents.

An approach and methodology were decided upon in partnership with the DCYA and a number of key activities have been undertaken to date. These include:

- engagement with key stakeholders from the sector, including the Early Years Forum, provider representative organisations, the City and County Childcare Committees, statutory bodies, childcare professional training bodies, and academics;

- the administration of a survey to all centre-based childcare providers nationally, to provide the data on which the modelling tool would be based;

- the development of a cost modelling tool (and guidance document) to present the baseline cost data and enable the testing of the impact of a range of scenarios, namely changes to cost drivers on the unit costs of delivering childcare services; and

- a final report detailing the elements of the review, and the key findings.

The project was intended to provide a robust evidence base for the further development of high quality ELC and SAC in Ireland. The outputs, including the costs calculator developed through this project are also intended to form a key input into the setting of capitation and subvention rates for future funding schemes and will be considered by the Expert Group recently convened to develop a new funding model for ELC and SAC.

The draft final report, cost modelling tool and guidance were subject to peer review. Arising from the external peer review, an additional piece of work was undertaken. Final outputs were received in January 2020 and components have been used to inform the development of various schemes to support the sustainability of the sector since childcare services were closed on March 12.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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256. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if a costings process has been carried out on the provision of State-funded insurance for the childcare sector; if his Department has carried out a risk analysis; if so, the findings of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19444/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Early learning and care and school age childcare services are required to have valid insurance in accordance with the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016.

These services are provided by private operators, and they source insurance from commercial insurers.

My Department has not carried out research into the cost of the provision of State funded insurance for the childcare sector. I should add that the provision of State-funded insurance is a matter for the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

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