Thursday, 27 May 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
79. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department will consider commissioning research into capacity and forecasting in the childcare and early years sector to specifically map future population growth and capacity for childcare places (details supplied). [28591/21]
Officials in my Department regularly use new and existing data to forecast the supply of, and demand for ELC and SAC.
For the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, my Department prepares an annual forecast of demand for ECCE places. Estimates are derived using a range of administrative and survey data sources. The total eligible cohort is derived from birth data provided by the Central Statistics Office. Overall uptake is derived through the examination of trends in uptake since the introduction of the programme, data from Growing Up in Ireland, and data from the Pupil Online Database held by the Department of Education. Since the extension of the ECCE Programme in 2016, data on school starting age has also been used. My Department also accesses data on the number of children in the ECCE-eligible cohort at electoral division level, which provides a robust indication of demand for ECCE places at a local level.
While the ECCE Programme has almost universal uptake, there is significantly more variation in the level of demand for other types Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC). The variation in demand is due to a number of reasons including parental preferences for different types of ELC/SAC, changes to the suite of family leave entitlements, whether and the extent to which parents are working or participating in training or study.
The introduction of the National Childcare Scheme, where eligibility for a universal subsidy is determined by the child's age and eligibility for a targeted subsidy determine by family composition and income, greatly simplifies the process of estimating current uptake of services of different types. My Department also participates in the ESRI SWITCH research programme which involves analysis and reporting on a range of relevant issues including parental preferences and labour force participation rates.
In addition to this, Pobal, on behalf of my Department undertakes an annual survey of providers. Among the data gathered through this survey is information on the number of children enrolled and those on waiting lists, as well as information on vacant places in ELC and SAC services
In the context of Covid-19, officials my Department undertook a programme of research in response to the closures and phased reopening of the sector in 2020. Among this research programme was two waves of a household survey. An additional wave of this survey is currently being undertaken to further estimate the Covid-19 impact on demand currently, and into the coming programme year.
First 5: A Whole-of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families seeks to build on existing efforts. Identified among the actions in First 5 is a commitment to strengthen capacity to accurately forecast supply and demand for ELC and SAC by undertaking a regular national needs assessment. In addition, officials in my Department are planning research on the ELC/SAC needs of parents who work atypical hours or live in rural communities.