Thursday, 27 May 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
12. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the national childcare scheme; the measures he has taken to allay the challenges faced by community early learning and childcare services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28572/21]
The National Childcare scheme launched in November 2019, marking the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for early learning and childcare in Ireland.
To date, over 105,200 applications have been submitted for the NCS relating to over 99,400 children.
There are currently 911 community services contracted to provide the NCS, out of a total of just over 1,200 community services in the country.
I fully understand that change can be challenging and appreciate that some services are experiencing difficulties with the change to the NCS.
For those services experiencing difficulties, my Department oversees a case management process through which local Childcare Committees and Pobal work together to assess and provide support.
The case management process provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance, but financial supports are also available for services presenting with sustainability issues following a financial assessment.
Any service that has concerns about their viability, should contact their local Childcare Committee in the first instance.
I would also note that services have received sustainability and other forms of financial supports from my Department and continue to receive supports through other national measures to help alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses.
Among these supports is the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), which currently covers up to 50% of the operating costs for services.
A review of the NCS has recently commenced, as required under Section 26 of the Childcare Support Act 2018. At my specific request the review will include an assessment of the Scheme’s impact on services operating in disadvantaged communities.
The review will provide a basis for my Department to consider how effectively the NCS is operating and whether it is meeting the objectives which can be measured meaningfully within the first year. It is intended to publish the findings from this Review in the last quarter of this year.
In addition, an Expert Group convened by my Department is examining the current model of funding for early learning and childcare and its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services.
The Group is considering how additional funding can be delivered to achieve these objectives, drawing on international practice in this area. The Group will submit its recommendations later this year. The development of a DEIS type model for early learning and childcare will be among the recommendations.
13. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his plans to increase the level of capital grant assistance available towards the upgrading of existing childcare facilities and the provision of new childcare places; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28570/21]
My Department administers an annual capital funding programme for early learning and childcare services.
The exact objective of the funding is determined on an annual basis, having regard to the needs of children, families and providers and to the Government’s priorities.
In recent years, a key objective of the annual capital programme has been to expand capacity in early learning and childcare services. Over the period 2015-2019, more 27,433 new places were funded under this Programme.
I was pleased to be able to make funding of €10.5m available under the Annual Capital Programme for 2021. Of this funding:
- €5m has been allocated across 643 services to carry out remedial works to ensure these services will be fully compliant with fire safety standards as set out in Tulsa's registration requirements; and
- €5.5million will allocated across all registered early learning and childcare services to enable them to improve outdoor play facilities.
Further details of these outdoor play grants will be announced next week.
On the question of capital grants to increase capacity, the demand for additional places in the sector is currently under review. I am conscious that since the onset of Covid-19, there is evidence of depressed demand for early learning and childcare, largely due to changes in parental work arrangements.
We need to assess carefully the likely demand for places in the years ahead. It is important to plan ahead appropriately, on the basis of the best data and projections of likely demand available.
The Annual Early Years Sector Profile Survey 2021, due to commence this month, will allow updated information on capacity to be gathered. In addition, an Ipsos/MRBI survey of parents is currently underway to assess likely parental demand for early learning and childcare from September 2022.
These data will help inform capital investment plans and the prioritisation of future capital funding, including funding allocated under Project Ireland 2040. I have made a detailed submission in relation to Capital Funding in the Early Years sector to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
14. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if consideration has been given to the extending remit of the Department of Education in relation to the sponsorship of children within the national childcare scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28571/21]
I understand the Deputy has clarified that this extended remit of the Department of Education relates to the educational welfare services in Tusla having a sponsor role under the National Childcare Scheme. The Scheme is under review at present, and this provides us with an opportunity to consider any possible changes to sponsorship arrangements.
The National Childcare Scheme represents the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for early learning and childcare.
It marks a shift away from previous schemes, which were based on medical card and social protection entitlements to offer a progressive system of universal and income-based subsidies.
The scheme is designed so that those on lowest incomes receive the greatest support.
The NCS also includes sponsorship arrangements that allows for additional support for vulnerable families where there is an identified need for early learning and childcare on the grounds of child development or child welfare.
There are currently five sponsorship arrangements in place. This includes the Department of Education who can make NCS referrals for teen parents under the age of 18 so they can remain in education or training.
I am committed to reviewing and extending these arrangement where appropriate.
A formal review of the NCS has commenced, as required under Section 26 of the Childcare Support Act 2018. It is intended that a finalised report of this review will be published in late 2021. At my specific request the review will include an assessment of the Scheme’s impact on services operating in disadvantaged communities.
The review will provide a basis for the DCEDIY to consider how effectively the NCS is operating and whether it is meeting the objectives which are meaningfully measurable within the first year.
Based on this Review, I will consider any necessary changes to enhance the NCS, including arrangements for sponsorship.