Wednesday, 6 October 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
84. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his proposals to improve childcare provision under the national childcare scheme for children whose parents are not working or in education or training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48416/21]
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) provides financial support to help parents meet the cost of childcare and to support better outcomes for children. The NCS is designed to be highly inclusive and to meet the needs of families who need it the most. The NCS is based on the principle of progressive universalism and has regard to the best interests of children.
Within this framework, an income-related subsidy is payable for children up to 15 years of age. The subsidy level is determined by the family’s income and the child's age. The number of hours subsidised is determined by the parent's employment or education arrangements.
The definition of work or study is broad, covering all forms of work or study arrangements: full-time, part-time, week-on/week-off and zero hour contracts. Moreover, the minimum hours required to engage in work or study to qualify for up to 45 hours per week is very low – at just two hours per week. In this way, the NCS encourages parents to exit poverty and deliver better outcomes for their children.
The NCS attempts to strike the right balance between enabling access to early learning and childcare services given the benefits this confers to children, and, supporting parents to engage in work or study, given the impact this has on alleviating poverty.
Notwithstanding this, my Department and I are committed to monitoring and reviewing the operation of the NCS. My Department has procured independent researchers to undertake a 12 Month Review of the NCS.
My Department will be considering the findings from the research reports with a view to ensuring the NCS meets its policy objectives, of improved children's outcomes, parental engagement in work or study and reduced child poverty, and support those most in need. The review will consider usage by socio-economically disadvantaged families and providers serving socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The reviewing body will also consider international evidence of the efficacy of the work-study rule.
I will consider any changes as may be required on foot of the evidence derived from this review.
Additionally, I have convened an Expert Group to develop a new funding model for the sector. As part of this, the Expert Group will make recommendations for additional supports for learning and childcare settings that operate in the context of concentrated disadvantage in order to mitigate the impact of disadvantage on children.