Written answers

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

Childcare Services

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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96. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of childcare facilities registered with his Department that have ceased business in each of the years 2020 and 2021 and to date in 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46123/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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As the subject matter of the Deputy's question relates to an operational matter for Tusla, I have referred the matter to them for a direct reply.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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97. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will take fresh initiatives to support the opening of new services in areas where there is a proven lack of adequate supply, confirmed by the local childcare committee. [46133/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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The availability of high-quality early learning and childcare is a key Government priority.

Since 2015, significant increases in State investment in early learning and childcare has given rise to a substantial growth in the numbers of children participating in these services. Every year, more than 100,000 children participate on the universal pre-school programme (ECCE) and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) subsidises up to 80,000 children.

Before the onset of Covid-19, national data indicated that, on the whole, supply of early learning and childcare places was meeting demand, with evidence of undersupply for certain age groups including children under 3, and in certain areas.

Data gathered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic revealed lower demand for early learning and childcare, and reduced occupancy among early learning and childcare services.

My Department has continued to monitor early learning and childcare capacity, with a particular focus on monitoring Covid-19 impacts as public health restrictions have been lifted and on responding to the unmet early learning and childcare needs of families. Data captured earlier this year parallels the pre-Covid-19 context, whereby the supply of early learning and childcare places is meeting demand though there is evidence of undersupply for certain age groups including children under 3, and in certain areas.

The network of 30 CCC across the country are in a position to match children and families to services operating with vacant places. In addition, CCC have been mobilised to engage proactively with services to identify vacant places and to explore possibilities for expansion among services, particularly where there is unmet need.

In addition to this, a range of steps are being taken to address issues of under supply.

Some €70m has been allocated to my Department through the revised National Development Plan (NDP) – with the majority of this funding earmarked for new places.

Under the National Action Plan for Childminding, I have committed to opening up access to the NCS to parents who use childminders following the extension of regulation to childminders, which is expected to happen within the first 2-3 years of the Plan.

My Department, in partnership with the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, is in the process of updating the 2001 Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities on Early Learning and Childcare Settings.

Finally, the new Core Funding Scheme, introduced in September, provides funding for services aligned to costs of delivery. This means higher levels of funding is available to services that cater for younger children where costs of delivery are higher. There is already emerging evidence of improved capacity in the sector in response to Core Funding, as demonstrated by a 31% and 261% increase in ‘change in circumstances’ applications to Tusla from early learning and care and school-age childcare services respectively who are seeking to expand the scale and scope of their provision.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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98. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will consider steps to simplify the registration of childminders delivering service from a home; and if he will consider ways of supporting such provision where there is a shortage of registered childcare services delivering under the various national childcare supports. [46134/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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The National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028 sets out a plan for extending State support and regulation to childminding on a phased basis over the coming years, with accelerated access to subsidies for childminders through the National Childcare Scheme. The overall objective of the National Action Plan for Childminding is to improve access to high quality and affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare through childminding.

To do this, the Action Plan sets out an incremental and supportive pathway to regulation. This will enable more childminders to access Government subsidies, making their services more affordable to parents. It will also enable them to access a variety of supports to assist them in meeting regulatory and quality requirements. In achieving this overall objective, the Action Plan will contribute to the aims of supporting parental choice, and increasing access to affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare places. It will help support labour market participation for parents, and offer more flexibility for parents who work irregular hours. It will help improve the quality of provision, supporting child outcomes, and provide greater recognition and support for childminders.

The Action Plan has a number of specific objectives including:

- Enable a far greater number of parents who use childminders to benefit from subsidies under the National Childcare Scheme.

- Support quality assurance of childminders and safeguarding of children through extending the scope of regulation and inspection to all paid, non-relative childminders.

- Provide greater recognition of childminders and develop appropriate childminder regulations and inspection processes to reflect the home environment in which childminders work.

- Provide a supportive, phased transition process, to facilitate the largest possible number of childminders to enter the regulated sector, the sphere of quality assurance, and access to Government subsidies, while recognising the time and supports required for this reform.

- Support retention and recruitment of childminders.

A programme of actions is already under way during Phase 1 of the National Action Plan for Childminding to support childminders to come into the scope of regulation and supports. Actions under way include the development of new, childminder-specific regulations that are proportionate and appropriate to the home environment in which childminders work, as well as the development of new, bespoke training for childminders.

The National Action Plan for Childminding commits to opening the National Childcare Scheme to childminders at the earliest possible opportunity, though it will be necessary first to develop and introduce childminder-specific regulations, and to give childminders adequate time and support to meet regulatory requirements.

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