Written answers

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

Early Childhood Care and Education

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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87. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an update on his Department's plans for an agency which will drive forward the development of the childcare sector. [56603/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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On 29th March this year, Government accepted the findings of the independent Review of the Early Learning and Childcare Operating Model that a dedicated State agency is the optimal operating model for the sector for the years ahead. This aligns with the commitment in the Programme for Government to establish an agency to assist in the expansion of high-quality early learning and childcare, spearheading leadership, best practice and innovation, and professional development in community and private settings.

A dedicated State agency will assist in the development of a more streamlined structure to better support the delivery of ELC and SAC, and will facilitate my Department in implementing and progressing the significant reform agenda envisaged under First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families.

Significant progress has been made in advancing this ambitious and transformative reform programme. My Department has commenced a comprehensive phase of analysis, planning, consultation, and engagement with sectoral stakeholders, to determine how the recommendation arising from the Review can best be implemented.

This phase will include a detailed design of a new operating model, an examination of all legal requirements, transition and continuity planning, risk management, and a comprehensive evidence-based cost projection for the establishment and annual running costs of a new State agency. This work will culminate in a full agency design and implementation plan which will be presented to Government for approval.

This work will be carried out under the guidance of a Programme Board comprising inter-departmental representatives and external experts in the fields of early learning and childcare, public sector governance, and major organisational reform projects. I will be announcing details of the membership of the Programme Board shortly.

I look forward to bringing a further report to Government following the completion of this phase of what is a significant and transformative reform programme.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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88. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will report on the progress of improving the pay and conditions of those who work in the childcare sector. [56897/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I firmly believe that the level of pay in the sector should reflect the value of the work that early years educators and school-age childcare practitioners do for children, for families, for society and the economy.

As the State does not employ early years educators or school-age childcare practitioners, I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for staff in the sector.

However, through the Joint Labour Committee for Early Years Services, a formal mechanism has now been established by which employer and employee representatives can negotiate pay rates for this sector. This is an independent process and neither I, nor my Department, are represented on the JLC. It is a matter for the JLC members to negotiate and agree minimum rates of pay and working conditions.

On 15 September this year, as a result of an agreement in the JLC, the first ever Employment Regulation Orders for Early Years Services came into effect, setting new minimum hourly rates of pay. The Employment Regulation Orders include minimum rates for different roles and qualification levels, thus creating a new pay structure within Early Years Services. The new minimum hourly rates of pay range from €13.00 per hour for Early Years Educators and School-Age Childcare practitioners to €17.25 per hour for Graduate Managers.

This historic achievement is supported by the new Core Funding scheme, which will see increases in funding to early learning and care and school-age childcare services to support improvements in staff wages, alongside a commitment to freeze parental fees. Core Funding also commenced on 15 September.

In addition, as announced in Budget 2023, the Core Funding allocation will increase by €28 million in year 2 of this scheme and I have signalled that €4 million of that allocation will support the removal of the "3-year experience" rule for graduate premiums (subject to the amendment of the Employment Regulation Order), with the allocation of the remaining €24 million to be informed by the emerging data from the first year of funding.

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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89. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will provide an update on the ECCE funding model; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56976/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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The ECCE programme is delivered over 3 hours per day, 15 hours per week and 38 weeks of the year. There is no charge to parents for the ECCE programme. ECCE capitation of €69 is paid to providers in respect of each eligible child enrolled. There is no plan to increase the ECCE capitation rate as the introduction of Core Funding offers enhancements to ECCE funding.

In 2010, when the ECCE Programme was first introduced, the standard capitation was €64.50, the higher capitation rate (for services with graduate room leaders) was €75 and the adult child ratio was 1:10.

In 2012, as part of austerity measures, the standard capitation was reduced to €62.50 and the higher capitation rate was reduced to €73. To offset this, the adult child ratio increased from 1:10 to 1:11.

In 2016, ECCE capitation was restored to €64.50 (standard capitation) and €75 (higher capitation) though the increased ratio remained in place.

In 2017, a non-contact time payment – later known as Programme Support Payment (PSP) – was introduced. This provided additional funding to ECCE providers equivalent to 7 additional days at standard capitation rates

In 2018, ECCE capitation was increased by 7% to €69.00 (standard capitation) and €80.25 (higher capitation) and in 2021, the PSP was increased an equivalent of 8 additional days at standard capitation rates

Since September 2022, Core Funding is operating alongside the ECCE programme (at standard capitation rates) and incorporates funding traditionally provided under PSP and higher capitation. Overall, for every 11 children to one adult, this equates to an increase in the maximum income since the introduction of the ECCE programme of 34% (where standard capitation applies) and 24% (where higher capitation traditional applied)

This excludes funding under the Access and Inclusion Model attached to the ECCE programme. Under the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) a fully qualified Inclusion Coordinator (InCo) in an ECCE service, receives an increase in the rate of capitation payable to the service of €2 (pro-rata), per ECCE registered child, per week over 38 weeks.

Additional capitation is also paid to ECCE providers under AIM Level 7 to support inclusion of children by reducing the adult-child ratio within the ECCE room.

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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91. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will consider increasing the current ECCE capitation per child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56918/22]

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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116. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will confirm that consideration will be given to immediately increasing the ECCE capitation paid to service providers from €69 per child to €76 per child to assist in meeting costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56368/22]

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 91 and 116 together.

On 15th September, I launched Together for Better, the new funding model for early learning and childcare. This new funding model supports the delivery of early learning and childcare for the public good, for quality and affordability for children, parents and families as well as stability and sustainability for providers. Together for Betterbrings together three major programmes, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, including the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) and the new Core Funding scheme.

Regarding an increase in the weekly ECCE capitation from €69 to €76 per child, this level of funding is already available. Under Together for Better, ECCE sessional services who operate for 15 hours per week over 38 weeks per year can avail of weekly funding of at least €78.75 per child in ECCE (€69 ECCE capitation plus €9.75 per week in Core Funding base rate). Core Funding is payable whether or not the place is filled. The statutory regulations that apply for ECCE sessional services allow for a ratio of up to 11 children per adult. The ECCE scheme rules allow for up to 22 children (and two adults) in a session.

Under Core Funding, the overwhelming majority of services will see an increase in their funding, most will see very substantial increases, and no services will see a decrease in funding if their circumstances remain the same. ECCE services without a graduate lead educator will see capitation increase by at least 9.5% through Core Funding. ECCE services with a graduate lead educator will almost all see increases in income, although it may be smaller proportionally given the significant level of funding available under the old funding model. Additionally, if a lead educator of an ECCE session is a graduate with a relevant qualification and the necessary experience, an additional amount of €66.60 will be paid to the service per week. If there is a separate manager who is a graduate with a relevant qualification and the necessary experience a further €66.60 if available to the service per week.

A very small number of services, approximately 60 of the over 4,000 signed-up, will see no increase with their income matched to 2021/2022. For this small number of services who do not experience an increase, a Funding Guarantee will apply. This will top-up Core Funding payments to match the difference in ECCE higher capitation and PSP from last year, provided they offer the same amount of graduate led provision as last year. These are larger ECCE-only services – with 20+ children in a session.

The Department is not seeing evidence of a significant lack of sustainability for ECCE-only services or to suggest that services will face closure as a result of Core Funding. For any services that are experiencing difficulty and who would like support can contact their City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) to access case management supports. Services can be assisted on an individual basis through this route and it also allows for trends and themes across the country to be identified that can inform a more systematic response if necessary. My officials are not receiving any indications from CCCs that there have been providers reporting financial difficulties and in need of support. This case management process through the CCCs is the route to access additional sustainability funding if required.

I would also note that I recently announced the appointment of Stranmillis University College, Belfast to undertake an independent review of the ECCE programme. The review will assess whether the ECCE Programme is meeting its core objectives and will identify any changes or improvements that can be made to the Programme, based on international evidence and experience to date. As part of the ECCE Review, there will be a wide stakeholder engagement which will include parents and pre-school providers. The review is due to conclude in Q3 of 2023.

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