Children and Youth Affairs, Dáil Issues, Dáil Work, Oral Questions

Clare asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he has plans to ensure that affordable childcare is available to all families. With the average cost of a childcare place costing €1,000 a month for one child, the lack of State action on this area is putting huge strain on families. Unfortunately, going by his response, Fine Gael and Labour won’t be introducing truly affordable childcare for families any time soon.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will raise the issue of deficiencies in the area of childcare here, as noted in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s review of the report of Ireland, with the appropriate Government Departments; and the steps he will take to ensure that appropriate, affordable childcare is available for every child.

– Clare Daly

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. James Reilly)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL ANSWER on 28/01/2016

REPLY.

I established an Inter-Departmental Group last year to consider options for future investment in early years and after-school childcare. This Group reported to Government in July last, setting out a range of options for future investment to enhance affordability, increase the accessibility and improve the quality of early years and after-school childcare.

In Budget 2016, the Government announced additional annual funding of €85 million for the childcare sector to support the achievement of many of these options. This funding represents an increase of 33% in the annual investment in childcare supports and provides for the significant enhancement of a number of programmes implemented by my Department. This funding is in addition to the €260 million annual funding already committed to the sector.

This €85 million package of additional investment for childcare includes funding for:

An extension to the Early Childhood Care and Education programme from September 2016 so that children can enrol in the programme at age three and continue in the programme until they make the transition to primary school. This will reduce childcare costs by an additional €1,500 per child and will increase the current 38 weeks of free pre-school provision by an average of 23 weeks, and up to 61 weeks depending on the child’s date of birth and the age at which they subsequently start primary school.

A suite of supports to help children with a disability to participate fully in the Early Childhood Care and Education programme. This delivers on my commitment to address these children’s particular needs in mainstream pre-school settings.

8,000 extra places in 2016 under the Community Childcare Subvention programme to help low income and disadvantaged families access quality childcare. These 8,000 places are in addition to 5,000 places previously announced with savings achieved in 2015.

A range of measures to improve the quality of early years and school-aged childcare, including an audit of quality, an extended Learner Fund to support professionalisation of the sector, and an enhanced inspection regime.

The additional funding also provides for a range of measures to improve the provision of after-school childcare, including a once-off minor capital fund to develop after-school services using existing school (and other community) facilities in conjunction with both community/ not-for-profit and private providers.

The Budget 2016 package also funded the establishment of a dedicated Project Team to develop a single Affordable Childcare Programme to provide working families with good quality childcare at a cost they can afford. Work on the Affordable Childcare Programme will begin immediately, so that it can be in place in 2017. I will amalgamate a number of existing schemes and simplify availability. My Department will work closely with other relevant Government Departments in progressing this work.

I am aware that further investment in the sector is needed and I have indicated that the funding provided in Budget 2016 should signal the beginning of a multi-annual programme of investment in the sector.