Written Answers. - Nursery Services.

Paul Bradford

Question:

547 Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of visits and inspections carried out by the pre-school inspection teams of each health board during the summer of 1998; if any pre-schools have since been forced to close; if any financial assistance will be made available to help any of the pre-schools to bring facilities up to the required standard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1380/99]

The Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996, which give effect to the provisions of Part VII of the Child Care Act, 1991 provides for the supervision and inspection by health boards of pre-school services.

The regulations apply to pre-schools, playgroups, day nurseries, crèches, child minders looking after more than three children and other similar services which cater for children under six years of age.

The purpose of the regulations is to build on the existing good standards in our pre-school services and gradually improve standards throughout the sector to secure the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children and to promote the development of children attending pre-school services.

Under the regulations, pre-school providers are obliged to notify their local health board that they are carrying on or proposing to carry on a pre-school service. On receipt of notification the health board will provide relevant information to the applicant and arrange for an inspection to be carried out by an authorised person. All pre-school services should be inspected by mid 1999. Inspections will take place annually thereafter.
Statistics on notifications and inspections are compiled on an annual basis. The latest information provided to my Department by the health boards indicates that 2,636 notifications have been received nationally. Over half of these facilities have been inspected.
The Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996 are being introduced in a co-operative manner with pre-school providers. Where deficiencies are identified, providers are given a specific period of time in which to make specific improvements provided that the delay would not adversely affect the welfare of children. Health boards can bring breaches of the regulations to the attention of the District Court under Part VII of the Child Care Act, 1991. To date the Southern Health Board has brought a prosecution against one provider who closed the premises prior to prosecution. A second prosecution is pending in that board's area. The North-Eastern Health Board has reported that they are aware that a number of pre-school service providers have decided to close their service as they are aware that they fall short of the standards required by the regulations. The Midland Health Board reports that one facility closed voluntarily following inspection. Other boards report that pre-school facilities have not been forced to close in their area and they are not aware of pre-school facilities closing because of the requirements of the regulations.
Health boards provide financial support to pre-school services which cater for children who are regarded as being at-risk or disadvantaged. This function is in keeping with the boards' overall responsibilities under the Child Care Act, 1991 in regard to the promotion of the welfare of children.
In his Budget Statement on 2 December 1998, the Minister for Finance announced that capital allowances are being introduced for expenditure incurred on or after 2 December 1998 on the construction, refurbishment and extension of a crèche or nursery. The expenditure can be written off over seven years at 15 per cent per annum for the first six years, and 10 per cent in year seven.
The Deputy will be aware that an expert working group on childcare was established under Partnership 2000. The group under the auspices of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is examining the provision of a co-ordinated national framework for the development of a childcare infrastructure including the financing and resourcing implications of its implementation. The group is due to finalise its report shortly.