Written Answers. - Child Care Services.
Minister for Health and Children
the emergency action he intends to take to deal with the loss of 4,000 child care places; and the resulting crisis since the introduction of the child care regulations.
As I stated in my reply to the Deputy on 20 June 2000, the requirement to reduce places following inspection under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996, made pursuant to Part VII of the Child Care Act, 1991, is based on the need to ensure the health, safety and welfare of children.
The requirement to reduce places is mainly related to the availability of adequate space per child in the premises and/or the requirement to have a sufficient number of competent adults supervising the pre-school children in the service at all times. Where deficiencies in services are identified during inspection, the health board and the providers work in a co-operative manner to make specific improvements in a planned way provided that any delay would not adversely affect the welfare of children. The plan may include a reduction in numbers achieved through natural reduction, that is, not replacing children who leave during the year, reducing numbers on a phased basis, reducing numbers at the beginning of the next school year or the provider moving to a larger premises. The time scale for mak ing improvements varies from a requirement for immediate action to a phased implementation which may extend to six months – exceptionally, a longer period may be allowed. The Deputy will appreciate that, having regard to my responsibilities, the health, safety and welfare of children must be my primary consideration.
The reduction of approximately 4,000 places which includes approximately 3,000 reduced and 1,000 reducing must also be seen in the context of approximately 47,400 places for the 0-6 age group which have been notified to the health boards under the regulations.
The measures announced by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will have a significant impact on the supply of child care facilities and places and on improving the quality of child care services available. The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible for co-ordinating child care service delivery over the course of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and has been allocated £250 million for its equal opportunities child care programme to invest in the development of child care service provision. The objectives of the programme are to maintain and increase the number of child care facilities, increase the number of child care places and improve the quality of services available. Funding will be provided for the following initiatives: capital grants to establish, maintain, renovate, and /or upgrade and staff community based and not-for-profit child care facilities; capital grants for self-employed private child care providers to build, renovate or upgrade facilities catering for not more than 20 children at any one time; grants towards the development of local child care networks; grants to enhance the services of the national voluntary child care organisations; grants to encourage and promote local child care training models that assist in the enhancement of quality child care provision; and innovative projects identified over the course of the national development plan.
Applications have been invited by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the capital and staffing grant schemes.
In addition, it was announced in budget 2000 that accelerated capital allowances, at the rate of 100% in the first year, will apply in relation to expenditure incurred on and from 1 December 1999 on child care facilities which meet the required standards as provided under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996- the allowances are subject to clearance by the European Commission.
An additional £1.4 million has been made available to my Department this year to strengthen both the pre-school advisory and the inspection role of the health boards. This will facilitate health boards in responding to the anticipated increase in the number of child care places.