Initially, it is important to state that stay-at-home parents are not excluded from the national childcare scheme. More than 44,000 children have benefited from that scheme to date and included in that are many children of stay-at-home parents.
The NCS universal subsidy is up to €1,170 per year and is available to all families, including stay-at-home parents. An income-related subsidy is payable to children up to 15 years of age and the subsidy level is determined by the family's income and the child's age. The number of hours subsidised is determined by the parent's employment or education arrangements.
Stay -at-home parents who are not engaged in work for two hours per week or more or not enrolled in a national framework of qualifications, NFQ, level 1 or above course, can avail of 20 subsidised hours of childcare per week if they are not below the current maximum threshold of €60,000 net household income. The 20 hours are available all year round for children who have not started school and in non-term time for children of school age. This latter rule is based on evidence that were a parent is available to care for a child, the child's development needs are generally met through school participation. There are some exceptions to this which I will deal with momentarily. Where parents are working or studying, they can access 45 hours of childcare.
My Department and SOLAS are working to increase awareness of the NCS supports for parents considering further study and to highlight the availability of accessible courses which would grant eligibility for up to 45 hours of childcare. The NCS will advertise shortly through the further education and training course hub, fetchcourses.ie. My Department will also be re-engaging with Intreo offices and the education and training boards, ETBs, to promote awareness of the NCS.
We discussed before that where children and families have extra needs that general NCS subsidies or rules do not meet, special sponsorship arrangements are available. With sponsorship, families can avail of up to 45 hours of free childcare with no work or study rule, and sponsorship referrals can be made by a number of designated bodies. Already, 700 children are being sponsored.