Affordable High-Quality Child Care: Discussion (Resumed)

I remind members to make sure their mobile phones are switched off. This is important as they cause serious problems for the broadcasting, editorial and sound recording staff. Today, the Joint Committee on Health and Children is holding its third hearing on affordable and quality child care. The child care sector faces a range of challenges, including the significant cost of child care faced by families, conditions, training for child care workers, increased regulation, the lack of regulation of childminders and funding issues for the sector.

I welcome our witnesses: Ms Rose Bradley, social worker, Central Remedial Clinic, Waterford; Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe, clinical nurse manager, Sacred Heart Centre, Lady Lane, Waterford; Ms Denise McCormilla, chief executive officer, CEO, and Ms Michelle Hart, development officer, National Childhood Network; and Ms Marian Quinn, chairperson, Association of Childhood Professionals.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I ask each contributor to limit her time to five minutes. I will then call members and take the questions in groups of three.

Ms Rose Bradley

I have worked as a senior social worker with the Central Remedial Clinic, CRC, in Waterford for over 12 years. The CRC provides a range of services to children and young people with a range of disabilities from birth to 18 years. The CRC is the primary service provider for children from the Waterford community care area who have a primary physical disability.

Working as a social worker I am aware of the emotional impact on families when a child has significant disability and of the adjustments and adaptations that families have to make. One of the recurring issues I have to advocate for on behalf of families who attend CRC services is the lack of adequate supports within the mainstream preschool environment for children with disabilities and my focus here today is on this lack.

The early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, commonly known as the free preschool year was introduced five years ago and gives all children an entitlement to a free preschool year. In my experience children who need physical assistance are sometimes unable to avail of their entitlement in its entirety due to lack of supports and are effectively discriminated against.

Supports are needed for children with disabilities to avail of the ECCE scheme. These supports can include access to the appropriate equipment, technology, skilled staff, environment and transport. I believe all children need equal access to the ECCE scheme. I have known parents who they have had to pay privately for a support worker so that their child can access the free ECCE entitlement. There is no system in place nationally which caters for the special needs assistant, SNA, support needs of children with disabilities in preschool. The current system is inequitable for those children who are most vulnerable.

Every child is an individual and support needs vary from one child and family to the next. For some children, placement in a special preschool is the right option due to the particular needs and services required. Where special needs preschools coexist with special schools this has ensured that those children have access to equipment and to the teaching staff supported by the multidisciplinary services. The CRC service in Dublin has two preschool services integrated into the two special schools of CRC Clontarf special school and Scoil Mochua, Clondalkin. For other children, however, this is not always the most appropriate placement. Children for whom the plan is mainstream primary school require a supported mainstream preschool placement beforehand. Many children can benefit from one to two years in a special needs preschool and can then be successfully moved to a local mainstream school. Some of the children documented in the appendix of my written submissions have had such an experience.

The preschool experience is vital in helping all children to be school ready and also to have the opportunity to move on with their peers. For the child with special needs, this experience requires adequate support, most especially that of a well-trained SNA. Provision of a supported and supervised SNA is critical to supporting children in the mainstream preschool environment. This service could be supported and-or provided by agencies, such as the CRC to ensure staff are adequately trained and supervised.

I have a few recommendations, including that the Department of Education and Skills extend the SNA support structure to children with disabilities in the preschool sector in the same way that it is offered to this group in primary and secondary schools currently; the ECCE year be extended to two full years for all children which would benefit all children; that consideration be given to increasing the numbers of community preschools as this would go some way to addressing the issue of distance to services and providing more choice to families; and that innovative ways are considered for the provision, support, training and supervision of SNAs. In conclusion, a range of options needs to be provided from accessible mainstream preschools to special needs preschools, which may be attached to specialist services or special schools.

Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe

The purpose of my being here today is to highlight the importance of children with disabilities being specifically included in future child care policy development in relation to the development of quality and affordable child care, and I am speaking from my own personal perspective. While we at the Sacred Heart Centre are mostly considered a centre of excellence, we need to be continually mindful of our limitations and be ever cognisant of the child. A child is first and foremost a child, not a disability and for this reason I prefer to use the phrase "child with additional needs". With continued advances in research, training and education and policy development it is widely accepted that the child with additional needs is best facilitated in an inclusive setting. Segregation or isolation of children with additional needs is restrictive, discriminatory and is a barrier to social inclusion. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly assigns responsibility to Government for "render appropriate assistance to parents" and ensuring that "children of working parents have the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities".

While the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was the first international human rights treaty to clearly include disability, the 2006 UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities has given us a new understanding of disability and what is needed to ensure the rights of the child with a disability are being realised in progressive ways. We can deduce from this that a child with additional needs has the same right as all children to be included in the same early childhood education setting and should not be deprived of this opportunity.

However, this is not the reality of the situation or my experience to date. The permanent exclusion of children from their local mainstream early childhood setting is extremely difficult and heart breaking for families. It should not be happening in 2015. Quality childhood care and education provides a vital opportunity for children with additional needs to be integrated into their local communities with their peer groups and avoids alienation of the child and family. On reviewing past referrals to our service, particularly toddler-playgroup services, we frequently see that children with additional needs cannot be catered for in a mainstream setting for several reasons. These include resource challenges, non-engagement of parents, the need for further training engagement between the Health Service Executive and service providers, challenging and disruptive behaviours, continence issues, health and safety concerns, reputation, fear, and tolerance.

When it comes to future planning for the individual child, we have had to be creative to ensure the child is afforded the opportunity of inclusion. While individual child care providers have excelled at inclusion, the whole system needs to be standardised nationally.

From a local perspective, I want to acknowledge the investment by the speech and language therapy department in Waterford in providing continuous training to child care providers to assist with the inclusion process and to the various early intervention teams for other initiatives. However, there is a long way to go and it is difficult when there are so many stakeholders involved, all with a different focus. It is vital we retain a child-centred approach and that all changes that challenge us will be in the best interest of the child. The lack of a co-ordinated structure that plans, funds and provides regulated child care and education makes full inclusion difficult and even sometimes impossible. Going forward, it is vital that early childhood educators are trained in a framework that assumes that children with additional needs will be in their early years services and will not need to be isolated from their peers in formative years.

I thank Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe for her opening statement. I invite Ms Denise McCormilla of the National Childhood Network to make her opening statement.

Ms Denise McCormilla

I thank the committee for the invitation to address it on the child care issue. The National Childhood Network is conscious that many organisations interested in early childhood education and care have already presented on the issues in the sector and the need for investment in it. We have submitted six proposals that we believe would make a significant difference in this area for the committee to consider.

Working in an area close to Northern Ireland, we have observed developments there and in the Republic and learned from them. One particular project stands out as being a model that could be replicated successfully throughout Ireland. This project in the southern Border counties and Northern Ireland was funded by the International Fund for Ireland and worked in delivering high-quality services. It is from that project that we are taking many of our recommendations.

Our first recommendation is on improving the ECCE, early childhood care and education, free preschool scheme. It has been a wonderful scheme with many benefits gained from it. It has been revolutionary but there are many issues in it that need to be addressed. The committee will be familiar with other schemes such as the childcare education and training support, CETS, programme, and the subvention schemes. Our proposal is that all current funding for schemes would actually be deactivated by September 2016. They are cumbersome and take up much administration, not just on behalf of providers but also for Pobal, the Department and the county child care committees. Much of the administrative paperwork could be got rid of if the schemes were changed completely.

We suggest the funding is alternatively put into a central pot for either staff salaries going directly to the services or actual payment of salaries to services in the same way that our primary and secondary schools are funded. While the committee might be more familiar with the term “private providers”, we refer to them as independently managed services. Funding should be made available to both independently managed and committee-managed services. They have to comply with the same regulations, meet the same quality standards and employ the same staff. Community services are more likely to be in more disadvantaged areas so they have additional needs. The system is the same, however.

I am sure the committee has heard much about payment for non-contact time and that the payment to the ECCE scheme is just for direct contact with children. There is so much more non-contact work required to be done from planning to evaluation of work to working with parents. Now, the education-focused inspections will require much more work on behalf of the services. While we are pleased with the involvement of the Department of Education and Skills in this, much work must be done to ensure all services are able to cope with their responsibilities.

We suggest funding should be for a 42-week period rather than a 38-week period. This would allow more continuing professional development, CPD, to take place and pay staff holiday pay, meaning they would not find themselves having to go on the dole during holiday time. We also suggest a small annual capitation grant should be made available in the same way it is to primary schools. Another key measure that needs to be in place is the development of new supports system, particularly for committee-managed services, to alleviate the pressure on volunteers. In the main, committee-managed services are managed voluntarily by parents. There is a phenomenal amount of legislative responsibilities, never mind other responsibilities, involved in this. Governance in the committee-managed sector is poor and needs to be supported and improved. In considering this model, we were influenced by the introduction of free secondary school education in the 1960s by Donogh O’Malley and how community and private schools became managed by committees.

In return for the provision of salaries, the services must commit to achieving quality standards required by Aistear, the early childhood curriculum framework, and Síolta, the national quality framework for early childhood education. Certain requirements should be in place to ensure all early childhood services meet these frameworks by 2020. To do this, the sector must be willing to engage in a national quality development training programme. Some providers have already done so and achieved those standards. The reality is, however, very few have and are not in a position to do so. There is a significant amount of workforce capacity building to be done. It needs to be borne in mind that accessing qualifications and having the bit of paper does not guarantee a service meets the requirements of a quality service. A graduate having level seven or eight qualifications does not necessarily guarantee delivery a service that will meet national quality standards. A programme of CPD is what worked within the International Fund for Ireland project I referred to earlier and would work in the future.

There has been much talk about the provision of a second preschool year with the recent announcement that there is no funding for it.

We suggest that it be introduced step by step, and it does not have to be introduced to every child who might be eligible for it within the next year or two or three if the funding is not there for it. At least if funding was made available for staff salaries to deliver a second preschool year in the existing services, which can accommodate children who would be aged two years and ten months by September of the year they would be in the service, there would be the possibility of reducing the high cost of child care for many parents who are struggling with the cost of that service at the moment. The staff working within the services would be obliged through service level agreements to meet the criteria that would need to be laid down to ensure measurable progress over a period.

With proposal No. 3, we recommend a registration system for childminders similar to that which has operated for many years in Northern Ireland. That was introduced on a phased basis and it is working very well. We cannot see why that could not operate within the Republic of Ireland. Regulation of childminders has always been avoided, and it is time to stop that and see what can be done. We only have to look up the road across the Border to see how this system is working really well. In that way, one would be able to ensure greater access to good quality and affordable services for parents where there is no crèche facility or where parents choose not to use the facility.

There should be development of a school-age child care strategy with appropriate legislation on policy development, investment and quality standards, similar to the Síolta and Aistear frameworks. That really needs to happen. There is much focus on school-age child care at the moment, and we need after-school services. Some parents need breakfast clubs and some need summer play schemes, but there is no overall strategy for this to take place. Over the past few years, through Government funding, so much work has been done in this area by voluntary child care organisations, partnership companies and county child care committees that could be used to build a foundation for a really good school-age child care system within the country.

There should be development of a comprehensive support system for services provided for children with additional needs. We agree with everything the previous speakers have said on this. A new strategy needs to be devised in order to ensure that children with a variety of additional needs have their needs met. It is not just about those with a disability, as services see children with all kinds of additional needs. They come from homes with problems due to the recession or marital problems. There are children coming from war-torn countries into many services. It is not just the community services that are taking these children, as the early childhood care and education programme means all children in an area can access this service. It could be provided by an independent provider as opposed to something managed by committee. I reiterate what my colleagues have stated in this regard, and the submission sent to the committee has more specific recommendations.

Funding has to be made available for the delivery of affordable services that meet our national quality standards. These are our brilliant standards, and we know that where services meet them, the needs of children are being met. They support health, well-being, learning and development. The bottom line is that the taxpayer must pay. There is a widespread lack of awareness within the public, among parents and certainly in the media about the value of high-quality early years and after-school services. We advocate that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, in conjunction with the Departments of Health and Education and Skills, take responsibility on an annual basis for having a public awareness campaign. In the US there is the Week of the Young Child, and in the UK they have Sure Start weeks; why would we not have something similar on an annual basis, led by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, so that parents, grandparents, the sector and the public can recognise why it is important for Ireland to have a really good early years and after-school service?

I have mentioned that we see the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as needing to take the lead on this and we absolutely welcome the involvement of the Department of Education and Skills, which is responsible for many elements, including Síolta, Aistear and the Quality and Qualifications Ireland system within which trainers deliver training. That is not working well and needs to be improved, and we could speak for another five minutes about that, although we will not do it today. All of this is essential. I ask the committee to do whatever it can to influence our civil servants to re-establish the national child care co-ordination committee, which was established in 2000 by Ms Sylda Langford. It worked for many years but, unfortunately, it was deactivated last year. That was the only place where civil servants met those of us working on the ground, through the voluntary child care organisations, the city and county child care committees and education and training boards - all the different people and players who have an impact on the sector. It provided support for the new groups that have been established, such as the interdepartmental group, to improve co-ordination. People on the ground could help that process.

Ms Marian Quinn

I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak about the reality for early childhood professionals in Ireland. I reiterate what Ms McCormilla has said, and having read all the presentations made to the committee, I agree with the majority of them. We will not get into it now, but one can assume that if we had longer than five minutes to speak, we would address those issues.

The Association of Childhood Professionals is a body representing practitioners in early years and school-age care and education. We are a voluntary organisation and all our council members give freely of their time so we can fight for the profession that we value so much, but that is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to recognition, respect and remuneration. The landscape for child care has changed greatly in Ireland over the past 20 years and the practitioner is now expected to be a professional whose role extends beyond care work with children. Professional responsibilities include supporting the family and children during the critical stages of development. As such, child care has expanded, so a professional's role includes being an early childhood educator, an administrator, a curriculum planner, a researcher, a cleaner, a counsellor, a communicator, a parent coach, a nurse, a facilitator, etc. The list goes on.

The CoRe report, or Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care, from 2011 found that early childhood education and care is increasingly expected to fulfil "societal expectations regarding active citizenship and democracy, offering a strong foundation for lifelong learning, contributing to reducing child poverty, realising equal opportunities and strengthening creativity and innovation in young children." It is amazing that all these professional services and societal contributions are provided with very few, if any, State support by very capable multi-taskers who earn little more than minimum wage, or sometimes less than minimum wage in the case of employers.

The early childhood workforce is at breaking point and can no longer afford to deliver this level of service for the pay these people receive. This and successive Governments are taking advantage of good people who are committed to supporting the young children and families of this country. It is exploitation, pure and simple, and it has to stop. The young children of this county have a right to high-quality early childhood education and care. Their families have the right to societal support in rearing these children and the professionals providing this care and support have the right to be recognised, respected and remunerated for their professional role. These are fairly basic rights.

When the Workforce Development Plan for the Early Childhood Care and Education Sector in Ireland was published in 2010, the then Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Barry Andrews, stated: "The development of the early childhood care and education work force has been identified as a key pillar of quality." The report also indicated that national and international research had established that the skills and qualifications of adults working with young children are a critical factor in determining the quality of young children's early childhood care and education experiences. Unfortunately, this was followed by a statement that "While issues such as the status and the terms and conditions of employment of people working in the sector are very much to the fore, they are outside the scope of this policy document," which was to develop the workforce. It was another policy document with no teeth, in line with the finding of the CoRe report that found that in the Republic of Ireland, "the history of early childhood provision and professionalisation reads like a collection of unfinished stories, of fragmented and un-coordinated initiatives.”

There are approximately 25,000 people in the early childhood workforce, and this excludes childminders. In 2013, Early Childhood Ireland found that practitioners earned an average of €10 per hour, equating to an annual salary of €18,200. That is an unsustainable income, and matters are made worse when we consider that a sizable portion of the workforce are seasonal, sessional workers who are only paid for their contact time with the children and not for many other elements of their job description, such as planning, documenting, meeting parents, engaging with external professionals, etc.

The reality is that this average figure of €10 hides the fact that many are on little more than the minimum wage and certainly earn far beneath the living wage of €11.45. I did an economics degree in a previous life, and I remember our lecturer saying that average figures are dangerous to work off because if one's feet are in the freezer and one's head is in the oven, one's average temperature is normal. This is essentially what is happening with the figure of €10. Many people, when they hear that the average is €10, point out that they are nowhere near €10. Indeed, they would aspire to €10, and, unfortunately, might consider themselves happy were they to get that. Employers struggle to take a minimum wage or any wage at all. This really brings down the €10 if we factor it in. The fact that people are on the minimum wage, or less than the minimum wage, is despite the fact that wage bills are between 60% and 80% of the cost of running services. There is no money for pensions, health insurance, car loans, mortgages, supporting the family, etc.

There is a requirement to upskill but no possibility of increased pay. Workers are excluded from the learner fund if they are trying to gain a level 6 qualification or higher, despite the report recommendation that we should have a 60% graduate-led force by 2020. In most cases there is no possibility of paid time to engage in mandatory continuous professional development. There is no time for team meetings, supervision, on-the-job supports, development of community practice, etc. There is a requirement to use Síolta and Aistear despite the lack of a national roll-out. The inspection system is not fit for purpose and demonstrates little or no respect for the profession. There is a funding and policy divide between care and education, resulting in a two-tier system for the professionals in terms of pay and conditions. There is a lack of support for the inclusion of all children, regardless of additional needs. Professionals are experiencing increased workloads and stress, due to the lack of sufficient personnel and resources, in trying to provide an inclusive environment for the children. Professionals are working in a vacuum while waiting for the long-overdue national early years strategy, regulations and standards, a registration system and yet another layer of inspection. Indeed, we do not know what else we are waiting for while we are waiting for that to hit us on the head. There is a lack of job security as a result of the refusal by various Departments to develop and implement policies that prevent new services from opening at will and displacing or putting at a disadvantage existing high-quality services. There is uncertainty due to shifting deadlines. A recent example of this is the postponement of the minimum qualification deadline. There was no consultation with the profession, although those involved are keen for there to be at least a minimum qualification for working in our profession. Childminders are excluded from regulatory frameworks and most funding schemes. The impact of this on the profession includes low morale, increased stress and burnout.

OECD research has pointed out that the ability of staff to attend to the needs of children is influenced not only by their level of education and training but also by external factors such as their work environment, salary and work benefits. There will continue to be an increased difficulty in terms of attracting, training and retaining a suitably qualified workforce. There is beginning to be a pull-back in the profession because of either reduced interest or reduced ability - due to low morale - to engage in continuous professional development and extracurricular activities, despite the fact that these have been taken at the personal and financial cost of those involved for the past 20 years, if not more.

We recommend a review of the quality agenda. In our opinion it was not fit for purpose in the first place. It should put the focus on the things that really count. These include higher wages and better working conditions. These are the things that affect people's job satisfaction, work motivation and, indirectly, the quality of teaching, caring and interactions with the children.

There needs to be a recognition and acceptance of early childhood education and care from birth to six years rather than only from three years upwards. It should be seen as a public service and it needs to be publicly funded. Investment needs to be incrementally increased in order that the provision is heavily subsidised for parents. There needs to be an increase in the salaries of the workforce to enhance the status and quality of early childhood work. Governments may wish to consider introducing equal working conditions, such as salaries, benefits and professional development opportunities, for equivalent qualifications across early childhood and primary education fields. Care should be taken to ensure that in-service training is linked to career progression and to obtaining further qualifications. This OECD recommendation dates from 2006. There is a need to negotiate sectorally agreed pay scales linked to capitation payments and to increase investment to facilitate contracts that cover all aspects of the job, such as non-contact time. For example, for every three or four hours a person is working with children, sufficient time should be given for documentation, planning, parent meetings, staff meetings, practice etc. Again, the OECD has recommended time for staff to plan, develop, analyse and reflect, individually and collectively, on their work with children, as this is seen to improve quality. That is a key measure.

There should be a minimum of five CPD days per year. We are in favour of introducing the early childhood care and education scheme contract to cover 52 weeks of the year - we are upping it on other people. This should include not only a 52-week year but also time for CPD, training and all the various aspects, including engagement with parents and so on.

There should be increased investment to facilitate lower child-staff ratios where services are supporting inclusion of children with additional needs, including those who are diagnosed and undiagnosed. Again, this is somewhat different from the idea of looking for a special needs assistant. If we had qualified, experienced people working within the sector and they had lower ratios, it would help in terms of inclusion. If additional support over and above that is needed, then perhaps a special needs assistant may be necessary. Under the current system a SNA does not have to be qualified beyond junior certificate level. That needs to be looked at.

We are in favour of extending the learner fund to provide access to level 7 and level 8 training. We favour an increase in investment to roll out the Aistear and Síolta programmes. This should include training and resources. As a stopgap measure, there should be significantly reduced levels of PRSI and all centres should be exempt from rates. This would ensure additional funds to increase wages or improve working conditions.

We should recognise professional childminders providing a home-based equivalent, support moves to centre-based provision and regulate accordingly. We should develop standards and regulations for out-of-school care and recreation. We should carry out a detailed cost analysis of provision and ring-fence an appropriate budget to allow for professional pay and conditions. In this way we can ensure this sector will not find itself in the same mess that we currently have in early childhood care and education. We need to learn from past mistakes. We need to engage in real consultation with our profession in terms of the policies being developed in an ad hoc fashion. We hope the committee will work with us to prevent the further exploitation of this generous, caring and dedicated workforce.

Thank you. We will move to some questions. Members will have six minutes each. I thank Deputy McLellan for joining us, as I know she had questions in the Dáil.

I thank our contributors. They are welcome to our third session on the challenges facing this critical sector. I congratulate the Association of Childhood Professionals on the fantastic work done in recent months in bringing this issue to the fore, including the public rally outside Leinster House in February as well as the regional rallies some weeks ago. This has certainly helped our cause in highlighting the issues facing this critical sector.

I am pleased that a large portion of this morning's contributions focused on children with educational or additional needs. Unfortunately, although there have been many positive developments in the sector in recent years, not least the free preschool year, the current situation is that children with special educational needs can be left out or refused a service because the required supports are not available. There is an inconsistent approach throughout the country.

Before our meeting last week we got a memorandum from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, with information on yet another interdepartmental group to examine how best to support early school years. I am somewhat cynical at this stage. We are four and half years in and here we have another group sitting down to talk about how to support the needs of the sector. There seems to be almost a battle between the various Departments over which will actually take control of the issue. The question is whether it will be the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Health or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I thought the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established to take the lead and be the main co-ordinator on issues such as this.

We have a report already. In 2010, the Department of Education and Skills launched the framework for action for the inclusion of children with special educational needs in early education. For the life of me, I cannot understand the need for a further report. I welcome the fact that the deputation spoke at length on this issue and highlighted it.

This is a crucial area which, unfortunately, has been neglected for some years.

On improving the free preschool year scheme, while everyone acknowledges that this is a very good programme, some issues remain, not least the recent reduction in the capitation payment, the requirement for independent and community service providers to pay staff for 42 weeks when the State only pays them for 38 weeks each year to provide the scheme, and the lack of recognition for non-contact time, staff who are off sick and so forth. The scheme must be improved with a view to introducing a second preschool year. However, only when the first preschool year is operating properly should a second preschool year be introduced.

I was pleased to hear Ms McCormilla express the view that community-managed services need additional help and support. I sit on the board of Ballynacargy community child care committee. Many parents and others who join the boards of child care committees do not realise that this entails meeting a series of requirements and responsibilities. Ms McCormilla is correct that training should be provided on governance issues and the types of support that the boards of community child care groups must provide.

Community groups in general are facing a major challenge as a result of the abolition of community employment schemes. Perhaps the witnesses know better than I do how community employment workers will be replaced in the community sector, of which their organisations are a critical component. Without workers from community employment schemes, many community groups will close.

I have highlighted previously the issue of registration for childminders. When legislation was being discussed in the Dáil and Seanad, the Fianna Fáil Party tabled amendments seeking to ensure that all childminders are required to obtain Garda clearance. Unfortunately, the amendments were not accepted. I am interested in hearing the witnesses' opinions on registration for childminders. The position in Northern Ireland was noted. While I am aware of differences of opinion on the introduction of tax credits for parents, I understand their introduction in Northern Ireland provided an incentive for many people to register as childminders, because parents could not avail of the credit unless the childminder was tax-compliant and registered with the Northern Ireland equivalent of Tusla. I would welcome the witnesses' opinion on that matter.

The workforce development plan has been in place since 2010 but has not been implemented, which is unfortunate. The current inspection system is not fit for purpose, as I have stated previously, owing to the duplication of inspections and the number of inspections required. A new inspection system should be established, with one inspector inspecting all aspects of a child care service, rather than having several inspectors visit the same facility.

The new registration process was placed on a legislative footing in January 2014. I am not sure whether it or the new regulations on registration have been rolled out. The regulations were promised in the aftermath of the Prime Time exposé "A Breach of Trust".

On commercial rates, if it is a requirement that inspectors from the Department of Education and Skills inspect a facility to have it designated as an educational premises, it follows that it must also be designated an educational facility in respect of commercial rates. The Department cannot have it both ways. These facilities provide early childhood care and education and should be exempted from a requirement to pay rates. Such an exemption would help them to remain sustainable.

Deputy Sandra McLellan is the joint committee's special rapporteur on this aspect of child care. I invite her to make a contribution.

I apologise for arriving late. I was in the Dáil asking questions of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their contributions. While I did not hear all of the presentations, I assure our guests that I read all the submissions yesterday and went through them with a fine toothcomb. I compliment the witnesses on the quality of their submissions, which are detailed and well thought out. Most people would find little in them with which they would disagree. The issue is to figure out what our priorities should be, given that it will not be possible to achieve everything immediately. A number of speakers referred to a timeframe up to 2020, which indicates that this is a long-term project. We all know that affordable, accessible and high-quality child care services are required, and this will require substantial investment in the sector.

I will ask a few questions rather than making a long speech. I will not ask questions on pay, although I recognise that professional child care workers are underpaid and many of them cannot secure mortgages or car loans and must take second jobs. It is unacceptable that child care workers are paid more in many second jobs, such as bar or takeaway work. The submissions provide great detail on the issue of pay.

The submission received from the Association of Childhood Professionals refers to the requirement to work with the Síolta and Aistear programmes "despite the lack of a national roll-out". What training must be provided? What types of module are required and within what timeframe must they be provided?

The National Childhood Network's submission states that the delivery of the programme should be of a high standard and rolled out in a co-ordinated, standardised manner. The implication of this statement is that this is not currently the position. Is that correct?

The joint committee discussed the issue of tax credits at previous hearings. What are the witnesses' views on proposals to introduce child care tax credits for parents?

The National Childhood Network also proposes that "access to funding to subsidise the cost of childminding should also be made, possibly subject to childminders meeting agreed criteria". How does it propose to achieve this outcome?

In light of recent strikes by child care workers in Germany, will the witnesses comment on the manner in which the German Government is addressing this issue? What responses or solutions are being provided in Germany and can we learn from the experience there?

The need to increase capitation grants has been raised. Will the witnesses provide precise figures on capitation grants in primary education? Do the rates vary? Unfortunately, I did not have time to check the figures on this, but I am aware that the witnesses made some comparisons.

The issue of subventions has been raised on several occasions at my outreach meetings. Should all providers, both in the private and community sectors, avail of the subvention? Some communities do not have a community child care service. This issue has arisen in my meetings and I would like to hear the views of the witnesses on it.

How do our guests respond to the Minister's recent announcement that the Department does not have sufficient money to fund a second free preschool year? Would capacity be a problem if a second preschool year were introduced immediately?

The Association of Childhood Professionals calls for increased investment to facilitate lower staff-child ratios where services are supporting children with special needs. How would this be done? Is the ACP suggesting that the capitation rate for children with special needs be increased, perhaps doubled? Does this include support for special needs assistants? What training is provided for staff to deal with children with complex additional needs? I am sure some children have uncommon needs. How are they dealt with?

How can participants on community employment, CE, schemes be used fairly and in a way which will ensure that they do not replace regular employees?

The issue of a degree-led workforce in the area of child care has arisen. Some people have expressed the view that quality of care is often only gained with practical experience. It has also been noted that a person with a level 8 degree may not be good on the practical side. What kind of balance can be struck in this regard?

How can the position with regard to grant applications be improved and how can the process be made more accessible to providers? In the current year an issue has arisen in respect of the community and private sectors and the way in which grants can be applied for. Those in the private sector can only apply for a €500 grant and this has been flagged as a matter of concern.

I am sure our guests will agree that two full years of access to preschool provision should be a right for children with special needs, regardless of how this time is divided up for use. How can special equipment be better provided for these children? It has also been brought to the attention of the committee that even though there is a system whereby children with special needs can divide up their preschool time over the two years on the basis of two days per week in the first year and three per week in the second, some children with these needs remain undiagnosed so they cannot avail of this. If children are diagnosed during the year and if it is found that they are not fit to attend mainstream schools, they will be obliged to remain at home for the year if their parents cannot afford to pay. How can we counteract this? That to which I refer strengthens further the argument to the effect that if children have additional needs, they should be entitled to two years of free preschool provision. Another issue that arises relates to the facts that children who may only be attending preschool for two or three days per week are obliged to attend for five days per week when they move to primary school.

Our guests are all extremely welcome. These hearings have been very helpful to the members of the committee. I wish to declare an interest in that I am chair of Early Childhood Ireland. However, my role in that regard is one of governance.

A point that has arisen at each of our hearings relates to staff and professional qualifications. Each of our guests touched on this point, but Ms Quinn, in particular, commented in more detail in respect of it. When the level of costs involved in providing child care are discussed in the media, it seems as if some people are pocketing big bucks. However, I do not know the location of those big bucks. Ms Quinn referred to the number of staff being on the brink. I have spoken to many child care providers who are on the brink and to others who have actually gone out of business. In the past year, all too many child care facilities have closed down. Ms Quinn also referred to the importance of non-contact hours. The committee has been repeatedly informed of the need for staff to sign on for 14 weeks. In what other profession would this be acceptable? No one stated at the beginning of the recession that in respect of primary and second school teachers the State could no longer afford to pay their wages during the summer months. However, it appears that it is acceptable to do this to professionals. What Ms Quinn stated about bringing continuing professional development, CPD, days into the mix would be quite a useful way to proceed. The situation here is similar to that which applies when one is playing the game Buckaroo. We are piling so many things on top each of each other and everyone is just waiting for the whole thing to fall. The committee is very conscious of that fact.

One of the other issues about which the committee is concerned is that relating to the family resource element being provided by child care professionals and for which they are not being given time. The committee may need to take this matter into consideration when compiling its report. These professionals play a vital role in the context of dealing with parents. They may only engage in brief conversations at the front door to the facility but this constitutes a huge family resource at community level at a time when parents need it.

The issue of inspections has arisen on several occasions, as has the fact that there are multiple layers involved and that these are almost suffocating. It is ridiculous that public health nurse positions at assistant director level are being advertised. There appears to be no problem spending money on very senior inspectors but public health nurses - whom I absolutely admire - are not qualified to inspect early child care settings. Who do our guests believe should be leading the inspections? Obviously, I am of the view that there is a particular model there for education but our guests' views on the matter might be different and I would welcome hearing them.

There is a need for us to remain conscious of the issue relating to childminders. Deputy Troy is correct: when the vetting legislation was introduced, a number of us tabled amendments in respect of vetting and Childminding Ireland supported our efforts in that regard. There is a reticence to become involved in the family home and in respect of the role of parents. There is a need to be conscious of the increasing use of au pairs. This is also a matter which must be acknowledged in the committee's report. The more we continue to push people one way or another, the more these issues will arise.

The committee must deal with a big issue and I am still trying to work out how I feel about it. For that reason, I very much welcome Ms Bradley's and Ms McCormilla's presentation on special and additional needs and how we deal with them. At the outset I was of the view that we should simply transfer what is done in primary schools to preschool level. I am becoming more informed, however, and I believe that the latter should absolutely not be the case. It is great that parents of children with such needs can have them in preschool for two days per week in the first year and three per week in the second. However, this does not work for providers because they must obviously have staff on the premises each day. I do not know how they are supposed to pay people's wages when they themselves are only paid on the basis of the number of days each child spends in their facilities. If a child stops attending for any reason - be it medical or whatever - the fee is taken back from the provider, which makes absolutely no sense. Deputy McLellan highlighted the transition to primary school and how this should be dealt with in the case of children with special needs. I support what was said in respect of ratios, particularly as this issue does not relate to a single geographical area but is, rather, national in nature. The question that arises in this regard relates to how we draw on specialised supports fairly and in a way that will increase the outcomes for the children involved. I am almost but not quite there in terms of identifying how we might proceed in this regard.

I welcome Ms McCormilla's distinction in terms of using the word "independent" as opposed to those of "private" or "community". I have not heard the matter described thus before. It is too easy to try to split the two sectors. The only difference I can see between them relates to rates. Otherwise, they are equally faced with different challenges. There can be great quality child care provisions in both sectors and also care that is appalling in quality.

It is obvious that we have all the answers but the difficulty is that the interdepartmental group is going to be obliged to make some critical choices. On the higher level choice as to whether it is about investment or tax credits, I am a proponent of investment. In terms of the choices to which I refer, we have discussed children with special and additional needs, improving the position regarding both the first and second year of provision, Síolta, Aistear and various different proposals. We can all agree that these are all things which need to be done. Will our guests indicate what they would do first? We must make choices and, in that context, what should be given priority and done first?

Quite a number of questions were posed. I will ask Ms Quinn to address those that were directed to her.

Ms Marian Quinn

In the context of investment, where should we start and what single issue should we prioritise, I wish to begin by stating that I am extremely upset in the context of how matters are given priority. I have worked in early childhood care provision for just over 20 years. Sometimes I signed on but on other occasions I just could not bring myself to do it, so I used to max out my credit card during the summer months. I now work in the public sector - I am a lecturer in early childhood in Cork IT and I am awfully conflicted because I am valued and I am in receipt of a wage about which I have no issue and to which, I believe, people should be entitled. I have no intention of taking away from the work I currently do. However, I would have thought that the work I did for 18 years prior to taking up my position in Cork IT was equally if not more valuable than that in which I am currently involved. However, that work attracted neither recognition nor value. Now I work a particular number of hours each week, I receive holiday pay during the summer months, etc. That is absolutely brilliant and I think I am entitled to it but I think early childhood professionals are equally entitled to such conditions. It is so wrong that people's conditions improve as they move from primary to secondary to third level but that the contribution of those who provide the foundation for all those students with whom I now work is not valued and so on. We must ask questions as to the vision we have for our children and the type of society in which we want them to live.

I do not like the society we are in at the moment. The challenge for the Cabinet, Government backbenchers and the Opposition is that we cannot work within the narrow frame we are in now. I was at the interdepartmental group and they asked what things should be prioritised. I was very cross and stated that I objected to being at a table where it was considered what one would do with the money that is there now with no increase in investment. I thought that was a conversation we cannot be having. When something in society is valued, money is found for it. Now that there is more money in the economy, we can see that money is being found for the public sector. I am not saying that should be taken away, but one might question where the priorities lie.

Qualifications and experience are equal and I would not value one over the other. Each one adds to the next thing and we have to start somewhere. Some people may have fantastic experience having gone for various training courses over time, which must be recognised and valued. We are in a narrow period of transition, moving towards what will be a qualified workforce because those coming into it now will get qualifications before they enter. We need the support because the people in it who have that experience can be retained, valued and supported.

The workforce development plan examined the recognition of prior learning to see what could be done so that people can put together a portfolio of all their experience and all the CPD qualifications they have gained. Work had been done on a model but it got dumped in the background.

As regards regulations and registration we do not know because we have not seen them. We asked for a consultation on the regulations and were told that they were not changing very much from the last ones. We were told that we were consulted on that years ago and did not need to input into it again. In reality, however, that is not true. One would hope the regulations will be significantly different, otherwise why is it taking so long to develop them?

Ms Hart and Ms McCormilla will give more information on the roll-out requirements for Aistear and Síolta. People have to be supported with the required training and resources. Some of it is for existing practitioners who can fully engage with it, but it also relates to the colleges. We have had Aistear since 2006 and Síolta since 2010. If comprehensive training was given to colleges and people delivering those programmes, we would have a whole workforce coming out now who are completely up to date with Aistear and Síolta. It would have a cascade effect instead of trying to put intensive supports in place.

During the strike in Germany, the poor devils were out for four or five weeks and then the unions pulled the rug from under them. Apparently it has now gone to mediation. When it comes to mediation and discussion, that is where we have been for years, yet we have advanced nowhere, so I am not very hopeful in that regard.

I agree that the scheme should be accessible for all and money should follow the children. If a child with disadvantage does not have a community setting, then that child should obviously be able to access it. It is not about who is providing it, it is about the child getting the absolute best. As Ms McCormilla said earlier, it relates to that kind of quality.

The Minister stated that a second ECCE scheme year could not be afforded, but if it was a priority it would be affordable. The fact is, however, that it is not a priority. The Minister also said that the employers choose what to pay, but that is rubbish because they do not. If the Government provides x amount of money to pay all of the expenses, then the Government is limiting what can actually be paid to practitioners.

A previous Minister told us that the Government could not interfere with the regulation of childminders because it is a private arrangement between the family and the childminder. Other than the ECCE scheme, what is happening in a centre base is a private relationship between a family and a provider. They are able to regulate that, however, so they cannot have it both ways. The authorities need to engage on this matter.

I have a lot more to say but I will leave it open to other speakers.

Ms Michelle Hart

I will pick up on the tax credit issue because I am from Northern Ireland. There seems to be an argument for direct investment in services or tax credits. In Northern Ireland we have both, so it is not an either-or situation. We would advocate that direct investment should go to services. We do see a need for lower income families to be able to come out of the poverty trap. That is one thing the tax credits would support families in Northern Ireland to be able to do. People did not register with childminders just because of that, however, they also registered because they knew they were signing up to a system whereby they were coming from the black market and would be regulated. Even though that was minimal at the beginning, they only had to sign up to one page of things.

The following year it increased and that is how we moved the child protection issue on because they had to avail of training. At the beginning all they had to do was ensure they had safety check lists in place, were moving towards child protection training and could show elements of play within their service.

The year after that it moved on and they are now working towards being in line with a full-day care service as regards legislation. It can be done, therefore. I also wish to pick up on what Ms Quinn said about ECCE schemes and things being for the private and public good. The reason we want a national media campaign is to ensure that people in the wider society and within all strands of early childhood, understand that learning begins from birth and not at the school gate. That is why it needs to be seen as a public good from birth. We advocate therefore that it is not an either-or situation. We can see how childminders can be brought into that.

We have a lot to learn from Northern Ireland, but it is a two-way process as Ms McCormilla said concerning the IFI project also. Lowering the ratio within early childhood services would support children with additional needs. Even if they have difficult additional needs, when children first come it is for a holistic experience of their early childhood place. They come with a range of needs but should be able to gain a good experience all round, not just because of their particular need.

When I am working with services, when a child comes, we support him or her by seeing how we can make the environment fit the child. How will the practice be inclusive so that the child gets the best experience alongside its peers? It takes time and effort to be able to do that, which is why we need the additional non-contact time and the capitation that goes with it.

Ms Denise McCormilla

I will deal with just a couple of things because so many matters were raised that I may not be able to pick up on the remaining ones. It strikes me that so much has been written and said, and there are many people with different opinions. Some of them agree, while others are totally opposed, so we need to keep things as simple as possible. That is why I went back to the IFI project, which was funded in the late 1990s. It gave an example of services in Northern Ireland and the southern Border counties. They were poor services, but were given the opportunity with three years' funding for measurable improvement to take place. At the time, they were committee-managed services but governance was poor. There were no proper governance structures in place, so the first thing was to establish such a structure.

Management of responsibilities for pay and HR were carried out by national organisations, rather than local parents having to do so. Parents did a certain amount, however, and the parents' committee was re-established. Staff were given a contract, proper job descriptions according to their roles, and were paid for a three-year period. If they were delivering a service for three hours a day, 15 hours, they were paid for 25 hours. That might be a jump too far at this point in time, but if it was even a case of one hour a day extra it would allow them to do the additional work that is absolutely necessary. Either it does not get done or it is done in people's own time. As the burden increases, it is impossible for people to do all that work in their own time, especially with education-focused inspections and all the requirements involved.

Considerable work remains to be done to meet the 16 Síolta standards. We have to meet all of them, starting with standard No. 15 on legislation and regulations because a significant number of services are not in full compliance with the regulations. The services with which I was involved had to meet the standards and regulations. Síolta and Aistear were not in place at that stage, but they had to meet the standards of the high scope curriculum training programme, which supports children's learning and development in partnership with parents. Staff had to participate in continuing professional development on a monthly basis for their first year, attend cluster group training with an appropriately inspirational trained instructor and show measurable practice. A service evaluation system was devised to show them how they had progressed and could improve. They also had external support. Now we have inspections, the better start mentoring system and support staff employed through voluntary and community organisations and county child care committees. The county child care committees can also help on governance issues. An external evaluation was conducted at the end of the three year programme. As adviser to the service during this period, I saw demonstrable progress from an originally poor quality of service, albeit delivered with great heart, once the necessary conditions and ingredients were in place.

On the complexity of funding schemes and the question of subventing independent and private providers, there is, for example, only one committee managed service in Letterkenny. Parents in one of the fastest growing towns in the country need access to affordable child care. I would be inclined to suggest we should get rid of the separation between private, community and independent services. They are governed by the same legislation and the same standards and have to pay their staff. There should not be a divide between private and community child care services. Community and independent providers should not have to pay rates if they are working within the system. We know how much money is required to pay staff and meet the additional costs involved. A capitation system might be an alternative way of funding services. I do not know the level of capitation paid to schools, but that system appears to work. The capitation system revolutionised secondary education in the 1960s.

It is time for radical change in the child care sector. Those of us who have been involved in it for many years believe we are chasing our tails in trying to make the best of bad policies, inadequate training, poor pay and limited understanding. We get tired of all the external reports on the poor quality of child care services in Ireland. We can do better, but we must start small and make it simple by identifying where the money should be spent and how much in total is available through the various schemes. We know from the Pobal reports how many work in the sector, their qualifications and the positions in which they work. We should begin by considering what salaries ought to be paid based on a national salary scale which we have prepared. That would allow us to estimate the cost of paying staff who work in the sector and decide how we could make better use of existing funding. I would investigate how we could make better use of what we have before looking for additional funding. We could make better use of what we have by working in a more integrated way. We are all inclined to work in silos. How could we take a nationally co-ordinated, integrated and strategic approach involving all of the various players involved? When I started 30 years, nothing was in place.

Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe

On the question on special needs and the provision of training, children with special needs frequently require speech and language therapy. Lámh provides ongoing specialist training in this area and we try to anticipate where children will access services in order that we can plan training for providers in advance. The same applies to the picture exchange communication system, PECS, and early intervention teams in the case of sensory processing difficulties. All staff receive floor time training, as well as training in the management of epilepsy and administering buccal midazolam and percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, PEG, feeding. These needs should not be a barrier to inclusion.

We have heard about various approaches to providing for special needs. Does Ms Lacey-Crowe advocate a particular model? Is it a question of providing special needs assistants or additional training for mainstream service providers? What is the model of best practice?

Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe

It is most important to establish training within the childhood educator curriculum in order that it is not optional. We should not be providing a separate special needs module. It should be part and parcel of the training programme. Sometimes there is initial enthusiasm, but when one returns, the staff have gone back to their old habits. That is why it should be standardised as part of the curriculum. I am not much of an advocate for special needs services because the trainer should be a facilitator with the courage and strength to avoid being a barrier to inclusion. Sometimes the simple fact of a child's presence can alter the relationship. I have seen children with additional needs in mainstream settings. It brings out the best in small children when they look after their classmate. That is quality care.

Ms Michelle Hart

It does not matter if the service is high scope, Montessori or whatever else, provided it is of excellent quality. When children are included in such a setting, we can examine the additional support needs, whether PEG feeding or epilepsy management.

That is where one then considers what supports are needed for an individual education plan to support the particular needs of a child and in a high quality setting that promotes holistic development for all children.

What currently happens?

Ms Michelle Hart

In some cases-----

It depends on geography. Some in the HSE are allowing services, but in some areas there is none available.

Ms Denise McCormilla

As nothing is standardised, different things are happening in different counties.

Ms Marian Quinn

I have worked for 18 years with many children who received additional supports in a mainstream service. In that service it was not so much finding out what was wrong with a child before he or she came but of a child coming into a setting and seeing what additional supports were needed. It was a question which was asked as to how it could be done. If we are valued and recognised as professionals who have received training - this is why training is hugely important to enable us to be professional when it comes to inclusion and the question of how to include - regardless of whether a child has an additional need as a result of a disability or condition or being part of an ethnic minority or from a disadvantaged area, it is all about inclusion. If I am sufficiently professional to know it when such a child comes into my service, I will know whether I can include him or her very well by myself without needing anything. Perhaps I might need resources to buy things to make the child be more visual in the setting in order that he or she can see himself or herself within it and develop his or her identity as a result. At other times, however, I will be able to acknowledge that I am obliged to spend a lot of additional time with the child in question, which is time I will be unable to spend with the other children and perhaps the person who is in the room with me essentially will be left with 20 other children. I will then know that I need additional personnel. That is where the community employment scheme was particularly beneficial in community services - I worked in a community service in the afternoon while at the same time working in the independent service - and it was evident that by having these additional personnel, they were able to continue the work, under supervision, with everybody else. For us, however, they were supernumerary; therefore, we had our core staff and were then able to employ additional assistants. It may now be necessary to provide this through a fund in order that we will be in a position to include the child or call on this support as needed.

On opting for the special needs assistant, SNA, model, I carried out research with a colleague into SNAs in primary schools and the finding - looking across the board - was that children who needed the most support were being supported by the least qualified personnel and that this was not helping the children particularly. When one considers the position in Ireland in terms of the qualifications required to be an SNA, essentially, it is junior certificate. SNAs have to undertake some training, which I acknowledge is good. I had colleagues apply for an SNA job only to be told they were overqualified, despite having had received significant training on how to deal with children with additional needs. However, because they had FETAC level 6 qualifications at the time - some of them now have degrees - they were told they were overqualified for the post because they did not need such qualifications. They were told a SNA needed to be present to keep a child from running away, to help him or her go to the toilet or to help him or her with feeding. That is not a great model.

Ms Rose Bradley

While I am not here to talk specifically about SNA training, this point actually brings it up quite nicely. We must acknowledge there are huge training issues when it comes to special needs assistants, even as noted for children in primary and secondary school. In addition, while the therapists I know who work with children with particular disabilities are not there to formally train the staff who may be working in a preschool, they are very much there to provide support. Therefore, as the others have noted, where one is able to include a child, staff and services will know that there are other services available with which they can collaborate and on which they can draw, whether it be the Central Remedial Clinic, CRC, Enable Ireland or the Health Service Executive, HSE, and that there are therapists who are involved with a particular child. As I stated previously, each child is an individual; therefore, one is considering the needs of a particular child, drawing on the supports available in that child's life and finding out about his or her needs. While that is not formal training, it very much encompasses support and guidance specifically for that child.

To revert to the comment about the split preschool year, I agree completely. As I stated in my submission, parents have told me the entire provision for taking the time pro rata over two years where a child has particular needs works very well for families in the first year. This is because where a child has particular additional needs and may be undergoing many medical procedures, very unwell and missing a lot of days, families have stated only having two days per week works perfectly in the first year. When it comes to the second year, however, the year before school, the child really needs to be attending from Monday to Friday, inclusive. I am speaking from the perspective of working as a social worker with children with disabilities and if one were giving consideration to prioritising where the funding was spent, one might consider prioritising children with disabilities or additional needs to have access to a full second year.

There was also a question about necessary equipment and how children could access it. My experience of and opinion on that question is that where a child has equipment needs owing to his or her disability, one has the relevant therapist making the prescription which is then sanctioned by the HSE.

There is one other point on which I wish to conclude. Even if, in an ideal world, all children with additional needs were given a second full year, without the necessary support, that is, the actual body in the preschool room, they would still be unable to attend preschool. Consequently, as was noted, it is really important either to consider extending SNA provision to children in preschools or, as my colleagues were suggesting, look at increasing the ratio of staff in preschools. It is about having access to actually go the school. To be able to participate actively in a real way, one needs the additional bodies.

We will move on to the second round of questions. I call Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor who will be followed by Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Catherine Byrne and Senator Colm Burke.

I thank the expert witnesses for their attendance. Members have heard really good submissions from them. I really liked the answers given in the last section because they really got into the meat of the issue.

I have a question for Ms Lacey-Crowe and Ms Bradley who has touched on the issue. As an educationist, I am really interested in how they have their staff trained in the picture exchange communication system, PECS. Ms Lacey-Crowe then spoke about the delivery of speech therapy services, which is wonderful. We have never managed to do this in a primary school setting in which special needs assistants would provide that service or in which teachers would be trained by the therapists she mentioned. As this is something really new about which members have never heard, I am delighted to hear it. Am I correct in stating both public and private services are being delivered?

Ms Denise McCormilla

There are three types. There are some delivered through the schools such as Early Start. There are also independently or privately delivered services, as well as community managed services. While one is inclined to say private or community, there are, in fact, three types.

We should leave it there. Ms McCormilla can come back in again.

Very well. While the comparison is being made with primary schools, they were set up in 1831 and I can tell the delegates that there are still problems in primary school education. Three years ago, on foot of the results from PISA, it was a huge wake-up call. We are at a watershed, in that early childhood provision is under consideration. It was examined previously in the middle of the huge Celtic tiger period in which money was flung left, right and centre and wasted. It was thrown at buildings; buildings that probably were not needed were built in villages and towns. Now, however, this is the important part and where everyone must work together to make sure the best model is acquired for children in the first instance, as they are the most important people in this debate.

Ms Quinn mentioned a figure of 25,000 teachers or educationists involved in delivery. Perhaps she might not have the statistics to hand, but one issue is whether we will have a graduate force. Out of the aforementioned 25,000 people, how many have qualifications to FETAC levels 5, 6, 7 and 8 in order that we can raise standards for everyone? I am aware of the work done in St. Nicholas Montessori College Ireland in the training of Montessori teachers. I am also aware that many of the teachers who qualify wish to go back into the primary system because it is better paid and there are better terms and conditions. Consequently, it is difficult to hold qualified graduates in the early childhood sector.

I want the numbers. The ladies have given a fantastic vision today and Ms McCormilla said she was looking at some figures. What kind of figures is she looking at? We have to manage what is delivered but we also have to manage expectation. It is very easy for some people to promise the world but it does not work like that any more. There have to be budgets and someone has to pay. We have to know if there is value for money so I want to know what moneys the witnesses are thinking about.

We in Government want the best and we are at a watershed but the witnesses should not be taken in by people who will promise them the world. We are trying to do what is best for children and for the sector, to make sure we attract people and maintain a really good workforce who can get mortgages. I know plenty of preschool teachers who cannot get mortgages and that is not good enough.

I join colleagues in welcoming our panellists, some of whom I have met and engaged with in the past. I no longer hold the responsibility of children's spokesperson as my colleague, Deputy Sandra McLellan, recently took over that role very competently.

I will take each of the presentations in turn. A number called for a second ECCE year, with Ms Bradley the first to do so. I absolutely endorse that as it is most certainly very important. It was also suggested that consideration be given to increasing the number of community preschools and I would also endorse that view but can the witnesses expand on how that might be promulgated, encouraged and facilitated? Ms Bradley's closing recommendation was that innovative ways be looked at for the provision of support training and supervision of SNAs. Has she any particular suggestions as to innovation that would lead to the provision of support training and the supervision of SNAs?

I welcome Ms Lacey-Crowe again. She spoke about changing language and it is welcome to hear about additional needs. Ms McCormilla used the word "independent" and this kind of language was not applied in all the engagements I had as spokesperson on children for 13 years. I welcome this more thoughtful use of language. Ms Lacey-Crowe and Ms McCormilla both made a point about the difficulty there is with so many stakeholders being involved, all with a different focus. Can Ms Lacey-Crowe expand on that? How does it manifest itself? How can we move towards a more cohesive, streamlined or even a single service across the board? Would that be an objective?

I welcome Ms McCormilla and thank her for all her many years of service in this area. I also recognise her guidance and support during her time with the Border counties child care network. I had the opportunity to visit her in direct service provision many years ago and remember it very well. She talked about streamlining the free preschool year scheme, the community child care subvention scheme and the child care education and training programme into a single body, with centrally-funded salaries across the board, as part of the move towards greater simplification. Regardless of whether the service is independent or committee-managed, what difficulties does she see with this? Does she envisage any issues? She spoke about the differences in dealing with the differential between the independent provider and the community-based, committee-managed system and whether rates should impact. The rates should not impact as this is about children rather than the provider so there should be no rates across the board. We were talking about simplification but that is the simple answer.

In her earlier responses Ms McCormilla spoke about capitation and making allowances for other costs. How does she deal with all of that? Our rapporteur and my close friend and party colleague is beside me and I want to say in her presence that it should be moved from 38 to 42 weeks and should be across the year, and that is only a starting point. She also called for a second ECCE preschool year and I absolutely agree. Her observation that qualifications do not guarantee the achievement of quality standards and services applies across the board and in everything.

Proposal 3 was for a registration system for childminders similar to that north of the Border. Under whose oversight and inspection would this be and who would be the registering authority? Would it be the Department of Children and Youth Affairs? A call was made for the reconvening of an enhanced national childcare co-ordinating committee and this is very important and something which needs to be restated. I have nothing to add to the points made but I emphasis it because I do not want it to slip aside.

I thank Ms Quinn for a very spirited delivery. She made a number of points that hit me. It is very interesting and very welcome to note the statistics giving the number involved as 25,000, which does not take on board the 19,000 childminders. I was deputising for my colleague recently on one of the children's Bills and I made the case for the regulation of childminders but the Minister stoically refused. I do not know if any of the witnesses saw the exchange. Deputy McLellan was in the Chamber but Senator van Turnhout was here. Point 8 in Ms Quinn's recommendation was to recognise professional childminders as providing a home-based equivalent to central-based provision and to regulate and support accordingly. I absolutely agree and I sadly have to share with her that, in recent weeks, the Minister sat where she is and said "No". That needs to be picked up on and to be pressed. Why does it take us a lifetime to get to the right place?

Child care and childminding have come very far since I had mine. They all went to community playschool, which at the time was run by local people who had dedication not only to education, but to dealing with children's needs. I was very proud of it and I thought that playschool was a significant part of my children's lives. I will continue to say that.

The delegates have been comprehensive in their contributions and offered very interesting views. I like Ms McCormilla's emphasis on keeping things simple. Too many issues are made unnecessarily uncomplicated, and we might need to turn the clock back in some instances. The delegates are here today because this committee has prioritised the issue of child care provision in its work programme. In the time I have been a member of the committee, we have had many hearings on various issue and produced a number of reports. One such engagement that comes immediately to mind is our discussion on the provisions contained in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013. As a result of the intensive work done in this committee on that legislation, proposals were progressed which will have a major impact on many people's lives. Other reports the committee has produced have likewise assisted in the process of enacting useful legislation. We will continue to engage in that type of work.

In that context, I am very pleased to have the delegates here this morning to discuss these important matters. Even if we each had half an hour to speak, we would not have time to address all the interesting points that were raised. What particularly struck me from Ms Lacey-Crowe's presentation was her indication of the number of stakeholders involved. That is a key issue and relates to Ms McCormilla's point about the importance of keeping it simple. How can we reduce the number of people with their hands in the pot in the context of what should be a simple process? It is an important consideration when it comes to improving child care provision, whether in community crèches, private crèches or for children with intellectual disabilities.

I was very impressed by Ms Bradley's presentation, which was easy to read and understand. What is most impressive, however, is the work she does, including with one of the schools in Clondalkin, through the Central Remedial Clinic. I know several people who are involved in working with the children concerned and am aware of the great work the CRC does.

I do not wish to start an argument with Deputy Troy that might come to blows. I will not seek to rebut some of the points he made because there is not time to do so, but I might point him in the direction of some facts he should look up after the meeting. However, we will not go into that now.

I thank the delegates for their inspiring contributions. Our work begins when they leave. We must carefully go through all the points that were raised with a view to agreeing on simple steps that can be taken to make child care services in this country better for every child.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their comprehensive presentations. I apologise for having to leave for a time to participate in a Commencement debate in the Seanad. One of the points that struck me when listening to the presentations is that what is lacking in this area is long-term planning. We need to set out a five-year and ten-year programme showing where we are at and where we need to be in the coming years. We need, too, to initiate a process of careful planning in respect of the cost issues and what is the best way of providing a high-quality service that also represents a good deal for taxpayers. After all, it is taxpayers who must pay for that service. Have any of the groups examined the cost issue and the type of investment that is required on a year-by-year basis in the next five to ten years?

The lack of co-ordination of services for people with disabilities is a major concern. I recently helped two families to file complaints with the Ombudsman relating to housing issues. While a comprehensive service is being provided to people with disabilities from a health care point of view, there is no co-ordination of other services such as housing. One sees much more of that type of co-ordinated approach in other countries. Health, education and housing are three key areas of concern to people with disabilities, but the services are not working together. From the delegates' experience, how do they see that type of co-ordination developing? Reference was made to people in lower socio-economic groups not getting the same type of health service as that afforded to other groups. The same applies in respect of housing and it is something we need to address. The question is how to ensure people have access to all services. In the two cases to which I referred, even though the persons concerned have severe disabilities, the local authority is treating them as simply a number on a list, with no priority given to them over people with very minor disabilities. I was very surprised to discover this was the case. Will the delegates comment on that?

I thank the witnesses for the work they are doing and for their comprehensive presentations. Their contribution will feed into our efforts to ensure there is a greater focus on long-term planning in this area.

I invite Ms Bradley to respond.

Ms Rose Bradley

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked about the comment in my submission about increasing the numbers of community preschools. The thinking behind it is that as it stands, as my colleagues have noted, independent preschool providers do not have access to all available subventions. This is relevant for families living in particular locations - I am thinking of certain families I know and the issues they encounter - whose child has a physical disability, say, which requires his or attendance at a preschool that is physically accessible. The independently-owned facility down the road may be very welcoming to such a child but might not physically be able to accommodate him or her. The rationale for increasing the number of community preschools is that it would mean people have access to a greater selection of facilities that have access to subventions. Having listened to other speakers' comments this morning, however, I agree that another option might be to extend the subvention to all preschools, both private and community facilities.

The Deputy also asked about my reference to innovative ways of addressing the training issue. This touches on Senator Colm Burke's point about how important it is to draw on the services we already have. Although we are focusing this morning on what is missing from the service, it is important, too, to keep in mind what is in place. There is a significant amount of experience within the Central Remedial Clinic. In my job as a social worker, I am constantly collaborating with lots of other agencies and professionals. It is a question of how we can draw on the experience and wealth of knowledge that is there. Some type of structure for channelling all that information and experience into addressing the training issue would be helpful. I hope that answers the Deputy's question.

Ms Mary Lacey-Crowe

On the question of stakeholders, it is important to bear in mind there are several Departments involved and a question of both individual and collective responsibility. Sometimes it happens that a case may fall between different stools, with different people saying it is not their responsibility. That makes the whole process very difficult and can lead to a situation where we lose sight of the child. The child must be priority in all of this; everything else is below that.

I like Ms McCormilla's idea of keeping things simple. Certainly, there should be streamlined documentation process so that people are not filling out the same information over and over again. That type of repetition creates a large paper exercise.

A person may have ticked all the boxes but has he or she delivered? That is the big thing.

Ms Denise McCormilla

It is absolutely right that we must begin with the child. However, we really need to take a little time out. I know the Government would like reports to be done by the end of June. It would be brilliant if everything that was required to be done was done but I do now know if that could happen. We have to study where we are at this point in time. We need a baseline of what is out there. Much more information is gathered now than we would have gathered in years gone by. For instance, Pobal has been doing reports on the child care sector for the past number of years. The report for 2014 should be ready, or is almost ready. That gives specific information which could be worked on in planning for the future. On issues and problems, reports were compiled last year on compliance with regulations and the specific difficulties from a compliance with legislation perspective.

We should be familiar with what we have and know who has qualifications from levels 5, 6, 7, and 8. The reality is very few have level 8 and few have level 7, but the majority all have level 5 qualifications now. That might seem very little. However, when we think back to a few years ago, the majority of people had nothing other than possibly the old Irish Preschool Play Association, IPPA, 20 hour introductory course. That is not that long ago. There has been a huge increase in access to qualifications. The difficulty is that every time people do a programme and obtain a qualification, there are always gaps. That is just the way it is. In particular, in relation to Síolta and Aistear, there are a lot of people who obtained their level 5 qualification before 2012 when there was a complete revision of the Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, programmes. They would, therefore, never have heard anything about Síolta or Aistear in the FETAC level 5 programmes, which is why we say there is a huge need for continuing professional development. Level 6 is really for people in supervisory positions and people may not be ready to move onto level 7 or level 8, or it may not be available.

The Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care, CoRe, report, recommends that 60% be degree-led. We are a long way from achieving that target. Ireland needs to agree what it wants from a graduate-led sector. However, we have to start from where we are now. It is not possible to get rid of all the people who are working in services, with their current level of qualification. However, we have to try to do the best we can to ensure they are the right people. It is like a crossroads for people working within the sector. They need to know what is ahead of them next year. We already know there are huge changes. September 2016 is a real crossroads. People will need to examine and determine if they want to continue to work within this sector. If they do, they will have to raise the bar and know what it is they need to do. If they do not want to do it or are not able to do it, they can leave the sector. There are lots of younger people coming in through the degree programmes who would like to work in the sector but who cannot because they need to work full-time unlike me a number of years ago when it suited me to work a few hours every week as a preschool leader.

We have to see where we are at, what has happened, what are the numbers and who has the different level qualifications. If they were linked into the national salary scale we are proposing, then we would know that so many people at level 5 should be on one particular scale, so many at level 6 should be on another and so many at level 7 and 8 should be on another one. We would then need an economist or someone who is good at maths - I am not - to quantify what that would cost. I do not think that would be hard to do with the level of information we currently have.

The other issue concerns community preschools. Our attitude is that every service should be a service that is at the heart of the community. What the management structure is does not matter. We have seen this over the years. These are the most brilliant independently managed services. They put families and children at the heart of their communities and at the centre of their practices. Equally, we have seen very mediocre and very poor providers.

People have had access to funding. We have a legacy of past Government policies, some of which have helped but some of which have created additional problems. Why have we got 70% of services in this country delivered by private providers? It is because of the Government schemes of grant aid that were available in the past. We have what we have because of what happened in the past, so how do we change it? We need to say to all services, regardless of their management structure, that they must comply with legislation, put the child first, adhere to services whereby the rights of the child are at the forefront of what they do and then they meet their Síolta standards and within that is Aistear. We have seen that happen with about 120 services which, in the past year or so, have met that higher standard level. They are really good services. We can aspire to that but we know we need more in order to be able to do it.

In response to an earlier question about childminders, many parents use childminders but there are many childminders who are not delivering services within their own home. They are going to the home of the child. They need to fall within this registration system. Many people use au pairs - sometimes it is richer people who are using au pairs - but is that in the best interests of the child? Everything we do has got to be influenced by our five national goals or outcomes, which are coming through the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures policy document. We do not have our early years strategy yet but there is much which will guide us in the future.

Someone asked a question about who should do the inspections. Given her experience in Northern Ireland, Ms Hart might respond to that question.

Ms Michelle Hart

In terms of registration for childminders, in Northern Ireland they register with social services but the person at the coalface is a person from a national voluntary association, such as the Northern Ireland Childminding Association, NICMA, which would be the equivalent of our Childminding Ireland. It is a very gentle way, but they are still registered with social services, which would be the equivalent of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In terms of the leads going forward, because we believe children's learning begins from birth, we believe it should be the responsibility of the Department of Education and Skills.

Ms Denise McCormilla

We would say the Department of Children and Youth Affairs should be the registering authority with the Department of Education and Skills coming in then. We consider that really important but it is not interdepartmental. It is brilliant to have committees like this, where there are politicians from different parties, but the other plea we would make is for cross-party support for what happens for our children in the future. This would be so useful, especially with an election coming up. Parties need to strive to work together, just as we all need to do. There is competition between us and we work in our own silos but, in the best interests of children and this country, we really have to be trying to do the right thing.

Ms Marian Quinn

When talking about early childhood care and education, we are talking about the way it is delivered. We are saying there are three ways to deliver it. I would say it is a public service and is delivered in three different ways because it is contracted. The Government, since it became involved in early childhood care and education, has not taken the ball and opened centres itself. It has contracted and paid money for other people to do it on its behalf. Even when we talk about the ECCE scheme, we speak about how the Government subsidises early childhood care and education but it does not subsidise it. It contracts people to deliver it on its behalf and it gets fierce value for money because it does it on the cheap and through the exploitation of the people working in those services. That issue needs to be examined.

Prioritising where we spend the money is difficult because it is almost like pitting children against each other. What does one do? Some children have additional needs but there are all the other children in the country as well who have their childhood. They deserve to have that childhood now and for it to be a really good one. They also deserve it now given the contribution they will make in future society. This is where the Department of Children and Youth Affairs-Department of Education and Skills debate comes in. By remaining within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, children in crisis are being pitted against all the children in the population. As the Minister said to us, if he can pay for an extra social worker as opposed to investing money into mainstream services he will have to give it to the social worker. This is a short-term gain because the child has a crisis need now and it needs to be met but, in terms of the future, the prevention of some of those crisis needs could be done by investing now. That is the thinking on this issue.

On the issue of a legacy, the unfortunate thing in this country is that we seem to work from political cycle to political cycle. It seems to be a case of what politicians can say or do to get themselves across the line in terms of an election. Everyone wants to leave a legacy and a legacy can be left here. This group and the Government can feed into the idea of this being where they make the change.

It keeps coming back to where the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, is going to find the money. It is a matter of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform deciding that this area will now have to get a significant amount of money so that within the pot of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, it will not be taken from a child with additional needs and placed in the mainstream fund. It needs to be absolute funding. There is an argument for involving the Department of Education and Skills because then one does not have that crisis. One has education at various levels, but the real worry is that it will just be from age three up and that it will be said anyone can do it for children from birth to three, despite the fact that so much learning happens at that stage, and highly qualified staff are not needed. I acknowledge that we will get the reassurance that it will not happen, but if one has six years going into a Department, the budget has to cover it. Whether the money be put in for that whole six years to guarantee equal treatment is questionable despite that fact that in primary schools, junior infants and sixth class do not get different capitation. It is about looking at that.

People were talking about all the influences and how everyone is impacting on early childhood and the child in early years. The committee saw at one of the first meetings the document that Thomas Walsh from Maynooth provided in terms of all of these organisations that are impacting on what is going on. Even the few that we have mentioned today are a drop in the ocean in overall terms. The list barely fit on a page and even when I looked at it afterwards I was thinking that certain ones had been left out. The list did not encompass everyone, which is how crazy this is.

It was mentioned that the taxpayer will be the person who pays because this is a substantial investment. We are looking at going from 0.2% to 0.8% as an OECD average figure. That is approximately €1 billion that we need in investment. If one increases the investment incrementally over the next number of years, one is working on at least €200 million per year to get it up to that OECD average which is a significant amount of money. There are no two ways about it; the taxpayer will pay, as taxpayers pay for primary school, secondary school, third level and lifelong learning. There has not been a question over how we should do that, be it by direct investment or some others means. The money is found and it is provided. However, the taxpayer will gain because the children now as well as the children and grandchildren of taxpayers will benefit from a childhood we should be proud to provide in this State. We should be proud to have qualified, experienced professionals meeting their every need in a child-friendly, play-based way that follows and supports the child. That is what we should want. I cannot imagine there is a taxpayer in the country who would not want that for his or her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbours. It cannot come down to a question of why people who do not have children should have to pay for it. We do not adopt that approach in any other area of care and education and we should not be doing it for this. Taxpayers will also benefit from the returns to society. These children will grow up to be the adults who will be lifted out of the poverty trap and who will be engaged in employment, pay taxes and contribute in terms of being entrepreneurs because they have had a creative start and support to do it. They will be the doctors, nurses, solicitors, politicians, early childhood professionals and support personnel. They will give back to the community. Whether I have children or not, they will give to me later because I will need a public service that they will be providing for. It is about investing now. Umpteen top-quality economists nationally and internationally have shown the return. Anyone who got a guaranteed return on investment of one to seven or one to ten would jump at it. It is about the spending of money now.

In relation to the figures on a graduate-led workforce, the last Pobal report showed that 86% of people were at level 5. That was before the learner fund kicked in properly. The majority got it themselves when there was not even a minimum requirement to get it. They paid for it themselves and gave up their own personal and family time to get it. At level 6 the figure was 46%, which definitely does not go into the millions. Again, that was before the learner fund and it has got higher. People were told they needed a minimum requirement for this September and they went and really neglected their own families to get this but it has now been postponed because decisions are made at the click of a finger. At level 7 and above, the figure in the last Pobal report was 13%. I do not know where that 13% is because there are still those who are currently within the workforce who have gone back and got their level 7 and higher. One also has more students coming through college, although my experience from the students I work with is that they are asking how they can get their qualification and get out - out of the country or out to work directly within services - because they know they are not going to be able to earn an income. They have got such a fright over the last two years and have asked why they are getting their degrees when they are going to get minimum wage. They might decide to stay on with the jobs they have to support themselves through college but they certainly will not be able to earn an income.

While more people are graduating, quite a number of the 13% have gone to Better Start. The department of inspection is looking at another inspection that is going to be tied into the contract despite the fact that it is inspecting something that has not been rolled out. It is the cart before the horse. The inspectorate will be taken from the early childhood degreed workforce, which is more people going along with those who are needed for tutoring, lecturing and filling all the gaps and spots. We do not know where the 13% is and whether there has been enough replacement of it.

One has the accredited training but one also has the CPD people do in the early childhood profession. The following is a disgrace. I could engage with Síolta or Aistear training, my centre might get the QAP validation because we have all engaged in it and I might get some work out of the training, but when a primary school teacher does the Aistear training, he or she can get CPD credits. It is the exact same training. The Department of Education and Skills has put money into training, albeit it was not particularly great training, for junior and senior infants teachers to get Aistear training. We are still waiting for it. There is a new practice guide that links Síolta and Aistear to help us put things together, but it must be done in our own time unless we look at the 30 mentors that have been put in place for 25,000 people. It will have to be the professionals taking that up themselves. We are struggling even to get a printed document. While it is available to print off the website, there is a massive cost in that. So much is happening. We had one person who documented how much it cost her to engage with the Síolta QAP. It cost her €5,000 to get the free QAP in terms of the whole process as she had to pay her staff something for going as it was on their time and for all the document printing. She has a small centre and the cost would be higher at a bigger one. Free training which is hit and miss in terms of the comprehensiveness of its roll out is still costing centres money. In her accounts, which she presented to one of the previous Ministers, she was getting €4.85 an hour. She is a provider, entrepreneur and employer and she was getting €4.85 while trying to achieve maximum quality.

We are supposed to be trying to help the children to move out of the poverty trap. If children get this great start, it will pay dividends in later years. What tends to happen with the Government is that money is put into crisis management time after time with the effect that the hole is dug deeper and deeper for the children, parents and practitioners and providers who are working with children. People cannot continue to do what they have done. In Germany, there was a strike for six weeks. In Ireland, people say they cannot go out on a Tuesday because they need to be there for the families. That can only happen for so long because they are shutting their doors. Quality centres are shutting their doors and their quality staff are going on the dole. It is crazy. In terms of priorities, it is about targeting the Department of Public Expenditure and the other Departments in terms of justice, social welfare and all of those other issues. Given the savings that will happen, part of the funding should come out of those departmental budgets also. It will ultimately benefit them.

I thank everybody for their time and engaging presentations. Ms Quinn just mentioned the return. There are studies going back to the 1970s including the Perry pre-school project in the USA which showed that for every $1 invested, there was a return of $16. Ms Quinn is right that it takes someone with a bit of vision. It is not something that will be achieved in the cycle of a government. It is long-term. It is something that we, as committee members, will absolutely take away to put towards our final report.

It is important to state that this issue is not the responsibility of only one Department. All the studies in this area have shown that if we invest in children at an early enough stage, they are much less likely to ever need the services of the Department of Justice and Equality or the Department of Social Protection. Major savings are incurred from such investment, but it requires vision and long-term planning. Having worked in this area as a social worker and in the early years services prior to my election to the Dáil, I sense that a change is coming. It it a great testimony to the workers in this area, who are very busy all the time looking after, engaging and educating our young children, that they have taken it upon themselves in recent years to come together not only to put their case but the case of the children to us, the policy-makers. I thank all those people who are doing that. It is an area about which I and the committee are very passionate and in which we are very interested.

I look forward to working and engaging with our guests further. I found this morning's session very engaging. Throughout all these hearings we have often had all-female panels, which does not happen very often in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank all our guests for giving of their time today. I also thank all committee members. A number of very interesting issues have been raised which will be considered as part of the committee's report.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.02 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 June 2015.