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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Oct 2017

Vol. 253 No. 13

Child Care: Statements

It is great to be here and I am grateful for the invitation to discuss matters relating to the early years sector with Members. I value opportunities such as this to inform, and engage with, colleagues on this important area. This is my first time in the new House.

Since being appointed as Minister, one of my key priorities has been to address the historic under-resourcing in the area of child care. International evidence is clear that investment in children during their early years results in long-term gains to the economy as well as society generally. Previous budgets have significantly increased resources, which has enabled my Department to advance a number of key reforms aimed at improving both affordability and the quality of service. I am pleased to inform the House that, despite the difficult financial climate, budget 2018 represents another significant step in ensuring access to high quality, affordable early years care and education. The additional resources which have been made available in the budget, along with an in-depth review of the existing €466 million base, will again allow me to make progress in key areas.

There have been considerable developments in respect of the early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, also known as the free preschool year. This enhancement delivers fully on a commitment in the programme for Government that is good for children, families and early years providers. From September 2018, the ECCE scheme will be made available to all children over the age of two years and eight months for two full programme years. All children of the relevant age will be entitled to 76 weeks of the scheme - two 38-week programme years. This builds on last year’s development which extended the scheme from 38 weeks to an average of 61 weeks for children depending on their date of birth and age starting school.

The upper age limit on finishing ECCE remains five years and six months.

The extension of ECCE will be accompanied by a move to a single entry point for the scheme each programme year in September, beginning in 2018. For 2017, the January and April entry points will remain. This initiative ensures an equitable two-year entitlement for all children. Alongside the extension of ECCE, in September 2018 there will also be increases to capitation rates of 7% for early years providers who deliver the scheme. The increases will apply both to the standard capitation rate, which goes up from €64.50 to €69 per child, and the higher capitation rate for level 7 qualified staff, which goes up from €75 to €80.25 per child. It is hoped that increased capitation, as a first step, will assist early years employers to improve conditions for their staff.

Budget 2018 also secured investment to continue the child care affordability measures that were introduced in September. These affordability measures are already, in the first six weeks of the schemes, benefiting 45,000 children, with 24,000 of these registered so far for the universal under-three scheme and 21,000 registered for the targeted schemes. The additional funding will ensure the door remains open for further children and families to register and benefit from these subsidies throughout 2018.

Alongside these measures, €18 million in programme support payments in 2018 will be provided to early years services to assist with non-contact costs. Programme support payments, previously known as non-contact time payments, are now fully secured and will be available again in 2018 and thereafter. Some €14.5 million was originally secured in budget 2017, and this was topped up by €3.5 million this summer for services which signed up to the September measures. The latter was provided, however, on a one-off basis. The full allocation of €18 million is now in the early years funding base going forward.

Next year will also see further investment of €2.3 million to fund a package of measures for other early years initiatives. These initiatives include the following: further enhancement of the early years inspection services by both Tusla and the Department of Education and Skills to assure the quality of early years services; investment in capital improvements for child care services to increase provision and increase quality, which amounts to a considerable increase on capital funding from previous years; and special measures to address sustainability concerns of some community providers, particularly where they previously would have had a reliance on the community employment scheme. In parallel with these developments, my Department continues to prepare for the introduction of an affordable child care scheme. As part of this important work, an independent review of the cost of delivering quality child care was recently commissioned and will assist in providing evidence for future investment required.

Budget 2018 is another milestone for early years care and education. High-quality, accessible and affordable early years care and education benefits children, our society and our economy. The additional funding I have secured represents a big step, and I am committed to continuing to seek the investment that children, parents and providers need and deserve. We must continue to invest in our children and the early years workforce, and I am delighted that, for two budgets in a row, I have been able to take significant steps in this regard.

I welcome the Minister to the Upper House. I know a lot about this because I have two young children in full-time child care. It is an issue that concerns all parents, and parents and providers currently are straining under the weight of child care provision in Ireland. I have spoken to many providers and workers in Dublin and throughout the country who cannot afford to make ends meet on the wages they are being paid in the sector. It is a real issue. Given that, overwhelmingly, it is women who are employed in the sector, I am very concerned about their economic independence, although their happiness is also very important. They are looking after our children and it is important they feel fulfilled in their careers and that they are happy. This is a big concern of mine.

Traditionally, women in Ireland have had very low labour force participation, and that is down to the cost of child care. I have spoken to many women at school gates and on doorsteps who are heartbroken at having to give up their careers because they have had children and cannot afford the cost of child care. While they are happy to be at home with their children and they enjoy it, they are heartbroken for the careers they have lost. As citizens, we should be concerned about the skills, experience and dedication of these women that have been lost to the workforce, especially in regard to the creativity of the workforce. It is a very important area for the country to develop. We need to get child care right.

As we know, Fianna Fáil introduced the free preschool year. That was groundbreaking at the time, and I am very happy to see it extended to two full years, although it should have been done two years ago when it was announced to much fanfare by the then Minister, Senator James Reilly, that there would be two years of free preschool. That did not transpire, and as the Minister, Deputy Zappone, said in her speech, it worked out at an average of 61 weeks. I am very happy to see this done. It is something I brought up with the Minister after the last budget and it is great it has been taken on board. Fianna Fáil was the first to bring in preschool regulations, as well as the Síolta and Aistear curriculums. Again, this shows our commitment from a number of years ago to this sector, although when we left office in 2011, there were many gaps and issues in the child care sector, which I acknowledge.

I welcome the single affordable child care scheme as announced in last year's budget, although I was appalled, to be honest, with the manner of its introduction. I think the people in the Department and in crèches throughout the country should have engaged in a conversation. Given the way many providers were left at a loss as to what was occurring, there needs to be better communication with these providers. Moreover, there was no additional funding in budget 2018 for the single affordable child care scheme, and that should be looked at for next year's budget.

As I said, I welcome the additional ECCE year. Although the Minister increased capitation fees, they need to be increased further, and I urge her to look at this for next year's budget. Fianna Fáil also promises to introduce a professional development fund, should we be elected to government in the future, to provide for and educate the workers in the child care sector, to professionalise the sector and to show the value we place on child care workers and our children in providing quality early years education.

At the outset, I make the point that I am substituting today for our regular children spokesperson, Senator Catherine Noone, who is detained chairing the very important work of the Oireachtas committee. I am delighted to be able to contribute on this and I would have hoped to have come later in the statements, as I did on the last occasion we were in the other Chamber. I welcome much of the work the Minister has outlined and much of the success she personally and her Department have had in the last two budgets. It is tangible, commendable and a really good and welcome start in the right direction. I will declare my interest, not only as an expectant father, but also as someone whose wife works-----

Thank you. Six weeks to go - deadly. I declare an interest, not only as an expectant father, but also as someone whose wife works as a Montessori teacher. In any case, the conversation with my friends when out to dinner, or these days more likely sitting in a park, has moved swiftly on from stag dos and attempts to travel the world to Bugaboos, child care provision and the fact Aldi nappies are cheaper than other ones, something I never really expected I would have occasion to talk about, but I am taking to it with great enthusiasm, as the Minister can tell.

That does not mean that considerable concerns are not expressed daily by, as I said, my peer group but also on the ground, when I am knocking on doors, as well by my wife, her co-workers and many people in the sector. It is an insight into both sides of the debate and discussion. While a lot has been done and there is a lot on which to commend the Department and the Minister, there are a few areas that could still be improved.

It may be aspirational and will depend on the country's finances and the economy in general improving, but there are a few areas I would like to flag. I would appreciate if the Minister could give us some insight on them, and perhaps they could go on a to-do list in the next couple of years.

First and foremost, the cost is still extremely high for many parents, particularly for those in the Dublin region and for families where both parents are expected or, more likely, want to work. This is often lost in the debate. People say they have to work to pay the fees but, ultimately, they want to work and to invest the time in their careers after building them up so much. That goes for both the mother and the father, both mothers or whatever the situation may be. While the cost is still high, it is acutely felt in the Dublin region and one of the factors impacting on the cost is the level of availability.

This is where I see it from the other angle. Being able to set up a Montessori school or child care facility is becoming increasingly difficult for the provider. The regulations Senator Clifford-Lee referred to are welcome and necessary, but they make the situation tough. If a person wants to provide a part-time Montessori school or child care facility, the church halls and GAA clubs are full and there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm from national and secondary schools to co-locate with preschool facilities. This needs a more determined examination as it is putting an increasing burden on providers. Both the administrative burden and actually being able to set up is extremely difficult. The reason I say it is acutely felt in Dublin is the price of property in Dublin.

We all see that prices are rocketing and that the availability of commercial and residential units is extremely low. That is improving and I commend all efforts to improve the situation, but the knock-on effect on the child care sector is one that is being lost in the discussion. We can have all the provisions and supports for parents, but if a potential provider is not in a position to convert a room in a house to a facility or a classroom that meets the specifications of the county child care committee, we are constantly batting things that do not apply to certain parts of the country. To rent a commercial unit in my neck of the woods - Dundrum and Stepaside - that would be suitable for a child care facility, one is looking at rents of €2,500 to €3,000 a month. These are exorbitantly high. If only providing sessionary work of a half day or a full day, it is extremely tough.

This brings me to the next issue. It is great that kids are now able to enjoy two years on the ECCE scheme, which is really welcome and does not get the credit it deserves, but where they have moved on to national school, there is a great fall-off when it comes to after-school care. After-school care is exorbitantly expensive and the transport requirements are a huge burden. I commend wholeheartedly every grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling or whoever it is that steps into that breach. However, we have to question whether it is sustainable. Can we keep that going? I would like to see a dedicated focus on the after-school area. Much has been said about community crèches. On Facebook both parents might appear to be doing quite well and to be successful, but they are required to invest eight to 12 hours of their day in child care provision. When we take out the ECCE, the early years programme or the school, there remains an awful big gap that needs to be filled.

This will not be solved overnight. As I said at the start, what has been achieved in the past two years and before them is commendable as is what was achieved by Fianna Fáil in previous years. However, we are no way near establishing what the ideal level of child care provision should be in this country. As the country modernises and becomes more progressive, which is welcome, we need to address the challenge of child care in a hands-on manner. People are always quick to point to Scandinavian models, and I recognise their excellence. I do not doubt that. Perhaps they are a bit more advanced in terms of their approach and we can learn from them. We may not be in a position to compare ourselves economically and as a society to Finland or Denmark, but we can see what we can replicate and put in place in the best interests of, first and foremost, the child and also parents, the wider family and society as a whole.

I wish the Minister every best of luck.

Is Senator Warfield sharing his time?

Senator Paul Gavan will take two minutes. I welcome the SIPTU representatives and the representatives of the child care sector in the Gallery today. Currently, child care is one of the greatest financial pressures facing families in the State, especially young families, as Senator Richmond has outlined. We have some of the highest child care costs in the world, and the cost is commonly referred to as a second mortgage. While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil speak of tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the well-off in our society, Sinn Féin has a different vision. We want an early years sector of which we can be proud. We believe child care is a public service and, to that end, we want reliable, high-quality and affordable child care that is available to all.

We understand that investment in child care is far more beneficial than the extra €1 or €2 a week in a person’s pocket proposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. High-quality and affordable child care is not only socially and academically beneficial to the child, it also benefits wider society and the economy, allows parents, especially women, to return to the labour force and steer clear of potential poverty traps, and provides employment to the many valuable workers, 90% of whom are women, in the child care sector.

Two-parent families in Ireland with two children under the age of five pay on average between 25% to 34% of take-home pay on child care. This is twice the European average. For one-parent families, it is even more. Following a 20-country study, the OECD concluded that the best way to achieve affordability and quality in the child care sector at the same time is via subsidised child care.

In truth, despite budget 2018, for many families child care costs are still acting as a second mortgage. The Government’s overall proposed €20 million investment in the early years sector falls short of what we believe is needed. Many child care providers face serious questions on how they can provide a high-quality service, as expected by parents and Tusla. Early Childhood Ireland has outlined the main challenges. These are delivering quality services to children, maintaining the reserve required under company and charity laws, remunerating staff appropriately, paying bills, and having money set aside to carry out necessary maintenance works and to reinvest in the service.

Will the Minister expand on the details of a number of measures announced in budget 2018? The Government stated that it will increase the subsidies under the community child care subvention, CCS, targeted schemes introduced in September 2017 in advance of the commencement of the single affordable child care scheme. The statement does not contain any numbers apart from saying it will come from a €20 million fund which must also cover several other measures. Will the Minister detail how much of the €20 million will be targeted towards these subsidies and how much it will mean for families dealing with costs?

The Government also announced that the ECCE scheme will be extended from the current average of 61 weeks to give an entitlement of a full two years, that is, 76 weeks, of care and education. Will the Minister detail how, in practical terms, this will be rolled out as there are serious questions over whether the capacity exists in the sector to make this extension?

There was no direct reference to any increased recognition of non-contact time. Does the Minister seek to address this issue given the high volume of administration work needed when it comes to delivering child care schemes?

The term "other measures" was referenced in budget 2018 as part of the €20 million increase. Will the Minister detail what is meant by this?

The Minister is very welcome to the House. I acknowledge at the outset the belief widely shared across all parties that she is a genuine Minister who is serious about trying to reform and improve child care in Ireland. It is important to acknowledge that.

I must declare an interest. I welcome my colleagues from SIPTU and the child care sector.

I used to work with SIPTU on the child care campaign. Two things about the sector struck me, the first being the amazing people I met - dedicated professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty to provide a wonderful service every day - and, second, the very poor conditions in which they worked. The Minister knows that tens of thousands of child care workers will sign on next summer. Their jobs will finish and they will have to sign on for three months. The average rate of pay in the sector is €10.27 an hour and the turnover rate is a startling 28%. In other words, one in three child care workers is voting with their feet and leaving the sector. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is not possible to build a professional child care sector with that level of attrition and those poor wages. I know she has said some positive things about the role unions can play, but we need her to go further. Given that child care workers are leaving to emigrate or to work in supermarkets where they will get a better rate of pay, will the Minister outline the steps she will take to improve the rates of pay for workers? With the greatest respect, while the 7% increase in capital funding is welcome, it will not do it because it is starting from an under-funded situation. We need the Government to commit to a sectoral employment order for this sector. There is a lot of goodwill for that to happen and unions such as SIPTU are organising to make it happen, but it will not happen without adequate Government funding.

If the Minister could win the funding to make that happen, she would transform child care into the sector it deserves to be and that all of us want it to be. She will certainly have the support of Sinn Féin if she wants to do that. In our budget submission, we allocated a fund of €40 million. That was costed by the Department of Finance to ensure that child care workers would each receive a minimum €1 per hour increase in pay, which would bring them close to a living wage. We know it can be done and, like all budgets, it is about choices.

I apologise that I must leave after my contribution to attend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution but I would welcome it if the Minister could outline the steps she is willing to take to engage with the unions and in respect of that funding question to ensure the sectoral employment order happens for the child care sector.

Senators O'Reilly and Hopkins wanted to contribute but, by order of the House, only spokespersons may speak. I have no flexibility in that matter. I call Senator Higgins.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. She has shown a genuine commitment and dedication to transforming child care, and a vision of how it should and might be done. I commend her on staying consistently with this issue and for pushing it forward in recent years. I acknowledge the importance of the first year introduced by Fianna Fáil which laid the groundwork for how we might proceed.

I recognise the increase in this budget. We are, however, coming from a phenomenally low base. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, reports produced recently show that the Irish expenditure on early years education is 0.1% of gross domestic product. Others produce figures that put it at 0.3%. These figures are far below the OECD average of 0.8% and the recommended level of 1%. I urge the Minister to increase and maintain her ambition and the message that this area needs huge investment must go to all members of the Cabinet. I believe we should do as the Scots have done. They have sought to catch up with and emulate the Scandinavian model from a low base by treating it as an issue of vital national infrastructure. That is what a child care system that is adequate and serves its purpose is, vital national infrastructure. If we are going to meet targets or reach those averages we will have to see a doubling of ambition next year and beyond. I know the Minister will push for that but what timeline does she see over the next five years for us to reach those OECD averages? Some estimates put this at €125 million each year over the next five years. That is a reasonable and appropriate investment. There are some tax cut measures and tax reliefs but a greater gift to families would have been to introduce an adequate service in the area of child care rather than give them short-term cash in hand through tax cuts.

The burning issue is that if we want quality in early years education and child care, we need quality terms and conditions for staff as part of that agenda. I recognise, as others have done, that representatives of SIPTU are in the Gallery. The Big Start programme it has worked on with Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Union of Students and many others has been a co-ordinated call from society for standards in this area. The IMPACT trade union has also been working in this area as has the Association of Childhood Professionals. There is a very strong demand from people who know what is involved, what quality is needed and who recognise the danger of the 28% drop-out rate. We do not want the situation that we see in nursing to arise. Young nurses are poached and move to other countries. We are losing people not only because their pay is inadequate, but also because they do not see a pathway to progression in the sector. That is why the introduction of proper pay scales that give people confidence that they can grow and evolve in this area are vital. I echo the calls for a sectoral employment order. That is the way to introduce quality. This is how we set standards. It is fine to introduce incentives and I would like to recognise the higher capitation level, for example, staff who may have certain qualifications. That is positive but it is not enough. We need to have a baseline and that is what a sectoral employment order can provide. Can the Minister tell us where she thinks that debate is, and where and how it will move forward, so that we can ensure we build a system to last?

I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection and I am very aware that, while we hear about "two full years", they are not really full years. They are 38 weeks and there is a significant gap for many people working in this area. While payment has increased for non-contact time and programme support, there is no guarantee and no measures to show that is necessarily going into more secure or year long contracts for staff. When staff regularly have a break of two or three months, they are left in the precarious position of going back onto social welfare payments. They do not build up the four years which in another sector would give them some security within an organisation. It is a regular break and they start from scratch which creates insecurity.

Has the Minister been engaging with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, who I am sure is concerned about this issue, about the gap between the 15-hour contracts and the fact that family income supplement arrives only at 19 hours? For those working in the sector, there is a gap between the 15-hour contract they have and the 19 hours they need to be working if they are to be able to access family income supplement. That is a real concern for those working in the sector and for those relying on child care to allow them go out to work. Those four hours have an impact greater than four hours. It gives those using the service an option. They know that if they work the 19 hours in a supermarket, they will be able to get the family income supplement. If they stay working in child care, even if they are passionate about it, they are vulnerable because in many cases they do not get hours outside the standard provision of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme.

The roll out of the single affordable child care scheme has been delayed. I would like to see it move forward faster. Concerns have been expressed about the parental contribution and how that will definitely be reined in for those who had been on child care employment and training support schemes and community employment child care schemes, particularly lone parents, who used these schemes as part of their access to training or education.

The Minister recognises this concern having worked previously on the issue of lone parents. How will she ensure people do not fall through the cracks when some schemes end and the new scheme is rolled out?

Child care will be a fundamental part of the wider recognition of care. Does the Minister view this as part of a better recognition of care across all parts of society? We spoke, for example, about the removal of women in the home as a measure. Will care be given recognition? Will the Minister support the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she seeks to address the gaps in the pension system? The recognition of care is a wider issue.

To add to Senator Richmond's comments, will the national planning framework be used to ensure we plan for a much more ambitious child care system and integrate this in how we plan and build communities?

The Minister is very welcome. As previous speakers noted, all Senators acknowledge her commitment to the issue of child care and her achievements in this area in the Government's first two budgets. Previous Governments also made improvements in this area, for example, through the introduction of paid paternity leave, a measure in which I was involved. While we are in a better place than was previously the case, we are coming from a disgracefully low base in the area of child care. It is often said by Barnardos that we spend approximately €10,000 per annum on every primary school child, €12,000 per annum on every secondary school child, €16,000 per annum on every third level student and practically nothing on children of preschool age.

People approach this debate from different vantage points but the political debate has always focused on the costs of child care to parents. It is as if this is simply a cost issue and the introduction of a tax credit would make matters easier. Other considerations, including the experience of the children and workers in the preschool setting, are sometimes lost. As we know, particularly in areas of disadvantage, the early years are crucial to a child's development. The terms "child care" and "preschool education" overlap and people can become confused or unclear about what they are talking about when it comes to child care and preschool education.

The impact of early childhood care and education on brain development is significant and the capacity of children to learn during these years is immense. Furthermore, damage done to children in these years is often irreversible. When I speak in this Chamber or in other forums I often cite statistics showing that a poor three year old child will have about 400 words in his or her vocabulary, whereas a three year old from an advantaged or rich background will have about 1,200 words in his or her vocabulary. It is difficult to address this gap when the child attends primary school.

We have not come from this debate from the perspective of the child but instead focused on parental cost. This is understandable and it is an issue with which the Department is dealing. As previous speakers stated, the potential negative experience of a child is being compounded by the lack of morale in the system caused by conditions in child care workplaces, including poor pay, and job insecurity. It is difficult to maintain motivation in any workplace if one is at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of payscales, certainty of employment and all the other issues raised by other speakers.

It is great that representatives of SIPTU, the trade union behind the campaign on child care workers, are present. On the issue of the sectoral employment order, I understand the Minister and her officials are open to the proposed measure. I acknowledge, however, that this is not her call to make alone because Government-wide support will be required for such an order to be made. While I have great faith in the Minister's instincts, political values and ethics, many of us have questions as to whether those who surround her at the Cabinet table share her views on employment rights, workers' rights and equality in the workplace.

As previous speakers noted, a gender equality issue arises because the vast majority of workers in the child care sector are female. This is vulnerable but crucial work. If one wants to damage a person in the long term, one should inflict the damage when he or she is aged under four years because it will be lasting. I am not in any way suggesting this is what is happening in the child care sector. However, if people are not properly paid and treated with respect, we should not be surprised if low morale seeps through the entire system.

The House discussed special needs assistants in primary schools who work with the most vulnerable students in the system. These workers feel undermined and uncertain about their career prospects because the Department treats them as an add-on to the system, rather than a central part of it.

We need to focus on three elements, namely, what is best for parents and how we tackle the costs of child care for parents; what is best for the child and his or her development; and what is best for the child care worker. These three elements do not necessarily have to compete. If staff are highly motivated, well paid and trained, professional and respected, the children in their care will benefit, as will their families.

I stand with previous speakers, SIPTU and child care workers on this issue. The sectoral employment order is the primary reason for my contribution to this debate, a view echoed by other speakers. If the Minister were to provide a commitment to introduce an employment order, this debate will have been worthwhile.

In terms of what the Minister and her officials are trying to do, as she will be aware, the Seanad can often surprise us because once we get our teeth into an issue on which we all agree, Senators can be forceful in supporting a Minister. This could benefit the Minister as she continues to make improvements in this area.

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her on her achievements. Senator Ó Ríordáin put very succinctly a statement I had intended to make. We all see her achievements and objectives peppered through her Ministry. It is important that we acknowledge this. The Minister has a clear understanding of child care and I congratulate her on championing the issue. It is always difficult to secure funding at the Cabinet table and I accept that progress is being made incrementally. It is clear she has pushed this issue. I thank her for providing an update on child care and demonstrating where additional funding will be provided for early years care and education.

The previous speaker noted the importance of learned responses and experiences in childhood. In addition to providing services, we must also address what occurs in child care services and children's experience of these services. Adults and carers can learn from the way in which children play and interact with each other. One can pick up signs from such observation, including weaknesses and vulnerabilities in children. It is one thing to have children in child care but it is important to use the opportunity to learn and gain experiences about children.

This brings me to the issue of additional services, particularly in areas of disadvantage. As Senators are aware, each of the 31 local authorities has a child care committee, all of which face demands for support services.

There are more problems for children in disadvantaged areas, where, from the moment they enter primary school, teachers observe behavioural problems. I spoke to a principal yesterday who told me she can predict the course of action for the children coming in.

I acknowledge the enormous work the Minister has done. There is an opportunity for early intervention with children involving the trained staff working with them. I acknowledge the work of SIPTU, which is clearly championing the issue. My office has received numerous communications from the union. It is interesting how the trade union movement is ever-evolving and is so active on social issues. It was where the trade union movement started and it is now coming back very strongly to that base of support for communities, workers and families.

I again thank the Minister. I hope we can get even more money. I acknowledge her vision and values in respect of child and youth policy for which I thank her.

I am delighted to hear all the Senators' contributions. As always, it helps me considerably in my work. I know they prepare and think deeply about these issues.

At the beginning of the autumn or the end of the summer, if I were a child care worker, I would join a union. Those in SIPTU know that I support their campaign. Many of the issues raised today relate to pay and conditions in the child care sector. Obviously the sector in general needs more investment. I got more money this year. My Department received a 5.7% increase in its funding. It is in the top two or three Departments in that regard. This shows that not only I but also the Minister for Finance and my Cabinet colleagues recognise the importance of continued investment. Even in more restricted times, I was able to secure a significant amount.

As many Senators are aware, the focus of the previous budget was on affordability of child care and reducing costs for families. The focus of this budget is on quality by getting more money into the services, which I hope will be provided to the workers in order to improve pay and conditions. I chose to increase ECCE capitation because that is the cornerstone of what service providers do. A small service with 11 children and a level 6 practitioner will receive an increase of €1,881 over 38 weeks. An average-sized service with 20 children and a graduate room leader will see its income rise by approximately €5,000. A moderate-sized ECCE service with 70 children will see its income increase by approximately €14,000. A large ECCE service with 120 children, where half of its rooms are availing of the standard capitation and the remainder are at the higher capitation rate, will enjoy and income increase of €22,230.

Those are just a few different case studies showing that, based on what I have done, money is going into services. That increase supports the services themselves in terms of their costs and also the workers in terms of their pay and conditions. It is up to the providers to make those decisions. As Senators are aware, extending the entitlement to two full years increases income to a provider. The €18 million secured for programme support payments next year goes to the providers.

To the extent that money was available, I targeted funding the providers with the absolute hope and expectation that some of it would be shared with the people working in the sector. I have made the suggestion of sectoral employment orders but while I support it, I cannot do it. We need to have an employers' representative body to negotiate with unions. We need more workers to join unions and we need an employers' representative body to negotiate and go to the Labour Court in order that it might come to the Government with a recommendation on appropriate pay and conditions. I cannot do any more than encourage that to happen. It is not up to my Cabinet colleagues or even up to me; it is up to the profession to move that forward. My Department would certainly make a submission in respect of that process. As Senators will know, we have begun the independent review of costs and this will contribute to the process of identifying appropriate pay and conditions.

I am getting as much money as I can, probably more than some of my colleagues. Much of the impetus for this rests with those in the sector and I plead with them to take up the invitation to act. I need Senators to support me in that regard. In August, I started to do a lot of work on the budget. I would like to see greater numbers not only joining the unions but also doing whatever they do - I know what they do because I was a member of a union in a past life - in terms of agitating to ensure increased investment.

A Senator asked how much it will cost and how long it will take to get to where we need to go. I do not know. However, we hope that substantially more money will be available in the budgets for 2019 and 2020. That is why it would be fantastic to have sectoral employment orders as we move forward. We will certainly have the independent review of costs. I will be at the table again trying to persuade people by using many of the arguments Senators have raised here. I encourage them to continue to raise them. I brought those arguments to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and he was persuaded by many of them. I said that irrespective of what we get, we need to ensure that we offer the sector the opportunity to sustain itself, particularly over the next year while we wait for, hopefully, increased investment.

I could say a great deal more but I am sure I have used my time.

It is coming to a conclusion.

In response to Senator Richmond, it was only in September that measures to increase affordability for parents rolled out. The Senator referred to aftercare. Many of the targeted supports are geared towards supporting aftercare.

I was asked about the 15-hour as opposed to 18-hour contracts. It is a really excellent question. I will pursue that and at least have the negotiations. I acknowledge the support Senators have offered. I ask them to continue to agitate in the way they are doing and that they support the vision and the genuineness I have displayed by means of my actions and what I have achieved in the context of the past two budgets.

Sitting suspended at 1.40 p.m. and resumed at 1.50 p.m.