I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 160 together.
My Department has begun work on Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy which will provide an innovative and dynamic blueprint for the future development of Ireland’s Early Years sector aimed at providing a coherent approach to seeking to improve the lives of children from birth to age six.
One of the issues of policy which I have identified for consideration in the preparation of the new Strategy is the development of the childminding sector as a fully-integrated component of early childhood care and education, in particular for the under-one age group.
At present pre-school services are regulated under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No.2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991.
Services providing care for children who have not yet commenced primary school are required to notify their service to the Pre-School Inspectorate of the Health Service Executive (HSE) and are subject to inspection and report by the Inspectorate on a regular basis. Services covered by the Regulations include full-time, part-time and sessional services as well as childminders taking care of more than three pre-school children from different families in the childminder’s home.
The National Guidelines for Childminders, compiled by the National Childcare Co-ordinating Committee which oversees the development of an integrated childcare infrastructure throughout the country, provide guidance to childminders on good practice, and assist them to decide whether they are subject to the Regulations, as well as providing other useful information on the role of the childminder in the provision of childcare services.
As is the case with all regulatory requirements, the Child Care Regulations set the minimum standards which services are legally required to comply with. However, my Department is pro-active in monitoring, promoting and developing the highest standards of care and education throughout the sector, including the regulatory environment, given the important role which these services play in this crucial phase of children’s lives.
My Department provides annual funding to each CCC to enable it to support and advise all childcare providers at local level. In 2012, the total amount allocated to the CCCs was €11.3m.
I understand that there has been reduction in funding by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to City and County Childcare Committees in some areas. The HSE has, however, confirmed that it will endeavour to support the CCCs wherever possible. I have asked my Department to engage further with the Committees and the HSE and to provide a report to me on this matter.
My Department also provides annual funding, totalling €2.85m in 2012, to the seven National Voluntary Childcare Organisations, who provide support at a local level to their members.
Of the childminders covered by the Regulations, 257 had notified the HSE at the end of 2011, the last full year for which figures are available and also at that date, 1,250 childminders not covered by the Regulations had voluntarily notified the HSE.