I propose to take Questions Nos. 226 to 228, inclusive, together.
Section 58 of the Child Care Act 1991 provides for exemptions for certain categories of childminders from the provisions of Section 51 of the same Act which requires a person carrying on a pre-school service to give notice to the Health Service Executive (HSE) of their service. Those childminders exempted under Section 58 of the Act can voluntarily notify the HSE of their service and avail of a range of benefits and supports that enables them to improve the standards of their childcare service. These supports include the Childminders Tax Exemption scheme which provides for a tax exemption for those childminders who have satisfactorily participated in the Voluntary Notification process and whose annual income from childminding does not exceed €15,000. While taxation matters are not within my remit, there is no change, nor is any planned, to the Childminder Tax Exemption.
In 2002, the HSE agreed to fund a Childminding Advisory Officer in each county, who would work with the City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs). I understand that HSE funding for the Childminding Advisory Officer posts has gradually decreased in recent years and while this is not a welcome development, I would point to the fact that the CCCs are now well-established and effective bodies at local level, and that supporting the childminding sector is an integral part of their work. As a result, childminders continue to have access to support including the necessary support for childminders wishing to participate in the Voluntary Notification process.
My Department provides annual funding to each CCC to enable them to support and advise all childcare providers at local level. In 2012, the total amount allocated to the CCCs was €11.3m. In addition, in 2012 my Department provided €220,000 to the CCCs for Childminding Development Grants. My Department also provides annual funding, totalling €2.85m in 2012, to seven National Voluntary Childcare Organisations to provide support at a local level to their members. This included €358,000 for Childminding Ireland, the representative body for childminders.
My Department has commenced work on Ireland's first Early Years Strategy. I have received Government approval for the approach I am taking in developing this Strategy as an innovative and dynamic blueprint for the future development of our Early Years sector, aimed at providing a coherent approach to seeking to improve the lives of children from birth to the age of six. One of the policy issues which I have identified for consideration in the preparation of the Early Years 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.