My Department is currently developing a new Children and Young People’s Policy Framework which will set out high-level goals for both my own and other Departments for the next five years. The Policy Framework is expected to be published in mid 2013 and will build on Our Children - Their Lives, Ireland’s first Children’s Strategy which was published in 2000. This is relevant to the National Early Years Strategy as the Strategy is one of three, more detailed strategies which will be developed under the Framework.
The Early Years Strategy, which will be Ireland's first ever national strategy for early years, is already under development and is expected to be completed and published later this year. It is expected that it will cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as health, including physical and mental development, vaccination programmes and population health issues such as nutrition and exercise, as well as parenting and family support, learning and development, play and recreation and early childhood care and education, including literacy and numeracy.
The Strategy will bring together and consider a significant amount of international and domestic research on the importance of early years for child development, including findings from the 'Growing up in Ireland' study. It will also be informed by the evaluations from the Prevention and Early Interventions Projects which have been funded jointly by my Department and philanthropic organisations, as well as an analysis of existing service provision and associated resources. The major programme of institutional change which is currently underway, including the establishment of the Child and Family Support Agency, will also be taken into account. The results of a public consultation, undertaken as part of the development of the Children and Young People’s Policy Framework, is currently being analysed and will inform both the Framework and the Early Years Strategy. A further, focussed consultation with key stakeholders in relation to the Early Years Strategy, is also proposed.
My Department provides funding to support three childcare programmes - the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme, the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme and the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme - which provide a range of supports to parents of preschool children and also after-school care for children older than 6 years.
The CCS programme is provided through community-based childcare services and enables those services to provide childcare at reduced rates to disadvantaged and low income families. For the purpose of the CCS programme, disadvantage and low income are determined by reference to a range of means-tested allowances and payments including receipt of a social welfare payment, Family Income Supplement (FIS) and qualification for a medical or GP visit card.
My Department also implements the CETS programme which was introduced in September 2010. The eligibility criteria under which trainees and students qualify for the programme is determined by FÁS and the Vocational Educational Committees (VECs) and €145 towards the weekly cost of full time childcare places is provided by my Department to those deemed qualified. Students on part-time courses are funded on a pro rata basis.
The ECCE programme was introduced in January 2010 and provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school.
A new School Age Childcare initiative was announced in Budget 2013 as part of a packet of measures to support children and families. It will be implemented as a joint venture by my Department and the Department of Social Protection. Under the initiative, over 6,000 after school childcare places will be made available for children of parents availing of employment opportunities. My Department has been given a full year allocation of €14 million to provide for the scheme which is expected to be fully rolled out in September 2013. This Department provides in the region of €260 million annually to support parents with the cost of childcare under these programmes and despite the budgetary situation the programmes have been maintained and expanded.