Since my appointment as Minister I have consistently highlighted the importance of investing and supporting quality interventions in the early years of children’s lives. There is an increasing body of Irish and International evidence which quantify the benefits of early year’s interventions in terms of improving children’s outcomes and in delivering significant economic and societal return to the state.
In line with this commitment I announced the preparation of Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy which will represent one of three, more detailed strategies under the high-level Children and Young People's Policy Framework.
I appointed an Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Dr. Eilis Hennessy of UCD to advise my Department on the Strategy and I am happy to advise the Deputy that the Group has now completed its work and I have recently received its Report and recommendations. I expect the Strategy to be published later this year.
My Department currently provides in the region of €260 million annually to provide for three childcare support programmes which ensure that more than 100,000 children have access to quality and affordable childcare. These programmes will be maintained in 2014 and I expect the Early Years Strategy to identify opportunities for more effective utilisation of existing resources and funding, as well as priority areas for further investment through funding availability over the life of the Strategy.