The provision of all child care services and any future plans in this regard is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Francis Fitzgerald T.D. The Scandinavian child care model, while being a very comprehensive model, is also a very expensive model. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (D/CYA) estimates that the cost of universal child care provision in Ireland could reach around €1 billion per annum. In light of the current fiscal environment, this level of funding is not available.
The early childhood care and education (ECCE) programme is a universal programme implemented by the D/CYA and provides a free pre-school year for all eligible children before they commence primary school. Approximately €175 million is provided annually to support the programme. In the school year 2012/2013 approximately 68,000 children availed of the free pre-school provision. The community child care subvention scheme is operated by D/CYA and supports in excess of 25,000 children, across some 1,000 community/not-for-profit child care providers. Under this scheme child care providers charge reduced fees to disadvantaged and low-income parents. Access to affordable child care is one of the key supports required by customers of the Department of Social Protection when entering employment. Customers of the Department can access the ECCE programme, the CCS programme, the child care education and training scheme (CETS) and the after school child care (ASCC) scheme.
The purpose of the After-school Child Care scheme (ASCC) is to help offset some of the after-school child care costs that are associated with availing of an employment opportunity. The scheme supports those who are unemployed as well as OFP recipients and is funded from the transfer of savings from my Department to the D/CYA.
The ASCC scheme was piloted during 2013 and following a review of the pilot, I have the agreed with Minister Fitzgerald to re-focus the funding for 2014. This will allow for a new strand of child care support for customers of my Department who are participating in the community employment (CE) scheme. This new child care support will provide an additional 1,800 places on top of the existing 2,800 places, which are currently available under the child care education and training support (CETS) scheme that is administered by the D/CYA. The CETS provides subsidised child care places to clients of my Department participating in education, training and now community employment programmes.
In addition the ASCC scheme is now available nationally and will provide 800 subsidised after-school child care places in 2014. The allocation of places, funding for the scheme, and the design of the scheme itself will be monitored and reviewed – as appropriate – during 2014.