To help address the issue of childcare costs, I have provided funding of more than a quarter of a billion euro annually to support the implementation of a number of childcare support programmes that assist parents in accessing quality childcare services. More than 100,000 children benefit from these programmes each year. The support provided under these programmes is in addition to the direct support provided to all parents in the form of Child Benefit.
The funding provided through the childcare support programmes has a significant impact on the affordability of childcare services and has ensured that many children, who otherwise would not be in a position to avail of childcare services, are able to access quality services. The support has also enabled many childcare providers to continue to deliver childcare services at a time of severe economic difficulty. The funding has also ensured that employment levels across the sector have been maintained. The retention of the current level of investment in childcare is a considerable achievement given the pressure on the public finances over the last number of years.
All childcare programmes supported by my Department currently provide funding directly to early years services either in the form of capitation or subvention payments. This enables my Department to use this funding as leverage for ensuring high quality early years services while, at the same time, reducing the costs for parents.
To deliver the free pre-school year under the Early Childhood Care and Education programme, a standard capitation fee of €62.50 per week per eligible child is paid to participating early years services. A higher capitation fee of €73 per week is paid per eligible child to services with more highly qualified staff. Parents who qualify for support under this programme can have their annual childcare costs reduced by as much as €2,375 for each qualifying child.
The Community Childcare Subvention programme provides funding to community childcare services to support disadvantaged or low income families, and in the case of full day care, parents can have their weekly childcare costs reduced by up to €95 per week for each qualifying child.
Further childcare support is provided under a number of labour activation measures which support parents returning to the workforce or availing of education or training opportunities. These include the:
- Childcare Education and Training Supports programme for parents availing of training and education courses; - Community Employment Childcare programme for parents in Community Employment schemes; and
- After-School Childcare programme for after-school care.
For all of these programmes, the maximum contribution a parent makes to the cost of childcare is capped at €15 per week for part-time and after-school care and €25 per week in the case of full-day care.
The Government is committed to maintaining and improving the quality of childcare services and I consider that the funding provided by my Department through the childcare programmes is the most effective way of achieving higher quality while continuing to support parents with the cost of childcare.
To ensure that all the benefits of current (and future) investment are fully realised, it must be evidence-based and strategically coordinated. Accordingly, I have established an Inter-Departmental Group to develop a coherent whole-of-Government approach to investment in childcare. This Group, which is considering the needs of children in their early years as well as the needs of school-going children, will consider a variety of mechanisms to address the objectives set out in the Deputy's question. The Group is expected to submit its final report to Government in June 2015.