Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (44)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

44. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied with the capacity of the ECCE sector and its ability to deliver a universal service across the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25648/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs satisfied with the capacity of the sector operating the early childhood care and education scheme and its availability to deliver a universal service throughout the country? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?

Deputy Rabbitte is speaking particularly about the two-year preschool ECCE programme. I am satisfied in recent years at the way in which the ECCE service has been delivered, especially by the providers. As time has moved on we have increased the number and time period within which the service is available to children throughout the country. I am satisfied that the planning has been undertaken by the Department in concert with the providers. There is terrific engagement and ongoing communication with providers through the early years forum that I established and these features were evident prior to the forum as well. They are also evident through Pobal's engagement in identifying the number of places required in the various parts of the country and the ways in which providers are offering the services. Some participate in the ECCE scheme while others participate in the ECCE scheme and provide after-school services as well.

There is a need to build more places and spaces as more children are born in various parts of the country. That is why we continue to roll out the capital investment programme. There is increasing need on the part of providers to ensure that ongoing continuing professional development is provided for. Again, that is why the Department has offered increases in the learner development fund. The service is largely demand-led. Certain statistics can lead us in that regard but I am confident that we will continue to do the work that has been done in recent years.

I thank the Minister for her response. I tabled that question following the capital grants announced in the past week. I referred specifically to Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre. I may have referred to Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre on the floor already. The centre is like many others in that it is in a rural area but can supply a service to areas like Galway or Athlone.

This year that crèche has been oversubscribed in the sense it will have to let go three staff because it cannot facilitate 16 children this year as it was not fortunate enough in getting a capital grant. In the past the crèche had used a national school room but because the numbers have grown in the national school room it now does not have the space. It is a community crèche in which the Government invested heavily. I have a concern around capacity. There is a capacity issue in my colleague Deputy Smyth's constituency of Cavan-Monaghan as well. It is not just in isolated areas, we have issues around it and I wonder how we can address it.

I accept what Deputy Rabbitte is saying that clearly there are certain areas where capacity is not completely being met. My answer initially was generally in terms of the way we are planning and delivering. The difficulty and challenge has to do with the demand. Who can ever predict how many children will be born etc. except that we do our best? There are predictions but how accurate they are and how well we can work in each county and each context with the needs of each particular crèche and provider is the issue. I appreciate that. I am not necessarily saying that there are not places and times such as the incident Deputy Rabbitte mentioned or the one in Deputy Smyth's vicinity as there will be those problems, but the best we can do is to engage, to hear that and to see how to resolve that - as the Deputy knows there can be lots of different reasons why capacity cannot be extended in those different settings - and that is the promise I make and I know the way my officials continue to work with others.

I thank the Minister.

We had to skip a number of questions to which we will return. In fairness Deputy Sherlock has been here all day and I have to take his Question No. 45. I will abandon the 30 seconds for introducing the question.