The National Childcare Scheme is a new, national scheme of financial support to help parents with the cost of quality childcare. It will ultimately replace all previous targeted childcare programmes with a single, streamlined and user-friendly scheme, providing both universal and targeted childcare subsidies. The development of this scheme is a significant move forward in delivering quality, accessible, affordable Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare to families throughout Ireland. It will be introduced this October, with payments flowing from November.
When the Scheme is introduced, many working families will become eligible for childcare subsidies for the first time and many more families will qualify for increased levels of subsidy. This should have corresponding benefits for childcare providers by increasing affordability and reducing bad debt. The National Childcare Scheme is also expected to increase demand for services, thereby supporting community services to operate efficiently and at full capacity.
The Scheme entails a fundamental shift away from subsidies grounded in medical card and social protection entitlements, and towards a comprehensive and progressive system of universal and income-based subsidies. By making this shift and by tangibly reducing the cost of quality childcare for thousands of families across Ireland, the Scheme aims to increase access. improve children's outcomes, support lifelong learning, make work pay and reduce child poverty. The Scheme also provides a vital platform for future investment in the sector.
To make the transition to the new Scheme as smooth as possible, families can choose to make the switch to the new Scheme once it launches (targeted for October 2019) or can remain on their current childcare subsidy programme for the balance of the programme year. This provides assurance to both parents and providers that payments under the existing schemes will continue to flow as we make the transition to the National Childcare Scheme.
On 11th March, I launched a communications campaign for the National Childcare Scheme. The campaign encompasses a major nationwide training programme for providers. I would encourage all providers to sign up for a local training session on the new website- www.ncs.gov.ie so that they can learn more about the operation of the scheme, including the rules on payment. An Information Pack has also been sent to every childcare provider in the country and a comprehensive range of information resources can be found on our website- www.ncs.gov.ie.
Finally, for services that may be facing any issues with financial sustainability, my Department oversees an integrated Case Management system which is administered by Pobal. This Case Management service provides non-financial assistance or support in the first instance. Financial supports are also available for community services facing certain challenges. These may be accessed through Case Management following a financial assessment. I would encourage any service currently experiencing sustainability challenges, or which fears that the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme could potentially affect its sustainability, to contact their local Childcare Committee or Pobal.