Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Questions (4)

Gino Kenny


4. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to address the issue of crèches turning away babies and toddlers in favour of preschool children that are seen as more lucrative; if the extra €50 million will be provided to cover the gap in the new childcare scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22682/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

The question I raise today came up numerous times when we were canvassing in the past seven weeks and relates to crèches turning away babies and toddlers in favour of preschool children that are seen as more lucrative.

We have had an unprecedented increase of 117% in investment for early learning and care and school-age childcare in recent budgets. The extra investment has supported a doubling of capacity in the sector, including both ECCE and the zero to three age group. It is clear, however, that further capacity is required and that is why I am continuing my intensive efforts in this area. In 2019, I provided €4 million in capital funding to support additional places for children under three years. Decisions on the allocation of the funding will be made very soon and I anticipate that it will support the creation of approximately 1,300 additional places before the end of the year.

In the longer term, I ensured that childcare would be identified as a strategic priority in the national development plan. To that end, I have secured €250 million for that purpose, much of which will be invested in additional capacity. The national childcare scheme, to be introduced later this year, will also incentivise additional capacity. It provides a progressive system of subsidies starting with the highest subsidy rates for children under one year, with graded rates for those aged from one year and upwards.

The €50 million figure quoted this week in the media refers to the full-year costs of the scheme in 2020. The Government was aware of the costs when it approved the enhancements to the national childcare scheme  in budget 2019 and these costs will be addressed as normal within the Estimates process for 2020.

Childminders form a key part of the service provision for young children. I want to support the registration of more childminders with Tusla in order to allow them to access subsidies under the NCS. My Department has recruited a national childminding co-ordinator and will eventually recruit six more people as development officers in order to support this. We will also finalise a childminding action plan to set out the steps we have to take to move forward.

This issue arose many times on the doorsteps while we canvassed in the past few weeks. In one case, a parent had contacted 25 providers in Tallaght and Clondalkin and still could not find a place for her child. The Minister has stated previously that successive Governments have under-resourced and undervalued childcare in Ireland. This problem is caused by providers that see the provision of childcare for toddlers as more lucrative than that relating to babies. The Minister has indicated that, under the NCS, a subsidy of €5 per hour will be paid in respect of every baby. Is that amount too little? Does it help make financial sense for childcare facilities to provide places for children under the age of one?

This is a challenging situation for people. I am aware that some parents cannot find places for children under three years of age. That is the reality and it is the reason we have provided capital funding of €4 million to focus on increasing capacity for that age group in particular. It is more costly to care for children who are under three years of age because a higher staff-to-child ratio applies. I have identified that we are also increasing the subsidy for the birth-to-three age category via the NCS, which will begin in November. We plan to deal with the concerns and difficulties in accessing places for those under three in a number of ways and we anticipate that the measures to be taken will make a significant difference.

In some cases, average childcare costs can equate to mortgage repayments. Some parents are paying up to €1,500 per month for childcare, which is completely unsustainable in the short and the long term. The provider of childcare has to be subsidised by the State. If the subsidy is €5 per hour and the baby is in crèche for 36 to 40 hours per week, it would amount to approximately €800 per month. If the average cost is €1,400 then €600 is paid by the parents. Are the subsidies too low? The Minister is asking for €50 million to plug the black hole relating to the NCS next year.

I am indicating that subsidies will increase in the 2019 budget. That does not mean that matters are being made considerably easier for parents in terms of the overall cost, but it does increase the level of support provided by the State. I agree with the Deputy and I am committed to seeking an increase in the subsidy, particularly for the age group in question. With the full establishment of the NCS from November, it will be much easier to invest the money for particular ages and it will be easier to increase the subsidy. The system being set up will be more streamlined. With all of the subsidisation, which will be continued, those families with the least will get the most.