Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (837)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

837. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the new regulations which came into force in February 2019 are causing difficulties for childcare providers and leading to the closure of after-school facilities for children over eight years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23738/19]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Registration of School Age Services) Regulations 2018, which came into force in February 2019, enable us to begin the long sought-after quality assurance of school-age childcare services.

In setting regulatory requirements, the primary consideration must be children’s health, safety and well-being.  These were the primary factors considered when setting a minimum 1:12 adult-to-child ratio in the new Regulations for school-age childcare. The 1:12 ratio was selected following consultation with an expert group on school-age childcare standards.  The Group included representatives from DCYA, National Childhood Network, Early Childhood Ireland, Barnardos, Children's Rights Alliance, Better Start, Childcare Committees Ireland, Irish Primary Principals Network, Childminding Ireland, National Parents Council, Quality Development of Out of School Services, Tusla, PLÉ and the Department of Education and Skills among its members. The working group report that was submitted to my Department in 2018 recommended a ratio of 1 adult to 11 children. A 1:8 ratio was recommended in a 2005 working-group report. My Department ultimately decided on a 1:12 ratio.

I do not expect to see an overall reduction in the number of school-age childcare places as a result of the new Regulations. In setting the ratio requirement, current practice was considered; while some providers have until now operated higher ratios than 1:12, the evidence suggests that a majority have operated lower ratios. The 1:12 ratio requirement is close to the expert group recommendation, and while some individual services may have to recruit additional staff or reduce places (if they choose to keep their staffing level constant), this will not be true for all school-age childcare services. 

Indeed, initial data  available to my Department indicates an increase in the number of services offering  school-age childcare. This demonstrates that various policy initiatives to encourage additional capacity in school age childcare are working. As of 5th June, 338  “stand-alone” school-age childcare services (i.e. services that only provide  school-age childcare) had applied for registration with Tusla, an increase on the  235 such services previously known to DCYA, Tusla and the City/County Childcare  Committees. These services are in addition to the approximately 1,600 Early Learning and Care services that also provide school-age childcare. 

To give service providers time to adjust to the new requirement I made a decision earlier this year, following discussions with sector representatives, to delay the date on which the 1:12 ratio comes into force by 6 months, from 18th February to 18th August 2019. This decision recognised the difficulty for providers of adjusting their staffing ratio in the middle of the school year. If, in spite of the adjustment period for service providers, any parent finds it difficult securing a school-age childcare place for September, they should contact their local City/County Childcare Committee, which is available to support parents to locate childcare within their locality. Local contact details for City/County Childcare Committees can be found at www.myccc.ie.

The 1:12 ratio enables services to make a reasonable profit given that wages in the sector average at €12 per hour and pay costs are services' largest overhead. It should also be possible for services to recruit additional staff for school age childcare given that half of the sector work part-time only (ECCE hours and weeks) and many of these should be available to work additional hours.

The introduction of Regulations for school-age childcare is a new and important development. While the Regulations introduced this year are limited in scope, I intend to introduce comprehensive Regulations that build on the initial Regulations as well as on the recommendations made by the standards working group.

Public consultation is built into the process of developing these comprehensive Regulations for school-age childcare. On May 21st my Department launched the public consultation process. The consultation comprises an open call for submissions and an online public survey which are open until 5th July, as well as a focus group session with School Age Childcare Providers and an Open Policy Debate, both of which are taking place in June. Further information and links to the online survey and call for submissions can be found on my Department's website.

I am delighted to state that the  2019 School Age Childcare Capital Scheme that I announced this week is expected to create approximately 2,300 new places nationally before the end of the year.