A key priority for me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is to ensure access to high quality and affordable early years and school-age childcare services.
Each year Pobal conducts research on behalf of my Department to examine a number of factors related to childcare services in Ireland, including the monitoring of capacity. The most recent Early Years Sector Profile 2017/2018, published in November 2018 indicates that existing childcare provision in general meets the needs nationwide in terms of capacity. Latest available data from Pobal indicates that in general there remains no issue in relation to capacity.
I am delighted to have secured €8.86m in capital funding for childcare in 2019. This funding will be used to meet the most pressing needs of the sector with the ultimate aim of benefitting parents and children through improving our childcare infrastructure.
Furthermore, under the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan published earlier this year, I ensured that Childcare was identified as one of our nation's strategic priorities with €250 million in additional funding to expand childcare capacity over the duration of the Plan.
Also in 2019, I provided €4m in capital funding to support additional places for under threes and €1m to support additional places for school age care. Successful applicants have been notified and I anticipate that this funding will support the creation of approximately 3,600 new and extra spaces for children up to the age of 15.
My Department funds 30 City and County Childcare Committees across the country. Part of their role is to advise my Department on capacity issues. I would encourage anyone having difficulty in securing a place to make contact with their local CCC. Contact details for all of the CCCs, in addition to other information about the services they provide, may be found on www.myccc.ie
Many parents opt to use childminders to care for their pre-school and school-age children so I was delighted to secure €500,000 in Budget 2019 to recruit a National Childminding Coordinator and a team of six Development Officers around the country, to support the registration of more childminders with Tusla and thus enable them to access subsidies under the National Childcare Scheme.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), due to be launched later this year will also be a significant intervention to address this challenge. The NCS recognises the different costs associated with providing childcare for children of different ages. The Scheme will provide for a progressive system of subsidies starting with the highest subsidy rates for children under 1(up to €5.10 per hour) and the next highest subsidy for children from 1 to under 3 (up to €4.35 per hour).
Through the National Childcare Scheme and a range of other measures, I am committed to changing Ireland’s childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world to one of the very best. In designing the National Childcare Scheme, extensive research and consultations have been carried out to ensure that this goal is achieved and that the Scheme can help as many families as possible.
The National Childcare Scheme will greatly increase the number of families who can access financial support. The Scheme removes many of the restrictive eligibility requirements of the existing support programmes, whereby a parent must be in receipt of certain Social Protection payments or a Medical Card in order to receive targeted supports. In this way, it aims to combat the poverty traps which may exist within the existing schemes, and to make work pay for parents. Many parents will see an increase to the level of subsidy they currently receive. For example, a family with a child aged two in full-time care (40 hours) and currently benefitting from the maximum subsidy of €145 per week under CCS Band A, would see their subsidy increase to €174 per week, an additional subsidisation of €1,500 per annum.
I have also worked to poverty-proof the Scheme by ensuring that families at or below the relative income poverty line will benefit from the highest subsidy rates under the Scheme. Indeed, international reports have stated that the Scheme will significantly address affordability for lower income families, with analysis showing that Ireland will, for example, change from being the most expensive country in the OECD for childcare for lone parents, to 11th position.
Arrangements are in place to ensure that no one loses out in the initial transition to the new Scheme. So, whilst there may have been fears that, in a small number of cases, where a family currently receiving the maximum amount of financial support for full-time childcare under an existing programme may receive less under the new Scheme, they will not lose out. The family can continue to access their current targeted supports (i.e. effectively remain on their current payment) until the end of August 2020.