Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Questions (50)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

50. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her Department’s commitment to devise more appropriate Tusla registration standards for childminders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30423/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Will the Minister provide an update on her Department's commitment to devising more appropriate Tusla registration standards for childminders?

I am strongly committed to supporting positive reform of the childminding sector to enable more parents to access affordable and high quality early learning and care and school age childcare. I intend to develop regulations for childminders that are proportionate and appropriate to the home setting in which childminders work. The current regulations both for early learning and care settings and for school age childcare settings are not tailored for childminders, and the extension of regulation to childminders will require a full review of these regulations.

My officials are at the final stages of developing a childminding action plan, which I hope to publish shortly in draft form, for the purpose of public consultation. The action plan will cover a period of approximately ten years, and aims to improve access to childminding as one means of delivering affordable, quality early learning and care and school age childcare. My intention is to work towards an expanded workforce with many more registered childminders available. This will support the growing demand for childcare. The action plan will enable parents who use childminders to benefit from subsidies under the national childcare scheme. The action plan will also aim to bring childminders into the mainstream of regulation, funding and support, and to recognise childminders for the valuable work they do for children and for parents.

In respect of registration standards, the action plan will support the quality assurance of childminders and the safeguarding of children by extending the scope of regulation and inspection to all paid, non-relative childminders. In doing so, my priority will be to ensure that regulation and inspection are proportionate and appropriate for childminders. Public consultation will form an essential part of this process, and I look forward to working closely with stakeholders and with childminders, in particular, in the review and reform of the regulations.

I appreciate the Minister's answer. According to the previous census 10% of children from birth to 12 years are cared for by paid childminders, and approximately 90,000 young children are cared for by childminders in Ireland. One of the most shocking figures I ever received via a parliamentary response was on the question of how many childminders are registered, which I asked three years ago. The figure I got back was there are 120 registered Tusla childminders in the entire country. Some counties had no registered childminders at all, which is quite hard to believe given that the census tells us quite differently with the 10% figure. In 2012, the post of childminding advisory officer, as part of the city and county childcare committees, was disbanded or no longer used. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House when it is planned to put that childminding advisory officer back onto all of the city and county childcare committees as a link between the childminders and the city and county childcare committees so that we can start doing the support.

My Department is working very closely with the city and county childcare committees to ensure the recruitment this summer of a team of regional childminding development officers. I understand that we have the national person in place. The immediate task of the regional development officers will be to work with all of the city and county childcare committees to maximise the number of childminders who can register within the current regulatory framework and to take part in the national childcare scheme, NCS, in the short term. As the Deputy has indicated, a huge number of childminders are used by parents for the purposes of ensuring that their children are well looked after with regard to their requirements. I am, however, committed to finding ways to bring in more of them but they need to come in to register. We have to find ways to regulate in an appropriate way that perhaps is different than the centre-based regulations.

Absolutely. It is about regulating in an appropriate way. I believe this is where the consultation around childminding comes in. Perhaps the Minister will give the date she plans for this. She speaks of the action plan and the ten-year aims. We need to hear whether childminders are part of that consultation. When do we plan to roll it out so there is a more informed basis for childminders to encourage them to come in? From talking to childminders, as the Minister has also, Garda vetting is also an issue because childminders provide a different service. Another issue is that parents may be able to access the subsidies, which would be very welcome, but not everybody works 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and there has to be the flexibility around the different shifts worked by different parents. Many parents would be delighted to think that their childminder could access funding for those subsidies of which parents can avail, and this could stop the parents having to use centre-based organisations. This is where the childminders and the parents would very much welcome that consultation date.

The Deputy's question centres much on the public consultation. As I said, we will publish the draft action plan relatively soon. I do not have an exact date. It is then that the public consultation process will take place. It will be a full public consultation over the coming months, which will be relatively soon. The responses to that will assist my Department in finalising the action plan to ensure the consultation is comprehensive and reaches as wide a range of stakeholders as possible, including childminders and parents. A range of methods will be used, including an open call for submissions, an online survey, focus groups, including focus groups of childminders, and an open policy debate. As a result of that we will put in place a set of regulations that will form the basis for childminders to sign up and register with Tusla. It is my intention and hope that this will support them to do that. We will also have a number of other short-term supports in place for childminders while that public consultation process is ongoing.