Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Questions (60)

James Browne

Question:

60. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to develop targeted supports for children in County Wexford in need of childcare whose parents are not available for work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29380/19]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Children)

The national childcare scheme is the pathway to quality, affordable and accessible childcare in Ireland. It will ultimately replace the existing targeted childcare schemes with a single, streamlined and user-friendly scheme, providing both universal and targeted childcare subsidies. The scheme will provide up to 40 hours of childcare per week for parents who are working, studying, transitioning between work and study or unavailable to care for a child for specified reasons such as a prolonged illness or disability. The definitions of work and study will be set out in regulations to be made under the Childcare Support Act 2018 and extremely comprehensive, covering different types of work and study arrangements such as part-time, week on-week off and zero-hour contract arrangements.

Parents who do not meet any of the criteria which I have mentioned may still qualify for a standard hours subsidy up to a maximum of 15 hours per week. This approach recognises that, in such cases, parents do not need childcare for work or related reasons. It also reflects the evidence for the strong benefits of early childhood care and education for young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as the evidence that these benefits are, in most cases, realised with part-time participation. For children in school and pre-school, the standard hours subsidy will entitle them to up to 15 hours of subsidised childcare out of term time while during term time child development needs will be met through school and pre-school services.

The approach is consistent with the scheme's policy objectives of promoting positive child development outcomes, labour market activation and a reduction in child poverty. It is also bolstered by special sponsorship arrangements which will ensure that, if there are vulnerable children and families, they can be referred for childcare without any parental co-payment. To support a smooth transition to the national childcare scheme, families can also choose to make the switch to the new scheme once it is launched in October, or they can remain on their current childcare subsidy programme for one final year.

I thank the Minister. There are a number of schemes across the country. I am aware of two in County Wexford, one in Bunclody and the other in Wexford town, where Ferns Diocesan Youth Service, FDYS, provides childcare schemes for the children of sometimes vulnerable adults or adults with serious addiction or mental health issues. On the provision of childcare, the schemes are more in the nature of intervention and welfare-type schemes. Their funding will be cut under the new scheme. If they lose their funding, they will be gone. The children benefit greatly from the schemes which help to set them up for school and provide them with food and support. That support will no longer be available. Their parents will not be benefiting from work activation programmes, given that sometimes they cannot read or write and are from very difficult backgrounds where there may be mental health issues. The FDYS tells me that its schemes will be gone. We hear about similar situations across the country; for example, there is a similar case in Carlow. I ask that something be done to ensure the schemes will be kept in place. The scheme in Bunclody receives €36,000 a year and is providing phenomenal support and value for money for the children. It is about the children. I am not worried about the parents but about the children and the support they are receiving which needs to be continued.

We will look at the specific settings the Deputy has identified. We want to make sure the supports that have been provided for parents and children in the past in the way we have provided funding will still be available. I do not want to comment further on the specific settings as I am not sure exactly what is going on, but we will look at them. More generally, what I have been trying to describe is that, with the introduction of the national childcare scheme, those who are making the least or on the lowest income will get the most. In fact, we are trying to ensure this will continue to the case as we move towards the introduction of the national childcare scheme. As I have said previously, we will have sponsorship arrangements within the national childcare scheme. For example, if there are teen parents who are still in education and training, the Minister for Education and Skills sponsors them and they receive free childcare. If there are refugees and asylum seekers who need support, they are sponsored by the Department of Justice and Equality and receive free childcare. To promote their welfare, Tusla often sponsors children in order that there is free childcare. We will look at the specific settings the Deputy has identified because there may be something else going on.

The Minister has listed a number of situations that are very different. The difficulty seems to be that in the codifying of the childcare programme certain programmes are going to fall between the cracks. As I understand it, in some cases the number of hours is going to be reduced from 40 to 15. I suggest the Minister's office make contact with Mr. Kieran Donohoe who is over the FDYS and helping to provide schemes. I have talked to a number of my colleagues in other parts of the country. There are schemes in place that do not fall into any of the particular categories, but they are providing very good childcare services in particularly disadvantaged areas across the country. They are falling between the cracks. It was perhaps the case that they were shoehorned into the previous system and the codification is hurting them.