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.