The prices that Early Learning and Care providers charge are set by each service individually. A percentage of services’ fees lists in each local authority area are reviewed by the corresponding City and County Childcare Committee against the rules of the relevant DCYA funding schemes to monitor compliance. For example, in the case of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, no additional charges can be required of parents for the funded hours of service. With the current Training and Employment Childcare Scheme (TEC), there is a maximum parental contribution which can be levied. Other funding schemes, where the provision of Early Learning and Care services is not fully funded by my Department, do not have specific fee controls. My Department does however carefully track the average cost of provision each year in each county and this is reported on annually.
Through the National Childcare Scheme and a range of other measures, I am committed to changing Ireland’s system for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare 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. There are no fee caps within the National Childcare Scheme, however it will establish a sustainable platform to enable us to continue investing for years to come. The Scheme is designed to be flexible, allowing income thresholds, maximum hours and subsidy rates to be adjusted in line with Government decisions and as more investment becomes available.
Ireland's Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services operate within a market model. Data is available to indicate that fees have risen by approximately 8% over a 6 year period. Many factors impact on the fee level charged by services. Competition levels are one important factor. The number of Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare places have grown significantly in recent years in response to demand. The National Childcare Scheme should result in existing services continuing to expand and new services being established. The identification of childcare as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan and the commitment of €250m in capital funding will also assist in building capacity. In the coming weeks, The Department will launch plans for the development of childminding in this country so that more childminders can access the National Childcare Scheme and its subsidies. All these measures should collectively improve access, affordability and quality.
First 5, the whole-of-government strategy for babies, young children and their families published in November 2018 sets out Government's intention to develop an appropriate mechanism to control fees charged to parents for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services in return for increased State investment in affordability, quality and sustainability as part of the reform of the funding model. An Expert Group to lead the development of a new funding model will shortly be appointed and begin its work later this year. A key priority for the Expert Group will be to make recommendations for a mechanism to control fee rates for different types of provision for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare. This is a complex piece of work and is likely to take a number of years to bring to fruition.
I will continue to monitor fee levels closely in the coming months in the lead up to the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme this autumn. I will continue to seek investment in other initiatives in Early Learning and Care, and School-Age Childcare to further address access, affordability and quality.