In First Five, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, published in November 2018, my Department committed to complete a review of the operating model for Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) in this country.
The existing operating system developed over the years in response to emerging needs. It operates across many levels, and includes organisations such as Pobal, 30 City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs), and 7 National Voluntary Childcare Organisations (NVCOs) which are funded by my Department to carry out a range of administrative, operational, communications and training functions in relation to ELC and SAC services.
Investment in ELC and SAC has increased by 138% over the last five years, the number of ELC and SAC places has doubled, new schemes have been developed, including the recently opened National Childcare Scheme, and are serving twice the number of children than previously, and there has been significant development of policy, legislation and quality initiatives. Hence, my Department’s commitment in First 5 to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the operating system is timely.
The project planning phase for the Review is nearing completion and my Department expects to have terms of reference agreed in the coming weeks. My Department will lead on the review, with appropriate assistance from external bodies, and will engage with all relevant stakeholders during the process, including Early Childhood Ireland.
It should be noted that the project will aim to explore a variety of options in relation to how best the ELC and SAC operating system can be overseen by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) in the coming years. The establishment of a single ELC and SAC agency is likely to be one of several options for reform to be considered by the Review.
The ultimate objective of the Review is to ensure the operating system is equipped to implement DCYA policy to the standards required. The final system will support high quality, accessible and affordable early learning and care and school age childcare services to children and families through the efficient and effective administration of a number of programmes, schemes, quality initiatives, and other functions such a compliance and communications. The operating model will support service providers, operate transparently and accountably, provide value for money to the Exchequer and demonstrate good governance. The model will enable appropriate linkages and effective working relationships with all other agencies and Departments charged with delivering better outcomes for children and families.