Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (49)

Anne Rabbitte

Question:

49. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is considering putting in place support measures for parents in cases in which a crèche has been deregistered; and the measures being taken to increase supply in childcare. [51843/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Is the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs considering putting in place support measures for parents in cases where a crèche has been deregistered and what measures have been taken to increase the supply of childcare? I have put forward this question because I met parents last week from Hyde and Seek in Glasnevin with Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick.

The safety and protection of children remains the first priority of Government. This is done through the enforcement of regulations which have children at the heart of their implementation.

The removal of childcare providers from the register of early years services is the ultimate sanction by Tusla, the independent statutory regulator for the sector. It comes at the end of an enforcement process during which Tusla makes every effort to support the provider to come into compliance with the regulations.

Deregistrations and prosecutions are evidence of Tusla’s robust approach where it finds evidence of disregard for regulations.

I acknowledge that deregistrations can cause significant challenges for parents in finding alternative childcare provision.

I have great sympathy for parents in this situation. Yet, I firmly believe that robust enforcement of the regulations is in children's interests and is the right thing to do. Where a service is removed from the register, the staff of 30 Department-funded city and county childcare committees throughout the country are available to support parents who need help finding an alternative service. Officials in my Department liaise closely with the relevant childcare committee to ensure that everything possible is being done for parents affected by closures. In recent cases, childcare committees have operated extended opening hours to support parents. The childcare committees have also been actively supporting and exploring the development of alternative childcare options in the locality. Tusla has agreed to prioritise or fast-track the registration of any new service wishing to open.

Capacity in the sector has doubled in the past five years and continues to rise. However, I recognise that capacity constraints remain. In 2019, I provided €5.9 million towards the creation of new places within the sector. I hope to announce details for a 2020 capital scheme in the coming months and I encourage providers to consider expansion. In time the draft childminding action plan, which I published in August for public consultation, will have a major impact in increasing capacity in the sector through opening up regulation and funding to childminders.

I suppose really my question was about what the Minister is considering and what the Department is considering. The Minister talks about locality and fast-tracking. I am aware of the issues because I met two of the providers in the area. They do not have the capacity. Capacity is at a premium, to be honest. I am looking for a commitment from the Minister today on how Tusla, the Department and the city and county childcare committees can work with the parents to keep them together.

The Minister referred to Tusla being robust. Yet, it took the agency 18 months to get the service registered. We are two years talking about this particular service. I have no wish to go into that, but these parents have no option and they are being left high and dry. They cannot find childcare in the area. They want the Department to come on board and have a mentoring system. Let us put someone in there who can help with management and administration. The parents speak well of the really good staff, the baseline workers. The parents have no option. Their backs are to the wall and they are pleading with the Minister to help in finding a solution.

It is helpful for one of our representatives to meet with parents specifically in respect of certain services that have closed. I thank the Deputy for her correspondence on the matter. The county and city childcare committees have been offering support to parents, especially in those areas. For example, the Dublin city childcare committee has received notice from more than 50 services declaring availability. The committee looked for other services that may have additional capacity. That list of services with availability has been circulated to the 32 parents who have made inquiries. The Fingal county childcare committee has contacted 110 full-day services to establish availability. A total of six parents have been in contact with the Fingal county childcare committee. The city and county childcare committees have been working with parents on a case-by-case basis to try to match places with requirements. They are engaged in other ways to support parents as well. That is only the city and county childcare committee but I can refer to other things going on in my final reply.

The bottom line is that the current childcare sector is in crisis. We have a capacity crisis. I appreciate the good work and what went online in the past week. It is welcome to identify where there is availability in these areas. That is a welcome move. However, it does not address the position that these parents find themselves in. We are three weeks out from 1 January and in the particular area two services are closing because they have to get ready for re-registration. There is no capacity because parents have gone around and asked. They have asked me and the Minister to liaise with Tusla and the city and county childcare committees to see whether there is a chance of getting someone in place to work with the owners to put in a mentoring service. A new manager has been appointed. The parents are happy to come on board. Perhaps there is some way we can join some dots here. I would welcome the input of the Minister in trying to find a solution.

In the first instance I know the city and county childcare committees are working with any parents who are in contact. They have tried to identify where places are available. If parents have not been in direct contact with the committees I urge them to make contact.

Deputy Rabbitte has explored a recommendation with parents. We have been thinking about that as well. The Deputy referred to putting in place interim management to ensure a service does not close. Unfortunately, it looks as if such a move needs legislation. There needs to be some changes to legislation to allow an interim management to come in to run the service. I have, however, asked the question. We are looking at whether we can fast-track amending the legislation to allow for the placement of interim management in a deregistered crèche. That is what is required. Second, Tusla is fast-tracking registration of some of the new services. Third, I am going to call for a meeting of city and county childcare committee co-ordinators from throughout the country early in the new year to look at whether there are any further solutions we can offer relating to the capacity and deregistration of services.