Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (52, 59)

Martin Heydon

Question:

52. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the actions she can take to address delays in the re-registration process for childcare providers as early years services which are causing concerns for the providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51548/19]

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Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

59. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of childcare facilities which will be affected by the extension of the deadline for the submission of certain documentation to Tusla until 30 June 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51555/19]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Children)

I am aware, on foot of information from some Kildare early years childcare providers, of delays in processing their re-registration, which needs to be completed by the end of the year. I ask the Minister to provide an update on the actions her Department is taking to address these delays.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 59 together.

The operation and maintenance of the register of early years services is a matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which is the independent statutory regulator. Since this is a regulatory issue, my Department does not have a direct role in the processing of registration applications or maintenance of the register. Tusla was given additional powers in 2016 which included the registration of services. The deadline for re-registration has been known to providers since then and indeed it appears on their registration certificate. Over the past 18 months, Tusla has been engaging with providers on requirements for re-registration, including through a consultative forum of stakeholders. Tusla issued further guidance to service providers in August 2019 on specific documentation required on planning permission as part of the re-registration process.

In order to be registered on 1 January 2020, providers must submit an application for re-registration by midnight on 12 December 2019. Providers were urged to submit their applications in advance of this date, given the large volume of applications expected. The deadline of 12 December was necessary in order to give Tusla time to process all applications. To minimise uncertainty for providers, last week, on 5 December, Tusla issued a further letter to all providers, offering assurance that any provider who submits a completed application with the specified essential documents by 12 December will be re-registered. All providers who submit a completed application will be issued a further individual confirmation of re-registration by 20 December and will be able to continue operation of their service in January.

I am informed by Tusla that the total number of early years services that are due to re-register by 31 December 2019 is 4,117. As of Monday morning, 3,752 services had commenced the application process on the Tusla portal. Of these, 3,081 applications had been submitted via the online portal for assessment. Therefore, 671 applications are commenced but not yet submitted and just 365 have yet to start the application process. I have a further update to add to that in the supplementary reply.

Submitted applications are currently being processed in batches through a series of specially convened registration panels. My Department has been working closely with Tusla to ensure there is adequate staffing in place to process applications on time, and to assist with effective communications with providers. In addition, my Department has supported city and county childcare committees to give advice and assistance to providers that need help with re-registration. In recognition of the difficulties many providers were experiencing in completing re-registration, as the Deputies know, Tusla decided to revise the timeline for submission of supporting documentation for re-registration. Under the revised arrangements, while providers must apply to Tusla by 12 December, they have until 30 June 2020 to provide some of the supporting documentation required, including on fire safety and planning requirements. On 27 November, my Department issued a letter informing providers that Tusla has revised the timeline for submission of supporting documentation for re-registration. That letter provided clear guidance on what is required by 12 December and what can be submitted up until 30 June.

I thank the Minister for a comprehensive response. She has touched on many of the issue's complexities. It is a concern that as of today, 365 childcare providers have yet to start the process. Are those figures right as of today or is there an update on them?

There is an update.

The Minister might consult with Tusla on communication. I take her point about the consultative forum with stakeholders. Is that with county childcare committees? Dealing with early years providers in Kildare, I find that there seems to be a disconnect in terms of communication. I presume it is because they are very busy running their facilities on a day-to-day basis. They are the backbone of our childcare system and provide a safe environment for our children to learn, play, grow and develop. It is really important. We should look at communication. There has been a lot of stress and concern and some of the information may not be getting down to the individual childcare providers.

I thank the Minister for the comprehensive response. I acknowledge the additional time that was notified recently on it, which gives an opportunity to childcare providers that are under pressure. It is a significant burden on many of them. They want to be compliant and have everything in order and are making every effort. The time and cost of bringing in a chartered surveyor and expensive skills are a burden on the childcare providers. Those skills may not be readily available. Of the 365 providers that are not engaged, which is a large number of people, how many of them are from Cork? On the 600 that started and did not follow through, almost a quarter is in question there. Can the Minister clarify how many of those are Cork-related? Will these operators be in a position to access further funding, given that they will not be fully registered and fully compliant? Parents applying for the new affordable childcare scheme will want to know that the provider and operator will be accessible to them. What is their status in that regard?

To be absolutely clear, as the Deputies probably understand, everyone who wants funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has to re-register by 12 December. They have to submit an application by 12 December. There is a certain set of documentation that is required for 12 December. Most of that documentation should be pretty much on hand, such as Garda vetting for the registered provider, two references for the registered provider, a certificate that it is registered, the registration number of companies from the Registration Office, a statement of the provider's purpose and function, a safety statement, signed declaration and so on. Those are pretty straightforward but they have to submit them by 12 December. Other documents on planning permission and fire safety that may be more complicated are not required until 30 June. They need to put in their application by 12 December in order to be re-registered.

I have just received a note today. Tusla put out a press release stating that more than 94% of the service providers have applied for re-registration ahead of the deadline. There are 230 remaining. That is a pretty strong and exceptional result. It is just a few days out and I urge the remaining 230 to put in to re-register because they cannot get funding if they are not re-registered. I do not know the number for Cork but I can see if I can get that information for the Deputy.

In response to the question about ongoing consultation, I hear that in respect of Kildare particularly. I think that is what the Deputy is raising and we can pass it on to Tusla. I have information on the consultative forum and ongoing engagement with the stakeholders, which I am happy to share with the Deputy. His general point is something I will take back to see if that can be improved.

I thank the Minister. I am not aware that there is a telephone line. Maybe if childcare providers had a direct line that they could use to call Tusla and ask specific questions, it would be most helpful and might take some confusion out of the process. I do not believe there is a helpline number for them. The Minister might follow up on that as well.

I am aware, from having talked to the childcare providers, that this potentially has knock-on impacts on their insurance, which is very serious, in addition to the need for them to get that application and the registration in for funding. On the re-registration, how long will it last and when will they have to renew it? Is it a once-off or an annual thing? Is the registration in any way linked to the national childcare scheme or is it completely different and only to do with the funding for the early years school providers?

I want to get an outline of where things stand with the Cork figures. If the Minister can get those and forward them to me, I would be pleased. What will be the position of the 230 who have not engaged next Friday? What will happen? Will funding be turned off if they are not registered and where do parents stand? Can the Minister clarify that? There is a real concern about what the status of the not-engaged people will be. Will the many families who use these services be made aware and what is their position going to be on Friday in the event that some or many of these 230 are not registered?

I will do my best in respect of the 230 in Cork who have not begun the process. I will put a request in for a dedicated phone line, to see if that is possible, especially for these last few days.

What I have been trying to outline in the answer to this question and at a couple of other points is that they were communicated with from the time that they registered initially about the requirement to be re-registered in a three-year period. I have outlined the ways that Tusla has had some ongoing communication with providers in that regard. I have run small organisations and businesses so I understand that one gets to that point when one needs to do something when there is very little time left as distinct from way ahead. There are some people who have not gone on to the portal and put in the registration process. I call on them to do that. If they are not registered, if they do not do that, the Department will not be able to provide funding. I think the time that people have been given is very reasonable. We have been communicating that it is important to do. If people are having real difficulty in finding paperwork or understanding how to do it they should phone my Department and ask for assistance.

Will the Minister extend the deadline?

It is part of the law. We cannot extend that deadline.