Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (577)

Bernard Durkan


577. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the degree to which she remains satisfied regarding the availability of community child support services, including the provision of support for afterschool activities through youth clubs and similar bodies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51840/19]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department continues to invest significant resources in the childcare sector generally. Over the last five Budgets (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020) investment in childcare has increased by 137% which reflects the emphasis being placed on improving access to affordable, high quality services.

This increased investment includes funding of the After School Childcare (ASCC) scheme. ASCC is designed to support parents on eligible training courses, as well as certain categories of parents returning to work, by providing subsidised childcare places for eligible children between 4 and 13 years of age.

Under the National Childcare Scheme which opened for online applications on 20th November 2019, school-age childcare services who are registered with Tusla are able to avail of subsidies under the new scheme. As Tusla-registration is a requirement, The Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) (Registration of School Age Services) Regulations 2018, announced in December 2017, came into force on 18th February, 2019. These Regulations enable school-age childcare services to register with Tusla and participate in the National Childcare Scheme.These initial Regulations are limited in scope and intent, providing primarily for the registration process, and they will need to be replaced at the earliest opportunity by comprehensive Regulations, which are expected to address wider aspects of quality, including qualification requirements for staff. Earlier this year I launched a public consultation process on Standards and comprehensive Regulations for school-age childcare. This consultation process was launched in Mid-May with an open call for submissions and an online survey. In addition, a focus group session with school-age services and an Open Policy Debate were held in June.

There has been little change in the proportion of childcare provision that is community-based. According to the Pobal annual sector profile, which is carried out on my Department's behalf, in 2013 approximately 26% of childcare services were community services. The latest data indicates that the proportion in 2018 is approximately 24%.

The annual survey suggests that supply of childcare places currently broadly matches demand. My Department is committed to keeping capacity in the sector under review. Staff from City and County Childcare Committees are available across the country to assist parents who may have difficulty in meeting their childcare needs.

The Programme for a Partnership Government included a number of commitments to strengthen supports for school-age childcare. My Department chaired a group with the Department of Education and Skills to progress those commitments in a coherent way and to align relevant bodies of work under our respective areas of responsibility. The result of this work, the Action Plan for School Age Childcare, was published in 2017.

The Action Plan sets out a strategic direction and comprehensive action plan for school age childcare in Ireland, focusing on the 3-year period 2017-2020. It aims to strengthen the quality, access and affordability of School Age Childcare.

The Department of Education and Skills has published guidelines to assist school authorities on how their premises might be utilised for school-age childcare and other activities where it can be facilitated by the school patron/trustees.

My Department has also provided a programme of capital grants, uptake of which has been very high. In 2019, there were 118 applications with a value of €2,200,000 approved for the creation of 2,308 new School Age places under the school-age capital grant scheme.

While youth groups may choose to provide school-age childcare or other services, to date evidence of this is limited. Youth clubs funded by my Department under the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme must be volunteer-led. While some staff-led targeted youth services are co-located with pre-schools and/or after-schools, the youth funding is not in any way linked to the operation of these services.