The National Childcare Scheme opened on November 20th. It is being opened on a phased basis, with the online application system now available and a postal application system available from early 2020. The NCS streamlines the existing targeted schemes and is more accessible for both parents and service providers. I am delighted that there has been a very high volume of applications since its opening. As of the 9th December over 12,000 applications have been submitted, relating to over 17,000 children.
The Deputy is correct in saying that there is no onus on childcare providers to partake in the NCS. However, supports were provided earlier this year to encourage providers to sign up to the Scheme. These supports included various training and information resources, the NCS transition Support Payment, and the NCS Capital Grant. I am delighted that 3645 services across the country contracted to deliver the NCS. Their details are available on the NCS website.
With regard to the school-age-childcare ratios, these ratios were introduced with the best interest of children in mind and they have been widely welcomed by child advocates. My Department does not expect to see an increase in fees for school-age-childcare or an overall reduction in places as a result of the regulations.
Data from a sample of 400 school-age childcare services, indicates an average adult-child ratio for school age childcare of 1:9, well within the 1:12 ratio required.
Other data provided by childcare providers across 29 areas, shows that only 16% of services were operating above the 1:12 ratio.
Based on the same data from providers, it is estimated we will see an increase of approximately 2,000 school age childcare places.
Through the National Childcare Scheme and a range of other measures, I am committed to changing Ireland’s childcare system from one of the most expensive in the world to one of the very best. Good progress has been made and the commitments are in place to continue this journey.