Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (653)

Anne Rabbitte


653. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the demographic or other research conducted in order to assess the number of childcare places needed in each county. [52862/19]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Early Years’ Sector Profile is an annual report presenting an overview of the Early Learning Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) sector in Ireland. The survey outlines findings and analysis from data captured in the Early Years’ Service Profile annual survey. For the programme year 2018/2019, the survey was completed by 85% of ELC and SAC services (3,821) between May and June 2019. Data is captured and reported at a local authority level. In addition to data on enrolments, fees and staffing, the survey captures data on spaces, capacity and waiting lists.

The report estimated that there were 206,301 children attending ELC and SAC services during 2018/19. This represents a 2% increase on the previous year.

The number of vacant places increased by 13% this year to an estimated 12,444. While the number of vacant places for children aged over 3 years increased last year, this figure continued to decrease for younger children (up to 3 years old). The service profile includes a breakdown by local authority, with the highest number of vacancies recorded in Cork County, and the lowest number in Longford, followed by Roscommon. Waiting list figures were highest in Dublin City, and lowest in Laois.

The overall estimated capacity was 218,745, representing an increase of 2% from last year. The growth in capacity is proportionate to the increase in the number of children enrolled (2%), indicating the proportion of vacant places remained the same. When combined with the increased numbers on waiting lists, these figures suggest more places need to be created in order to meet demand, especially for children up to 3 years of age.

In addition to these data, my Department also uses a range of official data sources to assess the demand for ELC and SAC places at a county level. Among these data are: population data and data on labour force participation from the Central Statistics Office, the main arrangements for ELC and SAC used by parents with children of different ages, and, in the case of the ECCE Programme, data on school-starting age derived from the Pupil Online Database held by the Department of Education and Skills.

These data combined inform priorities for the ELC and SAC Annual Capital Programme. This annual capital program is used to incentivise new places where they are required. For example, when ECCE was being increased from one year to two years and there was a need for extra places, the scheme focused on supporting the development of ECCE places. In 2019, it focused on under 3 places and school age childcare places.

In addition, First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and Their Families also identifies a commitment to design an enhanced research and data infrastructure which will provide quality data about early childhood. Among a range of relevant actions is a commitment to undertake research on the needs of parents who work atypical hours or live in rural communities and develop recommendations for future action and a commitment to further strengthen capacity to accurately forecast supply and demand for ELC and SAC. 

Finally, access to high quality and affordable childcare has been identified as a strategic priority in the National Development Plan and €250m has been committed for the period 2023-2028. In advance of this, a detailed research and planning exercise will be completed to identify the greatest priority for this investment.