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Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 8 September 2020

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Questions (38)

Kathleen Funchion

Question:

38. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration when the Crowe report will be published. [22325/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

This question is very straight forward. I am asking about the Crowe report. When does the Minister believe it might be published?

Crowe was commissioned by my Department to undertake an independent review of the cost of providing quality early learning and care and school-age childcare in Ireland. Planning is under way to launch the report and I intend that this will occur before the end of this month.

Crowe's brief included analysing the current costs of providing early learning and care and school-age childcare and the factors that impact on these costs; the delivery of a model of the unit costs of providing early learning and care and school-age childcare that allows analysis of policy changes and variation in cost-drivers, and the provision of a high-level market analysis of the sector in Ireland.

The review was intended to provide a robust evidence base for the further development of high-quality early learning and care, ELC, and school-age childcare, SAC, in Ireland. The outputs, including the costs calculator developed through this project, were also intended to form a key input to the setting of capitation and subvention rates for ELC and SAC.

Final outputs were received in January of this year, and preparations were under way to launch the report in April 2020. The launch, however, like so many things, was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.

The findings from this review contributed to the evidence base that underpinned the temporary wage subsidy childcare scheme and was later used in looking at the employment wage subsidy scheme, which we have spoken about and which has provided so much support across the sector.

The findings also informed the development of funding packages for the phased reopening of these services since late June.

The Minister expects the report to be done by the end of September then. That would be very welcome. I remember when it was first spoken about by the previous Minister. I would have welcomed the fact that we would have an independent report into the cost of providing childcare because it is very difficult. We know for a fact the workers are not paid enough. We know for a fact that many providers are struggling and find it difficult to keep their doors open. We also know that parents constantly face a battle, first to try to access places and, second, when it comes to the costs. Many people, therefore, in particular women, end up perhaps having to work part-time or to take parental leave on days when they would not have envisaged doing so. They find themselves in all sorts of situations just to try to juggle the costs. It is difficult to see who benefits from the high cost. It is certainly not the workers. The vast majority of providers, particularly in rural areas, are perhaps one or two-women operations. I really welcome the fact that the report will be published and I look forward to getting a copy.

Absolutely. Obviously, I was not in this position when it was commissioned, but I know just from talking to officials in the Department the huge amount of work that has gone into it. The work has been refined and strengthened as it has been undertaken. As I said in reply to a question the Deputy asked earlier, this comes in the context of other very significant research work my Department is undertaking. Sometimes people give out about reports being undertaken etc., and on one hand I can understand there is always a degree of scepticism in that regard. On the other hand, however, and as the Deputy herself knows, we are dealing with a sector that has been built on a very ad hoc basis over the past ten years after virtually no investment prior to that period. If this is to work, and if we are not going to just act in an ad hoc way, I think it will be really important we have that sustained evidence base from which to work and to design that new vision for childcare.

That has been the difficulty for so many years. There has not really been a strategy. I always refer to the additional child benefit payment that used to be paid. At one point that was seen as the solution. Then it was decided to build purpose-built facilities. While they all had a role to play, there was no proper overall strategy, and at the end of all that paying the price were the providers, the workers, the parents and, ultimately, the children, which is what this is all about. Yes, I can be sceptical myself sometimes of reports and reviews. They can sometimes sound like an excuse, a talking shop or a way to push something down the road. In this case, however, we needed an independent report into the cost of providing childcare. It is long overdue and will be great to get when it is published, so I thank the Minister.

Absolutely. All the pieces of work the Department is undertaking at the moment are really valuable and will give us that evidence base to design that long-term future. Comparisons are often made with Nordic countries and other European countries where a much more substantial amount of State investment goes into the sector. Again, that is building on things that have been ongoing for decades. We are not starting from scratch, but after ten years that is the only context in which childcare is developing in Ireland. It has always been as a response to a problem for this sector or that sector. Perhaps we have not had the opportunity to take that step back and ask how this is operating. The operational model, which looks at the administrative infrastructure, interests very few people - let us be honest - but it is important we scrutinise the role of my Department and of the 30 city and county childcare committees around the country. There should be careful scrutiny of how the whole apparatus operates together. It is to be hoped that by the middle of next year, when we get this information, we will have a very significant evidence base around a wide range of areas on which to build that future vision.

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