The national childcare scheme represents a significant step forward in combating the poverty traps that previous targeted childcare schemes created. It removes many of the restrictive eligibility requirements, for example, dependency on social protection payments. I emphasise that those using school-aged childcare services are not ineligible for the national childcare scheme. In fact, 45 subsidised hours are available where parents are engaged in work, training or study and 20 subsidised hours are available for parents who are not engaged in work, training or study. In this way, the scheme has anti-poverty or disadvantage objectives built in by encouraging work or training. The definition of "work" is extremely broad and covers full-time, part-time, week on week off and zero-hour contracts, and the study rule is also generous and allows parents to access 45 hours of childcare when competing any qualification from level 1 of the national framework of qualifications, even for a small number of hours per week.
I was pleased to increase the number of subsidised hours from September, partly to address the concerns that some providers had raised. A sponsorship arrangement is available within the national childcare scheme that offers additional support for families with complex needs. Once a child meets the criteria for sponsorship by a given sponsor body the child can automatically avail of 45 hours per week.
We have undertaken a series of measures to raise awareness about the sponsorship programme. The Department has been working directly with the sponsor bodies to build their capacity and support the new relationships been built between the sponsor bodies and the providers. We have been working with the city and county childcare committees to assist them with their queries. We have also been working with the teen parent support programme to ensure teen parents are aware of their right to access childcare under the national childcare scheme.
Overall, the national childcare scheme is designed to be highly inclusive and meet the needs of the most economically vulnerable children and those living in other forms of disadvantage. I will always keep the scheme under review and I will continue to work with the officials to identify any refinement needed.