Between 11 and 31 January, access to early learning and childcare services is restricted to the children of essential workers and vulnerable children. In addition, the resumption of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) pre-school programme has been delayed.
During this period, my Department is continuing to provide funding under its schemes (ECCE, NCS, CCSP and TEC) as long as early learning and childcare services remain open for essential workers and vulnerable children, or have been directed or approved to close.
In addition, all early learning and childcare services remain eligible for support under the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and are exempt from the turnover rule. With enhanced EWSS subsidies in place until 31 March, EWSS subsidies are estimated to cover up to 50% of the operating cost of these services.
In view of State supports provided to the sector during this period, I have asked early learning and childcare services to refund or credit fees for parents who cannot access services at this time, where possible. I am aware, and welcome, that many services have already taken this step.
My officials are engaged in detailed planning as regards the arrangements for early learning and childcare services from February onwards, including in respect of funding for services, sustainability of services and the issue of parental fees. To inform this work, officials will be engaging with the COVID-19 Advisory Group, which comprises representatives from the early learning and childcare sector.
Progressing the implementation of these plans will depend on the decision to be taken by Government on COVID-19 restrictions from 1 February.