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. For clarity, I have not issued advice in the terms that the Deputy suggests.
In addition to the above funding, 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.
Enhanced EWSS rates with continued DCEDIY funding allows most early learning and childcare services to operate on a sustainable basis with reduced occupancy levels during this period. Where a service has sustainability concerns as a result of the current restrictions, additional supports may be made available under my Department’s Sustainability Fund.
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 and issues of sustainability. 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.