Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (366)

Holly Cairns

Question:

366. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2395/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

There are no plans in place to provide employees of my Department with Covid-19 vaccinations due to their role in the Department.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (367)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

367. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of children who availed of ECCE in 2020 and to date in 2021. [2456/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is a universal two-year pre-school programme available to all children within the eligible age range. The programme is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and runs from September to June each year, aligned with the primary school calendar.

The figures supplied by the scheme administrator Pobal in the table below for the 2002-21 programme year to date show a 3% reduction on the overall programme year 2019-20, but this is not a final figure, as ECCE registrations can continue to be made up to the end of the programme year in June 2021. A slight reduction in demand for ECCE places in 2020-21 programme year was expected due to demographic changes.

Programme Year

Unique Children

2019 - 2020

105975

2020 – 2021 to date

102581

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (368)

Thomas Gould

Question:

368. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that childcare providers are requesting full payment from parents who are essential workers even if one parent is an essential worker and the other currently is not working and, therefore, not in need of childcare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2457/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Early learning and care (ELC) and school aged childcare (SAC) services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by my Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees.

If a parent of an eligible child chooses not to take an available place, the service providers’ fee policy will apply. My Department have informed parents that if there is currently no restriction on their access to a service for which they have an agreed contract, the service provider may require that the fees be paid.

I am aware, and welcome that, many ELC/SAC providers have refunded or credited fees for parents who cannot access services at this time. I have asked that services take this step, if possible, in light of the significant State supports provided to the sector.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (369)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

369. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the actions a provider of childcare services should take when it has one non-ECCE child, which means, under the rules, it must remain open in cases in which the provider is also a parent of a school-aged child who requires supervision; if the premises is allowed to close to allow the provider to provide care to their own child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2489/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The resumption of the free pre-school ECCE programme has been postponed until 1 February, in line with primary and secondary schools. Other early learning and childcare and school-age childcare services (ELC/SAC services) can remain open to provide childcare to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children.

ELC/SAC services which are providing childcare to the children of essential workers or vulnerable children will continue to receive funding under all Department funding schemes, for all children registered on these schemes, which includes ECCE, NCS and CCSP/TEC, whether those children are attending or not.

If providers have no eligible children in their service, or if the parents of eligible children inform the provider that they do not wish to take up their child's place, the service can close with force majeure permission and continued funding under Department funding schemes.

If a service has demand for childcare from an essential worker or on behalf on a vulnerable child, that service should open and provide the care. A service which closes and does not provide care for an eligible child, will not be granted force majeure permission, and therefore will be in breach of their contract with the Department. Services which close without force majeure permission, or by direction by public health authorities, will not receive funding under the Department schemes for the period 11 January to 31 January.

Childcare Services

Questions (370)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

370. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if matters raised by a childcare facility (details supplied) in correspondence will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2542/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The correspondence referred to by the Deputy has been received by my Department and a response will issue shortly.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (371)

Peter Burke

Question:

371. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that childcare providers are charging parents for childcare due to parents' jobs being referenced in the list of essential workers even when this work is being carried out at home and children are not availing of childcare; his views on whether this is appropriate; if advice will be given to childcare providers and parents in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2600/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Early learning and care (ELC) and school aged childcare (SAC) services are provided by private enterprises, either privately owned or operated by community organisations. While service providers are contracted by my Department to provide services at a subsidised rate to parents they are free to set their own policies regarding the charging of fees.

If a parent of an eligible child chooses not to take an available place, the service providers’ fee policy will apply.

I am aware, and welcome that, many ELC/SAC providers have refunded or credited fees for parents who cannot access services at this time. I have asked that services take this step, where possible, in light of the significant State supports provided to the sector.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (372)

Peter Burke

Question:

372. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if emergency funding will be provided for childcare providers who are severely negatively impacted by very low occupancy, particularly those who are not supported significantly by State funding, to augment the employment wage subsidy scheme, such as school age care, SAC, providers and those who benefit from the universal payment on the national childcare scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2601/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Under the current Covid-19 restrictions, financial supports continue to be available to the Early Learning and Childcare (ELS) and School Age Care (SAC) sector, notably the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS). EWSS is an economy-wide enterprise support for eligible businesses in respect of eligible employees. It provides a flat-rate subsidy to qualifying employers based on the numbers of eligible and paid employees on the employer’s payroll; and it charges a reduced rate of employer PRSI of 0.5% on wages paid that are eligible for the subsidy payment.

ELC and SAC services registered with Tusla received an exemption from the EWSS turnover requirements. This additional benefit exempts providers from demonstrating a decline of 30% turnover to be eligible for EWSS. Furthermore, the rate of subsidy the employer will receive per paid eligible employee under EWSS was enhanced on 20 October 2020 in response to nationwide level 5 restrictions and will continue to be made available during this period.

Under the enhanced rates, the average ELC and SAC service with EWSS will have approximately on average 80% of payroll costs covered. This equates to approximately 50% of the usual operating costs of the average service – allowing them to operate sustainably with lower occupancy rates and higher delivery costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Department is continuing to provide all ELC and SAC subsidy schemes at existing capitation and subsidy rates during the current Level 5 restriction until the end of January. These include the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), Community Childcare Subvention Plus (CCSP) Saver Programme, Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Saver Programme and the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme. My Department will continue to pay these subsidies in respect of children who can no longer attend while the current Level 5 measures are in effect, due to current restrictions where services are provided to children of essential workers and vulnerable children only.

Despite beneficiary schemes funding continuing to flow from the Department, along with access to the EWSS, some services may be left with short-term sustainability concerns due to lower income levels arising from current restrictions. Officials within my Department are currently developing a specific strand of funding to support sustainability issues arising out of the impact of full and part time early learning and care and school age childcare services opening only for the children of essential workers and vulnerable children. Further details will issue in due course.

My Department also oversees a case management support facility through which local CCCs and Pobal work together to assess and provide assistance to ELC and SAC services in difficulty. This support can include help with completing and interpreting analysis of staff ratios, fee setting, cash flow difficulties, as well as more specialised advice and support appropriate to individual circumstances. Any service that has concerns about their viability during the current Level 5 restrictions should contact their local CCC in the first instance.

Childcare Services

Question No. 374 answered with Question No. 358.

Questions (373)

Peter Burke

Question:

373. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he has considered the sustainability of funding for childcare providers after 31 January 2021, given that he has advised that the Government is legally prevented from providing scheme funding after that date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2602/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

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.

Question No. 374 answered with Question No. 358.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Questions (375)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

375. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of early years and preschool settings that have closed their services permanently since March 2020. [2644/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

As the subject matter of the Deputy's question relates to an operational matter for Tusla, I have referred the matter to them for a direct reply.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (376)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

376. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of social workers employed by Tusla from July 2020 to date. [2647/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I wish to advise the Deputy that my officials have asked Tusla to respond directly to you on this matter.

Child and Family Agency

Questions (377)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

377. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of cases deemed to be high priority by Tusla that await the allocation of a social worker. [2648/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The Deputy refers to an operational matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I have therefore referred the matter to Tusla and asked that a direct reply be furnished to the Deputy in due course.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (378)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

378. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he can provide clarity regarding the online presentation he provided to survivors of mother and baby homes on 12 January 2021; the process through which survivors could ask questions; if these questions were submitted live during the presentation; if not, if they were submitted by email in advance of the presentation; and if the microphones of survivors on the call were kept muted throughout the presentation. [2783/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

When I confirmed in December that the Commission's Final Report would be published in January, I committed to hosting a webinar on the day with former and their families to ensure they were the first the hear details of the report and to learn of the Government's response to the findings of the Commission.

I was acutely conscious of how important it was that former residents and their families are the first to be notified of plans to publish the Report and how they would be able to access it. While my Department does not have the contact details necessary to directly reach to the many thousands with a connection to these matters, it was important to do what was possible to ensure former residents were informed first, giving them the recognition and respect to which they are entitled.

It is a matter of deep regret that details of the report were leaked ahead of its publication. I contacted survivors immediately on learning of the coverage in a Sunday newspaper and the matter is now under investigation at Government level. I understand why many survivors feeling hurt and let down that any element of the report might be shared before the webinar. This is not what we had planned and it should not have happened.

The links necessary to connect to the webinar were provided to the Department's email circulation list ahead of the event. Part of that communication was to advise that the links to the event could be shared with any person with a connection to the matters being investigated by the Commission. As a result approximately 600 participants connected to the event.

Immediately following the Cabinet meeting on 12 January, the arranged webinar was hosted by An Taoiseach, with myself and Minister of State Anne Rabbitte. It was unfortunate that we could not meet in person with survivors to engage directly with them on this long awaited report, and holding the event online was the only practical option. I acknowledge the limitation of the webinar approach as I know it was not ideal.

One complication of holding the event online is that we could not have the kind of interaction we normally would have. I know some participants may have wished to speak and comment in response to the major findings of the report. Personally, I would have much preferred such meaningfully engagement on the day. However, it was not possible at that point due to the sheer scale of this event .

The Office of An Taoiseach provided the digital platform and hosted the event. The official hosting on the day, facilitated a live webchat, where participants could submit comments and questions live as the event unfolded. I did have an opportunity to field and respond to a very small number of these questions, primarily relating to the practical arrangements around publication. The remaining questions have been reviewed by my Department to ensure any themes can be addressed by updating our published Frequently Asked Questions. I also invited participants to contact my Department by phone or email and we have had several hundred contacts since the report’s publication.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (379)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

379. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the support services established in view of the publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes that are available to those who are deaf or hard of hearing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2802/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I know that publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, could be distressing for those most centrally connected to it. It was with that in mind that I engaged with my colleague, the Minister for Health, and directly with the HSE counselling services, to ensure that appropriate capacity and expertise would be available to cope with the expected demand for their service.

The details of the National Counselling Service, a specialist service with 20 years of experience in providing counselling and psychotherapy to a wide range of clients, including those who have experienced psychological difficulties due to time spent in institutions, has been widely circulated in all public communications about the report. These details are also available on my Department's website.

I am advised that counselling is available face to face, by telephone or online through secure video. Access to the National Counselling Service (NCS) for former residents may be made by direct self-referral or by written referrals from health care professionals, such as GPs.

I have also confirmed that the service is available for former residents of Mother and Baby Homes who are deaf or hard of hearing. The National Counselling Service has put in place an email facility to enable those who are deaf or hard of hearing to directly contact local NCS services. An appointment can be arranged to meet with a counsellor together with a sign language interpreter.

A face to face appointment may not be possible at present due to COVID-19 restrictions but a video session can be arranged.

Additional funding resources have been made available to the Health Service Executive to put in place enhanced counselling services for former residents of these institutions. I am continuing to liaise with my colleague, the Minister for Health, who is responsible for these services, to ensure that available capacity is used to the best effect in delivering strong, responsive and timely services for survivors.

National Childcare Scheme

Questions (380)

Mark Ward

Question:

380. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the estimated cost in 2021 if the affordable childcare scheme universal subsidy increased by 50 cent per hour to €1.50 per hour having regard to 2019 figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2807/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

The introduction of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) was a landmark moment for making high quality childcare more affordable and accessible to families in Ireland. It entails a fundamental shift away from subsidies grounded in social protection entitlements, and towards a comprehensive and progressive system of universal and income-based subsidies.

The objectives of the pioneering Scheme, which form the rationale behind the underlying funding model, are to improve outcomes for children, reduce poverty, have a positive impact on gender equality in relation to labour market participation, tangibly reduce the cost of childcare for thousands of families, and establish a sustainable platform for investment in the Irish childcare sector for decades to come.

The universal subsidy is available to all families with children aged between 24 weeks and 36 months (or until the child qualifies for the Early Childhood Care and Education programme if later). The universal subsidy is based on the child’s age, and not on income. Parents do not have to undergo an assessment to avail of this subsidy. The subsidy currently provides 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place up to a maximum of 45 hours a week.

To increase the cost to €1 per hour would cost approximately €18m. To increase the cost to €1.50 per hour would cost approximately 37m.

The funding model of the NCS is based on key assumptions around the preferences and behaviours of parents relating to working hours and childcare choice, rates of growth in demand, and certain metrics are extrapolated from available data. As such, all estimates remain heavily caveated insofar as the scheme represents a considerable departure from legacy schemes and this renders estimates inherently challenging.

It is particularly difficult to estimate increases to the universal subsidy in regard to the 2019 figures, as there is insufficient data to consider due to the NCS launching in November 2019, and the suspension of the NCS for 3 months from April 2020 to June 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Notwithstanding this, my Department is fully committed to the success of the NCS in benefiting families across Ireland, and envisage its further growth into 2021 as families make greater use of childcare services as we recover from the impact of Covid-19.