Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (559)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

559. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which crèches can operate in February 2020; the persons who can avail of the services; if his Department is providing the funding in order that fees can be waived for parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7076/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department is committed to ensuring that overall investment in the early learning and care (ELC) and school age childcare (SAC) sector is maintained and that services are sustained through this crisis.

On 26 January, the Government made the decision to extend the suspension of the free pre-school ECCE programme and to continue to restrict access to childcare services to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children until 5 March, to help to control the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

On 27 January, the Department announced a new funding model for childcare providers from 1 February to 5 March. This new funding arrangement ensures that childcare services can remain open where they have demand for places for the children of essential workers and vulnerable children.

The package of measures introduced is designed to ensure that the significant public money which is being invested in services at this time is structured in a fair and balanced way.

Although the ECCE programme has been suspended, at least 70% of ECCE funding can continue to be claimed by all services, whether open or closed and NCS, CCSP, TEC and AIM Level 7 funding schemes continue to be payable at full rates.

Closed services, in return for this funding, will be asked to commit to waiving parental fees, retaining staff where possible, keeping places for children and undertaking remote engagement with children.

For open services, the remaining 30% of the value of the ECCE funding will also be made up, subject to services providing the same assurances mentioned above to the Department. Most services are doing this already and I warmly welcome this.

Central to this package is the enhanced employment wage subsidy scheme, which providers continue to be eligible to access with an exemption in place in respect of the turnover requirement. All providers are encouraged to avail of this scheme which significantly contributes to payroll costs, covering at least 80% of average wage costs in most instances.

I recognise that for some providers who are particularly reliant on parental fee income, the requirement to waive fees for families not using their service at this time presents difficulties. In these circumstances, a newly designed Covid-19 operating support payment (COSP) is being put in place that will support these providers to parental waive fees during this period while remaining sustainable.

Many childcare services refunded fees to parents whose children did not attend childcare in January and this new COSP funding package will support childcare services that choose to refund fees from 1 February to 5 March.

Eligibility for the COSP is determined on the basis of transparent, objective criteria, to support ease of administration for a scheme that is expected to operate for a short period of time. The criteria have been selected on the basis that services most reliant on parental fees will be identified.

It is acknowledged that some services that are reliant on parental fees may not meet the criteria – it is open to such services to apply for the Covid-19 sustainability fund if the service has sustainability concerns as a result of the current restrictions.

This sustainability funding will be in addition to the existing financial supports for services, including the EWSS and the COSP. Where a service has sustainability concerns as a result of the current restrictions, additional supports may be made available under the Covid-19 sustainability fund to ensure services can continue to operate. Further details on this fund will be issued shortly.

In the first instance, services with concerns are encouraged to get in touch with their local City/County Childcare Committee.