A key policy objective of my Department is to improve affordability, accessibility and quality of Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC). A significant increase in investment over the last number of years has led to a doubling in the number of children receiving free or subsidised early learning and care and school-age childcare. It has also supported the sector to increase the number of places available.
First 5, the ten-year whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families pledges to build on this progress. Among key strategic actions in First 5 is a commitment to 'maintain and extend the supply of high-quality publicly subsidised ELC and SAC to best serve the developmental needs of babies and young children, ensuring that it also reflects the needs and preferences of parents and families'.
To deliver on this strategic action, a range of actions are under way, including an update of the National Planning Guidelines for the development of early learning and care and school-age childcare settings, the extension of regulation to all paid, non-relative childminders on a phased basis and the development of a strategic capital investment plan to deliver large-scale capital investment under Project 2040. The development of a new funding model for ELC and SAC also seeks to address issues of accessibility.
There is also a commitment to strengthen capacity to accurately forecast supply and demand for early learning and care and school-age childcare. Supply of, and demand for, early learning and care and school-age childcare places is currently monitored annually through the Early Years Sector Profile. This survey is conducted by Pobal on behalf of the Department.
During COVID-19, officials in my Department are actively monitoring supply and demand in partnership with the CCCs . Any parent experiencing difficulty in accessing a place is advised to contact their local CCC at myccc.ie.
More information can be found at first5.gov.ie and at first5fundingmodel.gov.ie.