Government decided on 6 January that, in order to reduce movement in the population, the ECCE programme would not resume until 1 February. It has now been agreed that the programme will remain suspended during extended restrictions up to 5 March. Other Early Learning and Childcare and School-Age Childcare services (ELC/SAC services) can remain open on a restricted basis, to offer services to the children of essential workers and to vulnerable children only.
Essential workers are those that work in the list of essential services published on gov.ie. One parent who is an essential worker confers eligibility on the child to access a service. For the purposes of accessing early learning and childcare services, an essential worker may be working from home.
ELC and 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 and contract conditions.
My Department is aware that many providers have chosen to refund, waive or credit fees for families who are not using an early learning and childcare services, regardless of eligibility to do so and I welcome this.
To further encourage and support providers (some of whom may have a higher reliance on fees), my Department has restructured the funding available to services during the February 1 to March 5 period into standard and enhanced funding for those services with certain conditions for services who opt to avail of this enhanced funding.
Where a provider has opted to avail of this enhanced funding, they are required to waive fees for children not attending, as well as retaining staff, keeping places for families and engaging with children who are not attending. This applies to both open and closed services.
Providers will be able to confirm if they are receiving enhanced funding, and consequently, their fee arrangements. They will also be able to clarify refund or credit arrangements for any pre-paid fees.
I trust you will find this information useful.