My Department has had ongoing engagement with the organisations representing the childcare sector prior to, and since the launch of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).
Following the publication of the Policy Paper on the Development of a new Single Affordable Childcare Scheme in October 2016, my Department carried out a public consultation on the details of the scheme’s design. An online survey was disseminated to a range of stakeholders, seeking public view of topics and proposals contained within the new scheme.
Many respondents felt positive about the proposals in relation to the Scheme, however a number of concerns and strong recommendations emerged. In particular, childcare providers and advocacy organisations focused on issues of administration, quality and sustainability, whereas parents focused on fairness and equality. The affordability of childcare remained a central concern for all stakeholders. These concerns paved the way for the aims and objectives of the NCS policy guidelines, as follows:
- Ensuring that access to affordable childcare is not a barrier to labour market participation, including female labour market participation;
- Promoting positive child outcomes;
- Narrowing the gap in attainment between more and less advantaged children by enabling all children to access high quality, affordable childcare;
- Driving quality across the sector;
- Through the above objectives, contributing to poverty reduction in Ireland; and
- Providing a sound and flexible platform for sustainable future investment.
Over the last 9 months my Department has conducted a number of stakeholder consultations to gain further insights into their experience of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS). The stakeholder consultations were established to provide services with the opportunity to engage in a structured consultation and discussion process, identifying any concerns and opportunities to further support the operation and development of the NCS.
As part of the statutory 12 Month Review of the NCS, surveys were rolled out to service providers and parents so that their experiences of using the NCS could be gathered and understood. A considerable response was received and the responses have been examined by the consultant contracted to undertake the 12 Month Review of the NCS. A number of stakeholder interviews were also conducted by the consultant across service provider organisations and representative bodies.
This is informing the review which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. I will then consider the findings of the review including the views of stakeholders therein and consider what, if any, reforms are required.
Given the multi-faceted and wide-ranging engagements, I am confident that all representatives from the sector have had an opportunity to engage with process prior to and since the launch of the NCS.