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Early Childhood Care and Education

Dáil Éireann Debate, Friday - 3 December 2021

Friday, 3 December 2021

Questions (27)

Joe Flaherty


27. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the progress made under First 5, the whole-of-Government strategy for babies, young children and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59457/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

First 5: a Whole-of-Government for Babies, Young Children and their Families (2019-2028) was published in November 2018.  The strategy focuses on the period of early childhood and takes a joined-up, cross-government approach to supporting babies, young children and their families during their early years. The Programme for Government negotiated in 2020 reaffirmed commitment to First 5 implementation. 

The Strategy sets out four goals, nine objectives, five building blocks and over 160 actions to realise the First 5 vision.  It identifies the First 5 big steps including access to a broader range of options for parents to balance working and caring; a new model of parenting support; new developments in child health; reform of the Early Learning and Care system; and a package of measures to tackle early childhood poverty. 

The Phase 1 Implementation Plan, published in May 2019, covers the first three years of the ten year strategy and identifies key milestones for each action across 2019, 2020 and 2021.  An Implementation Office, supported by an Inter Departmental Group, monitors progress and produces an Annual Implementation Report. 

The implementation structures of the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures framework, including the Advisory Council, provide further support and oversight for implementation. The measurability of the actions committed to, the oversight structures, and the transparent approach to monitoring are described by the Advisory Council as ‘a model for other strategies’.

The Annual Implementation Report for 2019 monitored progress on all 305 milestones for 2019, illustrating that 69% of milestones were met by the end of 2019.  By the end of 2020, 90% of 2019 milestones were met.

The Annual Implementation Report for 2020 is currently being finalised and when published will show continuing and significant progress being made on 2020 milestones, notwithstanding the significant impact of Covid-19 during that year and since.

Major examples of progress include:

* the extension of Parent’s Leave and Benefit to five weeks for each parent

* the extension of unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks for each parent, along with an increase to 12 in the age of eligible child for whom this leave can be taken

* development and publication of healthy eating guidelines and a children’s food pyramid for 1-5 year-old

* significant progress on a range major reform initiatives in Early Learning and Care related to funding, childminding, workforce development and the operating model

Clearly the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on progress in 2020 given the significant requirement of the civil and public service to respond to the public health emergency and put in place alternative arrangements across many of the major action areas in the strategy including early learning and childcare services, education and, most obviously, health services. 

Despite this, there are many examples of good progress that have been achieved across Government to realise the vision set out in First 5.  The 2020 Annual Implementation Report will be published later this year and outline a full account of year two of implementation.