As the Deputy will be aware, I have responsibility for the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP) under which the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) is being implemented. The main supports the Government makes available to parents to assist them with their childcare costs are Child Benefit and the Early Childcare Supplement. The latter payment is the responsibility of my Office, and it alone is expected to amount to expenditure of over €500m in 2008. These payments are universal and benefit all parents, regardless of their income, labour market status or the type of childcare they choose. In addition to these universal supports, Government childcare policy has also recognised the need to target additional supports towards disadvantaged families.
The Community Childcare Subvention Scheme was introduced on 1st January 2008 with an allocation of €154.2 million over 3 years. The Scheme will continue to support community-based childcare services to provide reduced childcare fees for disadvantaged parents, complementing the universal supports in place for all parents. Community childcare services will qualify for grant aid on the basis of the level of service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. The parent profile of each service, and the amount of subvention it will receive, are determined on the basis of completed parent declaration forms which they return as part of the application process. The subvention received by services is, in turn, reflected in reduced fees for parents who qualify as disadvantaged under the scheme.
The new scheme provides an effective framework for the continued targeting of additional resources towards disadvantaged parents and their children while continuing to support community childcare services generally. The subvention to services is responsive to the level of service provided as well as the degree of parental disadvantage and the ceiling for funding which existed under the previous scheme has been removed. Account is also being taken of all of the operational costs of the service rather than staffing costs alone. Services, including full-time, part-time and sessional ones which, in some cases, were previously inaccessibly priced for disadvantaged parents, will be available to them at more appropriate rates under the new scheme. In addition, transitional arrangements have been put in place to facilitate community services which were funded under the previous scheme to adjust to the new arrangements, including making any adjustments necessary to their fee structures. This will mean that community services which were funded under the previous scheme and which continue to operate, are guaranteed at least 95% of their 2007 grant aid in 2008.
When I announced the framework for the new scheme in July of last year, I signalled my intention to undertake a review of the Scheme on the basis of the more detailed and comprehensive data which was to be forwarded to my Office in October 2007 as part of the application process of the new scheme. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the review was completed and the following adjustments were made to the scheme in December:
the childcare subvention rates, which form the basis for assessing the level of grant funding payable to community childcare services, have been increased from €80 to €100 per week in the case of Band A parents and from €30 to €70 per week in the case of Band B parents;
services will also be grant aided to enable them to provide reduced childcare fees for parents in Band C who are marginally above the Family Income Supplement (FIS) threshold and low income parents who qualify under this measure will benefit by €45 per week per full-time place;
where a parent moves to a lower Band (e.g. from social welfare into employment), the subvention paid in respect of them will be withdrawn on a tapered basis with the effect that where a parent would no longer qualify for a Band A payment, he or she will be treated as a Band B parent in the following year;
special provisions will be provided for in the case of childcare services where, for valid reasons, it is not possible to assess grant funding on the basis of annual parental declarations alone (e.g. women's refuges, special services for children of drug misusers) and, in exceptional cases, where special levels of funding provision may be required;
in recognition of the on-going input of the community and voluntary sector, and to provide stability for services which would otherwise receive very low levels of grant subvention (e.g. small rural services) a minimum annual grant level of €20,000 has been introduced.
as a transitional measure during 2008-2010, services which could otherwise face a significant decrease in their existing level of grant support from July 2008, will continue to receive grant aid equal to not less than 90% of their previous grant level during July-December 2008, equal to not less than 85% of that amount in 2009, and equal to not less than 75% of that amount in 2010. The transitional grant funding is conditional on all requirements of the Scheme being complied with, including the return of annual applications together with completed parent declaration forms and the implementation of tiered fees based on the subvention levels for Band A, B and C parents.
The changes which have been introduced will ensure that the most affordable childcare is available to families according to their means. Put simply, the tiered fee structure is the most effective way of ensuring that the considerable and ongoing Government support for the community childcare sector, will be targeted at those who need it most. I am sure that the Deputy will agree that, with an allocation of €154.2 million over a 3 year period for the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme, the Government is continuing to offer very generous support to this important sector of Ireland's childcare infrastructure.
I am also pleased to advise the Deputy that the Childcare Directorate of my Office is in the course of notifying services of their individual grant levels for July-December 2008 and that it is anticipated that this process will be completed early next month. I am confident that the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme is a fair and equitable way of supporting community childcare operators in the provision of an affordable and high quality service to parents, based on their means.