I am pleased to report positive progress in the development of the affordable childcare scheme and to confirm our plans for the scheme to launch this October, with payments flowing from November.
The launch of the scheme will alter the landscape of childcare in Ireland. It will provide financial support for parents, establish a sustainable platform for investment in the childcare sector for decades to come and, crucially, it will allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life. Following the enactment of the Childcare Support Act last July, detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines are being finalised. Our information technology development contractor is working with officials from the Department and Pobal to develop the scheme's supporting IT system to ensure it will be available on schedule.
In December I signed regulations that will provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare services with Tusla – a matter we have been discussing - and these regulations will come into force on 18 February. This means that school-age childcare services will be able to participate in the scheme from the beginning.
An information campaign for parents and the public on the affordable childcare scheme will commence next month. This will run alongside comprehensive training and information supports for childcare providers and other key stakeholders to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be well prepared in advance of the scheme's launch.
Under measures included in budget 2019, I was delighted to have been able to further enhance the scheme by raising the upper and lower thresholds for income-related subsidies. These increases will poverty-proof the scheme for families on lower incomes; allow more families with higher incomes to access subsidies under the scheme; and ensure that an even greater number of families overall will now benefit from the scheme once it is launched.
In designing the scheme we have been very careful to listen to the views of parents and providers so that we can deliver the most user-friendly system that is possible.
To this end, we have had significant engagement with consultative and focus groups, which comprise parents, providers and others, so that we design and develop the scheme with users in mind.