I warmly welcome the high level of participation by childminders in the recent public consultation on the draft childminding action plan. I strongly believe that childminding has an important and distinctive role to play in the future of early learning and care and school-age childcare in this country and this is why I appointed an expert group, chaired by Childminding Ireland, in 2016 to revert to me with recommendations.
Childminding is different from centre-based provision. That is why regulation of childminding must be proportionate and appropriate to the home setting in which childminders work, and that is why it was important to have a consultation process in which the views of childminders themselves would be heard.
At the heart of the public consultation was a series of 31 focus-group meetings across the country with childminders. These were organised at county level by childcare committees. They took place in the evenings to make it possible for childminders to attend. In addition, one meeting of stakeholders took place during the working day to enable other stakeholders, such as parents or parent-and-children representatives, to take part, and I am delighted that some childminders were also able to attend that meeting.
The consultation also involved an online survey and a call for submissions. There were 471 respondents to the online survey, of whom nearly 60% were childminders. In addition, there were 14 responses to the call for submissions.
All aspects of the consultation are important and each will be fed into the final plan. The views of those who attended the focus groups were carefully noted and will make a significant contribution to the analysis of the consultation that officials in my Department are now undertaking.
If there are specific issues which the Deputy feels have not been reflected in the extensive consultation to date, my officials would be happy to consider them. However, given the scale of consultation already undertaken, rather than extending the consultation I believe the priority now should be to review the childminding action plan in light of the views childminders have shared, and then to begin the processes of reform that they have called for. My Department will continue to engage with Childminding Ireland and other relevant representative groups as the process continues.