The National Development Plan 2000-2006 enabled the Government to make a significant commitment to the development of quality child care in Ireland as a direct response to the recommendations of the Expert Working Group on Childcare, which was established under Partnership 2000 to develop a strategy for the development and delivery of child care. With funding under regional operational programmes of the national development plan and subsequent reallocations to my Department, the Government has made €436.7 million available to me for the development of child care through the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000 — 2006, EOCP. The programme is aiming,inter alia, to increase by 50% the supply of centre based child care places during the seven years of the national development plan and to develop quality child care to meet the needs of parents in employment, education and training.
The Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group on Childcare noted that, with regard to school age child care, also known as out of school hours child care or after school care, "there had been relatively little interest in the topic of after-school care compared with childcare for pre-school children". It recommended that a special policy be developed in respect of school age child care, a task subsequently undertaken in 2002 and 2003 by a Sub-Group of the National Childcare Co-ordinating Committee, NCCC. The remit of the Working Group on School Age Childcare was to: review existing provision for school age child care in Ireland and other jurisdictions; develop guidelines on quality standards for school age child care; make proposals for the development of school age child care services, on an all year round basis, taking into account the diverse forms of such child care; and report to the National Childcare Co-ordinating Committee on these issues.
In its report to the NCCC in July 2003, the working group made 33 recommendations covering all aspects of school age childcare including development, quality, training, transport and the way forward. The working group defined school age child care as "Childcare for school going children provided outside of normal school hours where the same children attend the childcare facility on a regular basis and access to the service is clearly defined by agreement with parents and guardians".
A number of the recommendations directly addressed the issue of the use of school property and-or premises. The use of school premises for such purposes is a matter for the patrons and managing authorities of the schools and it is my Department's intention to enter into discussions in the near future with the various parties in order to create an awareness of the benefits to be derived for local communities through the use of such school premises to include a school age child care facility which would offer parents a seamless service while also ensuring that the child care service to be provided was of a high quality offering a developmental programme of activities to the child.
Following these exploratory discussions, it would be my intention to launch the report of the Working Group on School Age Childcare in the near future at a conference and seminar on school age child care where the major stakeholders can meet to discuss the development of school age child care services in a positive and well informed manner.
Funding for the development of school age child care facilities is available under the equal opportunities childcare programme and, in February 2002, my Department undertook a special media campaign inviting applications for capital and staffing grant assistance for the development of school age child care services. The advertisement was targeted at community-not for profit groups, parent groups and school managing authorities. However, the response has not been as good as was hoped. Notwithstanding this, over €14.6 million has already been committed in funding to 174 applicants for both capital and staffing grants for school age child care facilities under the EOCP.