In 2002, the Health Service Executive (HSE) agreed to fund a Childminding Advisory Officer post or provide a staff member in each county, who would work with the 33 City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) funded under the Childcare Programme, implemented by the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The role included notifying childminders of training opportunities, providing networking opportunities and supporting the voluntary notification system which was being developed by the CCCs.
While Childminding Advisory Officers were established in most county areas, this was not always the case and they were not always located with the local CCC. Despite their presence and the additional supports including training, a small capital grant scheme and the introduction of a tax relief for childminding in 2006, the increase in the number of voluntarily-notified childminders since 2004, when the number was 500, has been relatively small and levelled off at 1,250.
In recent years, the HSE made a decision to gradually reduce the level of funding and support for the Childminding Advisory Officer posts. I would point to the fact that the CCCs are now well-established and effective bodies at local level, and that supporting the childminding sector is an integral part of their work. As a result, childminders continue to have access to support, training and advice.
Work on the development of Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to 6 years is already underway in my Department. My intention is to create an innovative and dynamic blueprint for the future development of Ireland’s early years sector and a coherent approach to seeking to improve the lives of children from birth to 6 years. A broad range of issues relating to regulations, standards, quality assurance, and inspection are currently being considered by the Expert Advisory Group which is advising my Department on the Strategy.
As Minister I am committed to ensuring high standards in early years service provision, both in terms of care and curriculum.
The role of quality provision is critical in contributing to childhood development and I am determined that this key objective will be reflected fully in the Early Years Strategy.
One of the specific issues of policy which I have identified for consideration in the preparation of the new Strategy is the future role and regulation of the childminding sector, which is already an important component of early childhood care and education.