The development of Ireland’s first Early Years Strategy for children aged from birth to 6 years, is being progressed in my Department. The objective 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. The Department of Childen and Youth Affairs is 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 this key objective will be reflected fully in the Early Years Strategy.
One of the specific issues of policy which has been 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. At present pre-school services are subject to the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No.2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991.
Services providing care for children who have not yet commenced primary school are required to notify their service to the Early Years Inspectorate of the Child and Family Agency and are subject to inspection and report by the Inspectorate on a regular basis. Services covered by the Regulations include full-time, part-time and sessional services as well as childminders taking care of more than three pre-school children from different families in the childminder’s home.
Childminders who are not subject to the requirement to notify are, however, encouraged to voluntarily notify their service to their local City or County Childcare Committee which provides a range of supports to enable them to improve the standards of their childcare service. These supports include the Childminders Tax Exemption scheme which provides for a tax exemption for those childminders who have satisfactorily participated in the Voluntary Notification process and whose annual income from childminding does not exceed €15,000.
Some €10 million of funding, allied to these supports, was invested over a period of 10 years to encourage childminders to notify. This was seen as a potential first step to bringing all non family childminders under the Regulations. This stepped approach has worked in some countries, such as Scotland. However, only 1250 childminders voluntarily notified here and a further 2,000 to 3,000 participate in training. It is clear that there are barriers specific to Ireland in bringing childminders under the regulatory framework. The Early Years Strategy will include consideration of how this complex issue might be addressed in the future.