Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ceisteanna (98)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

98. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of parents who have been awarded places on the after-school child care scheme, CETS II, since its launch in April 2013; his assessment of the success of the scheme one year on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21153/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

The cost of child care is one of the biggest challenges facing the Government and public representatives and we must address it without delay. This question relates to an after-school child care scheme the Minister's predecessor introduced in April 2013, the child care education and training supports scheme, CETS II. Can the Minister give an assessment of the success of the scheme one year later and will he indicate how many places have been taken up?

As part of budget 2013, my predecessor, together with our colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, announced a new after-school child care initiative which is targeted at low income parents availing of employment opportunities. Lack of access to affordable, quality child care is a significant barrier to many low income and disadvantaged families seeking to avail of work opportunities. This initiative is intended to provide an important support measure to enable parents to avail of job opportunities. This is in line with the Government's overall strategy to support parents of low income families to take up employment and the Department of Social Protection's labour activation agenda as set out in the document, Pathways to Work.

The programme provides €35 per week per child of eligible parents enrolled in a participating service for after-school services. This payment can rise to €100 per week during holiday periods when parents will be availing of full day care. A maximum of €20 per week per child is payable by the parent to the provider in both instances.

The new after-school child care programme augments the programme of child care supports for low income families, including the community child care subvention and the child care education and training support programmes. The Department of Social Protection determines the eligibility of parents for inclusion in the after-school child care programme. My Department's role is to ensure quality places are available for those deemed eligible for support and its function is to contract suitable child care places with qualifying providers. A substantial number of child care providers have expressed a willingness to make places available for qualified parents participating in the programme, and a sufficient number of places have been secured to meet the demands of the programme.

The initiative was intended to provide an important support measure to enable qualifying parents to avail of job opportunities, and in 2013 a provision was made for a maximum of 6,000 after-school places for children attending primary school. The scheme was piloted from April 2013 but the take-up was low, with fewer clients than expected identified by the Department of Social Protection as eligible and likely to require after-school support for the purposes of labour activation. Following a review of the pilot phase, a decision was made to re-focus part of the funding allocated for the after-school programme to support parents on community employment programmes and to provide for quality improvement initiatives in the child care sector. To date in 2014 approximately 400 part-time child care places have been provided to parents participating in community employment schemes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Some €2 million has been retained to support the after-school programme, and this figure will provide for up to 800 child care places. The number of qualifying parents identified by the Department of Social Protection and provided with an after-school place under the scheme is 31, with 42 children receiving after-school child care under the programme in the week ending 2 May 2014. While it is accepted that the initiative will require time to become established, the Department of Social Protection and my Department are considering the experience to date with a view to establishing the reasons for the low uptake. The allocation of child care places and funding for both the after-school programme and community employment scheme will continue to be monitored and reviewed during 2014.

While it is unfair to have a go at the Minister on his first day taking ministerial questions, the scheme has been a disaster.

It was part of the Government's solution to tackling the affordability issue and the Minister has alluded to the abysmal uptake. I have seen figures that showed only 32 of the 6,000 earmarked places were taken up. In his reply the Minister said he is refocusing the €14 million allocated to the scheme towards other schemes. How much of the €14 million has been spent on the scheme, how much has been diverted to other schemes and what are those schemes? Child care affordability is a serious issue and the Minister alluded to the fact that the cost of child care is a barrier to those who wish to take up employment. It is clear that the scheme has not worked. How much of the €14 million will be ring-fenced to improve affordability and to what schemes will it be diverted?

While it may be my first Question Time, it is a bit rich of Deputy Troy to use words such as "abysmal" and "disaster", given his party's record in government. The Department of Social Protection has identified 31 qualifying parents and provided them with an after-school place under the scheme, with 42 children receiving after-school child care under the programme in the week ending 2 May 2014. I accept the initiative will require more time to become established. The scheme is administered by the Department of Social Protection, with which my Department is in constant contact to establish the reasons for the low uptake. We have made the places available. I accept we may need to increase the number of parents. We have 400 places, and more funding is coming on stream. I reject out of hand the Deputy's assertion that the scheme is a disaster.

With all due respect, the Minister said 41 out of 6,000 places have been taken up. It is nothing but a disaster. The scheme is more than a year and a half old.

The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and his colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, identified this scheme to tackle the problems facing those who cannot afford child care. It was put in place to assist low income families who wished to return to the work place, but only 41 of the Government target of 6,000 places identified 18 months ago have been allocated. There are only 400 places identified, so even if the uptake of the scheme were greater, the places are not available.

I asked a specific question regarding the €14 million identified for this process. How much has been spent and on what is the balance being expended? Is the balance ring-fenced for the initial target, which was to support working parents with a concern about the affordability of child care? It is one of the biggest challenges facing the Minister's Department.

This is one of a number of schemes run by the Department and it relates specifically to after-school care. Parents opt for full-day and half-day care and this is another scheme. I accept the uptake could be better and it will be better. There are 400 spaces and there is no shortage. The low uptake on the after-school programme allows for the refocusing of some of the allocated funding to support participants under community employment schemes. This reallocation of €7.5 million of funding to support qualifying community employment participants is expected to provide approximately 1,800 places, which will prioritise those under five. Approximately 400 part-time child care places have been provided under the programme to date. There is ongoing progress between the Departments of Social Protection and Children and Youth Affairs, and I will report on the progress at the next available opportunity.