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.