Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (13)

Seán Sherlock


13. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the engagement she has had with representatives of the early child care sector since budget 2018 was announced. [9001/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Strong engagement with the early years sector has been a hallmark of my time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have travelled throughout the country to meet childcare providers within their own services, to meet City and County Childcare Committees and to speak first hand to childcare providers, parents and to children.

On becoming Minister I established the National Early Years Forum, at which issues arising in the sector can be raised and discussed face to face. This helps better communication and engagement and fosters improved policy and decision making. The Early Years Forum consists of representatives of childcare providers and staff, academic experts in early years care and education and advocacy groups from across the sector. The Forum met before and after Budget 2018 and is due to meet again on March 7th.

The introduction of measures last September to make childcare more affordable were preceded by a national road show of information sessions. These events were attended by more than 1,000 childcare practitioners and offered information to the sector, as well as providing an opportunity for feedback to my Department. I intend to arrange similar events again in the future.

Focused working groups, made up of representatives from the early years sector, are a regular feature of my Department's work. Notably, the development of the Affordable Childcare Scheme is being informed by both a Business and Systems Working Group and a Communications Consultative Group. Both groups have met on numerous occasions to discuss aspects of how the scheme will operate when launched and offer the sector an opportunity to shape the scheme's design and its roll-out.

I have met with representatives of most, if not all, of the national childcare representative bodies in the country to hear first hand the issues they are experiencing and their proposals for improvement. I also established and have met with an Expert Group tasked with reporting on the future of child-minding in Ireland. 

Childcare providers are represented on my Department's Steering Group for the implementation of the Access and Inclusion Model, or AIM as it is known, which supports children with disabilities in the ECCE scheme and the early years service they attend.

I am delighted that my Departmental childcare team has been strengthened by the secondment of four staff from various childcare organisations around the country to assist us with our work. The expertise and experience of these staff complements the work of officials in considering policy and operational matters.

A plan to address the communications needs associated with the forthcoming Affordable Childcare Scheme has been finalised and work is underway for similar strategies to be developed for the Early Years Division of my department. This demonstrates my ongoing commitment to engagement and communication with the early years sector.