Thursday, 22 February 2018

Ceisteanna (21)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to support stay at home parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8867/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I have responsibility for Early Years Care and Education and School Age Childcare. I am committed to the provision of childcare options that respect both parental choice and international evidence on how to achieve the best outcomes for children. Stay at home parents can access a number of schemes operated by my Department.

From September 2018, the ECCE Programme, or the Free Preschool Scheme as it is known by some, will be available to all children over the age of two years and eight months for two full programme years. 114,000 children are expected to participate in this Programme from September 2018, including children of stay at home parents. This is an increase in entitlement from 38 weeks when the scheme was introduced initially, to the 61 week average that was provided last year.

Other schemes provided by my Department address childcare affordability and are available to stay at home parents; for example, the universal subsidy for parents of children under three which was introduced last September. The Affordable Childcare Scheme when introduced will subsidise the cost of early years care and education and school age childcare. Parents who are not engaged in employment or study will be able to access subsidised childcare under the scheme for 15 hours per week. Deputies may be aware that the legislation for this scheme passed second stage in recent weeks.

Across Government, there have been a number of measures to support stay at home parents. Additional support has been provided for parents who choose to care for their children at home by increasing the Home Carer Tax Credit to €1,200 per year in Budget 2018.

State provision for maternity leave, parental leave and the recently introduced paternity leave also demonstrate the Government's commitment to support parents to care for young children. The Programme for Government commits to extending paid leave for parents in the first year of a child's life, which will be a key financial support enabling parents to care for their children at home in the critical first year. An Inter-Departmental group has been established to progress this commitment which officials from my Department are contributing to.

Better Outcomes Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People contains a commitment to produce Ireland’s first-ever National Early Years Strategy. The National Early Years Strategy will focus on the period of early childhood, from birth to age five, and will cover all aspects of children's lives. Drafting of the strategy is underway and is being directly informed by research, expert advice and consultation inputs, as well as bilateral discussions with government departments.

The strategy will take a joined-up, cross-government approach to the issue of supporting children and their families during the early years. Development of the Strategy is a priority for me and for my Department, and I will move to publish the Strategy later this year.