My Department continues to invest significant resources in the childcare sector generally. In the last three Budgets (2016, 2017 and 2018) investment in childcare has increased by 80% which reflects the emphasis being placed on improving access to high quality and affordable services .
This investment includes funding of the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) and the After School Childcare (ASCC) schemes. CCS is a childcare programme targeted to support parents on a low income to avail of reduced childcare costs. ASCC is designed to support parents on eligible training courses, as well as certain categories of parents returning to work, by providing subsidised childcare places. Eligible children must be under 15 years of age to avail of these supports. Last September, I increased significantly the subsidy paid under CCS to make it more attractive for low income families.
An annual survey conducted by Pobal on my Department's behalf suggests that supply of childcare places currently broadly matches demand. My Department is committed to keeping capacity in the sector under review and Pobal will commence this year's survey in the coming months. Staff from thirty City and County Childcare Committees are available across the country to assist parents who may have difficulty in meeting their childcare needs.
In May 2016 the Programme for a Partnership Government committed my Department to “introduce a new system to support and expand quality afterschool care for school-aged children” . Section 8 of the Programme for a Partnership Government also committed to “utilise our primary school buildings for afterschool care provision for school age children to offer more options and flexibility to parents. We will link additional capitation to the provision of buildings for afterschool care, where demand exists. Community groups and private providers will be invited to tender to use school facilities (outside school hours).”
In Section 10, there is another relevant commitment. “Schools buildings must be utilised out of hours if they are to remain at the centre of communities into the future, both throughout the day and throughout the year, including better utilisation of information technology. Afterschool care, homework clubs and other community activities should be permissible. Additional capitation funding will be linked to the availability of afterschool care options, where demand exists.”
My Department chaired a group with the Department of Education and Skills to progress those commitments in a coherent way and to align relevant bodies of work under our respective areas of responsibility. The result of this work, the Action Plan for School Age Childcare, was presented to my Government colleague Minister Bruton and I in March 2017.
Since the Action Plan was published, much progress has been made to advance the Programme for Government commitments. My Department established an expert working group on School Age Childcare (SAC) which has been working over the last year to develop standards and to recommend a quality assurance system for SAC services. The Department of Education and Skills has published guidelines to assist school authorities consider how their premises might be utilised for SAC and other activities where it can be facilitated by the school patron/trustees. My Department has provided capital grants for the development of Early Years and School-Age Childcare services and uptake has been very high.
Youth Groups might well decide to provide school-age childcare or other services, although to date evidence of this is limited. Youth clubs funded by my Department under the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme must be volunteer-led. While some staff-led targeted youth services are co-located with pre-schools and/or afterschools, the youth funding is not in any way linked to the operation of these services.