Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Ceisteanna (194)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

194. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21592/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I thank the Deputy. I would be delighted to update her on positive progress my department is making in developing the new Affordable Childcare Scheme.

Officials from my Department, along with colleagues in Pobal, have been working hard to develop the legal, technical and administrative infrastructure for the new Affordable Childcare Scheme. This scheme will provide financial support for parents, establish a sustainable platform for investment in the childcare sector for decades to come and- crucially- allow us to continue to invest in giving our children the best start in life.

As you know, the Childcare Support Bill passed all stages in the Dáil in the first quarter of this year. I was delighted with the positive, cross party support it received and want to thank everyone for their valuable input. The Bill has now completed Committee Stage in the Seanad and will commence Report Stage this Thursday (17/05) so we are hopeful that this stage will be completed over the coming weeks.

Intensive work is also ongoing on the drafting of supporting regulations for the scheme and on regulations to provide, for the first time, for the registration of school-age childcare providers. The latter regulations will ensure that all school-age childcare services are registered with Tusla prior to the introduction of the Affordable Childcare Scheme and can participate in the scheme from the outset.

The IT infrastructure that supports the scheme is making good progress. In January I published a Request for Tenders for the development of a new IT system and an evaluation of tenders received is currently coming to a conclusion. As stated before, the introduction of the scheme is dependent on this new IT system. As such, as soon as a contract is awarded to a successful bidder and a timeframe agreed for the completion of the system, I hope to be in a position to confirm and communicate an official launch date for the Affordable Childcare Scheme.

Work is also progressing well on the administrative and communication elements of the scheme. Specialist expertise has been procured to support the detailed development of a robust governance framework for the scheme. A high-level Communications and Engagement Strategy was published in February and a training needs analysis is underway at present. Both of these provide the starting point for significant work in preparing timely and user-friendly information, resources and supports for parents, providers and other stakeholders.

In tandem with the development of these resources, I am also committed to ongoing consultation and engagement with all stakeholders in the run-up to the introduction of the scheme.

The Affordable Childcare Scheme is ambitious in scale and complex in its design but I am delighted that we are achieving our milestones in its development and confident of the lasting impact it will have once launched. This is a system which will underpin the technical and legal infrastructure of childcare for many years to come.

In order to fast-track some of the benefits of the new scheme, last September I introduced a series of measures to make childcare more affordable for Irish families. I am delighted to report that take up of these measures has exceeded all of our targets. The new universal subsidy, worth up to €1,040 per year for children under three in registered childcare is now benefitting the families of more than 36,000 children, while almost 40,000 children that will benefit most from enhanced supports are receiving up to €145 per week towards the cost of their childcare.

I have confirmed that these supports will remain in place until the Affordable Childcare Scheme goes live.