My Department has recently led the development of First 5, a Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families. First 5 identifies a range of measures to support families given their fundamental importance in shaping children’s experiences and outcomes. The vision for babies and young children articulated in First 5 is of a healthy childhood starting in pregnancy; time together with parents especially in the first year in a nurturing and playful home environment where material needs are met; high quality play-based Early Learning and Care experiences; positive transitions to primary school; and supportive community contexts.
The Government is committed to supporting parents in caring for young children at home in a range of ways.
Within the remit of my Department, the policy priorities are to provide access to Early Learning and Care supports to parents of young children, whether they work full time, part time, or look after their children at home full-time. These policies seek to support children’s early development and to support their families.
An example of supports for Early Learning and Care provided by my Department is that, from September of this year, all children are eligible to avail of two years of universal pre-school, without cost, through the Early Childhood Care and Education programme (ECCE) prior to beginning primary school. Some 107,000 children are already benefitting, many of whom are children of stay-at-home parents.
Furthermore the current targeted Early Learning and Care subsidy schemes are available to families where parents are in receipt of certain social welfare payments, medical cards, or GP Visit cards, again many of whom are stay-at-home parents.
A universal subsidy is available to all parents of children under the age of three, or whenever the child becomes eligible for the universal preschool programme (ECCE), regardless of whether parents are working or not. The Affordable Childcare Scheme, ACS, which will be launched later this year will make Early Learning and Care subsidies available on the basis of family income and will be available to stay-at-home parents. This is underpinned by the Childcare Support Act 2018.
My Department also provides funding for local parent and toddler groups to organise activities for parents and young children in the community to support their development through play. Both working parents and stay-at-home parents participate. 449 groups were supported in 2018.
In the coming years my Department will also be leading on developing a new model of parenting services from universal to targeted provision, covering key stages of child development and taking account of parents and children in a range of contexts and parenting relationships.
More widely across Government, there are various initiatives that support stay-at-home parents. A child benefit payment of €140 per child per month is available for all children. Budget 2019 announced an increase to the home carer tax credit to €1,500 per year.
There have also been a number of new measures to support parents to spend time at home with children in their early years. Two weeks of paternity leave and benefit for fathers was introduced in 2016. In 2017, there was an extension to maternity leave and benefit to mothers of babies born prematurely. Budget 2019 also announced the introduction of a new parental leave scheme which will be available to both fathers and mothers. First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families sets out Government's commitment that by 2021, parents will each have an individual entitlement to seven weeks of paid parental leave, to potentially allow children to benefit from an additional 14 weeks parental care in their first year.