My Department has a number of programmes and schemes in place to support parents and guardians with the cost of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare. These are available on a national basis through thousands of registered providers across all counties, including Wexford. They include:
- The universal pre-school programme, which provides children with 15 hours per week of pre-school education over a 38-week programme year. Since September 2018 children qualify for two years of universal pre-school.
- The universal Community Childcare Subvention (CCSU) and the targeted Community Childhood Subvention (CCS), which provide weekly subsidies to offset fees charged by providers. CCS is available to families who hold a Medical Card or are in receipt of social welfare benefits.
- The Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Schemes provide a weekly subsidy to offset fees charged by providers for parents on approved education or training courses, Community Employment schemes, or those returning to work who need school-age childcare.
- Specific supports are also in place for children in emergency accommodation, in accommodation centres provided by the State for persons in the protection process or programme refugee children in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres.
Radical reforms to the targeted schemes, based on the principle of progressive universalism, are in train. The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), when introduced this October, will replace the CCS and TEC schemes with a single, streamlined scheme.
Under the NCS, parents will continue to have access to the universal subsidy towards the cost of Early Learning and Care. This stands at €1,040 per annum currently for a child under 3 in full time registered Early Learning and Care. Targeted subsidies for children from 6 months to 15 years of age will be provided, with the level of subsidy determined by net household income and the age of the child (children). Households with a net income of less than €26,000 will receive the maximum subsidy. This can be as high as €5.10 per hour, available for up to 40 hours per week, for a child under one. Households with net income up to €60,000 will also benefit, but on a sliding scale from the maximum subsidy level available for incomes under €26,000. Further information is available at www.ncs.gov.ie.
In addition to these universal and targeted subsidies, the NCS allows for additional support for families where there is an identified need for Early Learning and Care on grounds of child development or child welfare. Families with high levels of need, who require Early Learning and Care for child welfare, child protection or family support reasons, may be referred for support by a specified “sponsor” body. Where such a referral is made, the family will automatically qualify for a subsidy for the number of hours considered appropriate by the sponsor without having to satisfy the scheme’s eligibility, income or enhanced hours requirements.
Recent analysis undertaken by the OECD has concluded that, when the NCS is introduced, the costs of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare to parents will come closer to the OECD average – from being one of the highest across the OECD. For example, we will move from being the most expensive country in the OECD for lone parents to 11th position ( this research was conducted before Budget 2019 which increased investment by a further €89m). This demonstrates significant progress. The NCS, in creating a flexible platform for future investment in funding, will allow subsidies to be expanded over time and importantly further progress to be made.