Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Ceisteanna (15)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

15. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the level of engagement between her Department and the community-managed not-for-profit childcare service providers with specific reference to negotiations for funding agreements and funding rules in the context of recent compliance audits by Pobal (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21739/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

I wish to ask the Minister the level of engagement between her Department and the community-managed not-for-profit childcare service providers, with specific reference to the negotiation for funding agreements and rules in the context of a recent compliance audit by Pobal.

I am pleased that we have managed to increase substantially our investment in childcare over the last few years. I want to continue increasing this investment but, in doing so, we must have an appropriate level of oversight and accountability.

Subsidies for all early learning and care and school age childcare programmes are paid based on the level of attendance of a child. These rules differ slightly across different schemes, reflecting the varied needs and circumstances of families.

My Department has been proactive in communicating these rules to service providers through our monthly e-zines, general guidance, letters and discussions with representative bodies. The 30 childcare committees nationally have also given support in this area.  Pobal administers these childcare programmes on behalf of my Department and carries out compliance visits. Findings of non-compliance may affect a service financially, but I believe our approach to protecting Exchequer funding is balanced appropriately with the supports we provide to community services to enable them to continue to deliver a sustainable and high quality service. My Department worked closely with Pobal in developing processes and policies to prepare for any potential sustainability impact of correcting non-compliance.

I appreciate that community childcare services provide a critical service to children and families across the country. Significant supports, including financial supports, are available through a case management system to bring them onto a more sustainable footing, while being necessarily compliant with scheme rules.  This includes a strand of funding which will be available to the services facing the most serious threats to their sustainability due to community childcare subvention overclaims, subject to a financial assessment. Pobal’s case management team has aimed to contact all of the affected community services to engage with them concerning any supports required. This has included one-to-one engagement to ensure services are aware of the supports available to them, including financial supports.

I re-emphasise that Pobal's recent compliance reports and audits are causing great distress on the ground to community managed and operated childcare providers. My information comes first-hand from childcare providers in Carlow-Kilkenny. They have told me that the recent loss of funding arising from Pobal's compliance reports will result in staff reductions and the loss of service and parental supports within the sector. That is first-hand information from the people providing the service. They are telling me that this important service will be lost if they do not get more funding.

Is the Minister satisfied that the sector will not sustain mass closures and a reduction in services? Many not-for-profit community managed and operated childcare providers are reporting that is what is going to happen. Service providers and members of the Carlow Kilkenny Community Childcare Forum have communicated to my office that they are disappointed with the lack of engagement from the Minister's Department. I will be interested to hear the response from the Minister. I am being told one thing from people on the ground and she is telling me something else. Something is wrong somewhere in between. I ask and plead with the Minister to take this on board.

I certainly will take that point on board. I will investigate the issues Deputy Aylward has raised regarding services in his Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. The Deputy is stating he is being told that the service is going to be lost in light of the compliance audit. I expect that the Deputy accepts the basic principle that audits are required. I indicated that my Department has spent much time supporting service providers to ensure that they are aware of what is required to comply. Having said that, there are services that, for whatever reasons, have been found wanting in this respect. I also understand that supports are there, particularly and most recently financial supports, to ensure the sustainability of these services, where required. Deputy Aylward, however, is telling me that information has not reached his area or that it is not part of what the county childcare committee is doing. I will investigate the situation.

I stated what I have been told first-hand. These services will be lost to the community and the children who have need of them. Will the Minister meet a group from Carlow-Kilkenny to explain the situation so that we can thrash this out one to one? I thank the Minister.

Question No. 16 replied to with Written Answers.