Historically, there have been low levels of investment in Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) in Ireland. Over the past four budgets however, investment has increased by some 117% - rising from in €260 million in 2015, to €575 million in 2019.
This 117% increase in investment in childcare over the last 4 budgets has assisted with an unprecedented doubling of capacity in the sector, most growth occurring in ECCE, but some elsewhere.
Assisting childcare providers in extending their existing childcare services, or establishing new childcare services, have always been key areas of focus for my Department's capital programmes.
My Department's 2019 Early Years Capital Scheme includes a focus on baby and toddler places. €4m is available and in excess of 100 development proposals are currently being assessed. This will create hundreds of more places, significantly increasing capacity in just one year.
Concerns have been raised about the availability of childcare places in the registered childcare sector. I am aware that the higher cost of operating baby rooms, due to higher staffing ratios being required, may be contributing to the capacity issue and my Department is monitoring this situation closely whilst also taking a number of measures to address it.
Access to high quality and affordable childcare generally remains a topical issue. The particular focus on availability of places in the centre based sector for the 0-3 age range has emerged in the context of recent media coverage. There is a suggestion that ECCE has been expanded (successfully) at the cost on provision for younger children.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS), due to be launched later this year will also be a significant intervention to address this challenge. The NCS recognises the different costs associated with providing childcare for children of different ages. The Scheme will provide for a progressive system of subsidies starting with the highest subsidy rates for children under 1(up to €5.10 per hour) and the next highest subsidy for children from 1 to under 3 (up to €4.35 per hour).
In relation to childminding, I was delighted to secure €500,000 in Budget 2019 to recruit a National Childminding Coordinator and a team of six Development Officers around the country, to support the registration of more childminders with Tusla and thus enable them access subsidies under the National Childcare Scheme. My Department will publish a Childminding Action Plan in the coming months to follow through on the commitments in First 5 and the Programme for Government to further develop the childminding sector.
My Department funds 30 City and County Childcare Committees across the country. Part of their role is to advise my Department on capacity issues. I would encourage anyone having difficulty in securing a place to make contact with their local CCC. Contact details for all of the CCCs, in addition to other information about the services they provide, may be found on www.myccc.ie
As regards capacity issues more generally, each year Pobal conducts research on behalf of my Department to examine a number of factors related to childcare services in Ireland, including the monitoring of capacity. The Early Years Sector Profile report, which was published in November and relates to the 2017/2018 programme year, indicates that existing childcare provision nationally meets current needs nationwide in terms of capacity whilst recognising that small pockets of under supply may exist within this.
This report outlines a 4% vacancy rate as a percentage of children enrolled in Dublin. Pobal reports that nationally the trend for waiting lists suggests a reduction in waiting lists for older children and an increase for under twos. Pobal cautions that its data on waiting lists cannot by itself be used to inform capacity decisions as parents often place their children on more than one waiting list.
Under the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan published in 2018, I ensured that Childcare was identified as one of our nation's strategic priorities. I am delighted that €250 million in additional funding has been committed to for the expansion of high quality, early learning and care and school age childcare over the duration of the Plan.