Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ceisteanna (48)

Anne Rabbitte


48. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme. [30422/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the implementation of the affordable childcare scheme. It is fitting to ask the question as this is our final opportunity for questions before the introduction of the scheme and providers and parents would welcome an update on it.

I thank the Deputy. The national childcare scheme is fundamental to delivering quality, accessible, affordable childcare to families throughout Ireland.

I am pleased that we are making good progress on the development of the scheme. Many of the major elements are now in place in preparation for the scheme’s opening in October 2019.

Following the enactment of the Childcare Support Bill 2017 last year, detailed secondary legislation and policy guidelines are being finalised for my approval and signature.

I have formally appointed Pobal as scheme administrator under section 3 of the Act. This has enabled Pobal to open a parent phone line. The phone line is now available to assist parents or guardians with any queries on the new national childcare scheme. Providers have been invited to sign up for the scheme and I am delighted that, to date, almost 2,300 have done so.

A national communications campaign is under way. As part of this, my Department launched a dedicated website, which has received more than 175,000 hits, and we have distributed more than 60,000 parent information booklets nationwide. It also delivered a nationwide training programme to more than 3,500 early years professionals.

In September and October, my Department will undertake further training for providers and will run a large multimedia information campaign to ensure that parents are aware of their entitlements.

The development of the scheme is highly complex and has thrown up challenges. That was expected with a scheme of this size, which will benefit many families throughout Ireland.

We are designing a highly innovative supporting IT system for the scheme so that we have the option of a user-friendly, paperless, automated assessment process for parents. While the main IT system to deal with online applications is largely built, work is continuing on the supporting structures to deal with postal applications. With this in mind, the experts overseeing development of the scheme have recommended a phased launch approach but in accordance with the expert advice, we are working towards delivery on time in October. The paper-based system will be available in January for those who do not wish to apply online.

I thank the Minister for her openness in responding to my question. Some 2,300 of providers, or approximately 50%, have signed up to the scheme so far. What is the cut-off date for signing up? The Minister said the main ICT system is largely built. Is the Department on budget for the roll-out of the ICT system? Since we last spoke on this issue, have more providers signed up? Has the scope of the IT system been expanded on a trial basis to include more childcare providers throughout the country?

The broadband network in Leitrim is not great. What will the Minister do for childcare providers or parents in areas that do not have a good broadband network? The Minister said the paper-based system will be available in January. What will be the position in October for those parents? How will the Minister transition them and give them reassurances that everybody will be catered for?

On the numbers of providers signing up, I will have to get those for the Deputy. We are trying to emphasise that 2,300 is a significant number-----

-----in a relatively short period. I will share the cut-off date with the Deputy. I apologise; I just do not know that directly.

On the ICT issues, the project management team and all the other people who are engaged in this, especially Pobal and the contracted provider who has been developing this with us and providing oversight, have worked exceedingly hard. The online system will be delivered on time for applications.

Regarding the Deputy's questions on an appropriate broadband speed, I understand it does not have to be very fast. We are designing it in a way that will allow people to apply on the phone.

The final issue I want to focus on is the sensitivity of the data. Is the Minister happy with the transfer of people's personal private data? I refer to the Data Protection Commissioner ensuring that the website is sufficiently secure for the uploading of the sensitive material that will be required. Will it be protected? A cohort of parents are conscious of the need for their data to be protected.

I was in Moylough last week where I met a number of community providers who have concerns regarding the support for small community childcare providers such as themselves. I was talking to a gentleman from Wexford yesterday about the Bunclody Traveller movement and, separately, Coolcots, Wexford town. As part of the affordable childcare scheme, is the Minister hearing about the fears of some community childcare providers that the funding will not meet their demands?

The Deputy has asked two questions, the first of which is on the transfer of data in the application process.

I assure the Deputy as well as parents that over the past couple of years in preparing for this, we have gone back and forth in respect of all of those obligations and in terms of data protection, especially in respect of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, as well as in our work with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection. This has been complicated work and part of that is to ensure that we are doing it appropriately in respect of privacy provisions and at the same time ensuring the willingness and engagement of both systems to talk to each other in order that we can provide this kind of benefit. I assure the Deputy that all of those regulations have been adhered to in respect of the small community providers. I understand there are concerns because something new is being introduced. At the same time, we have fantastic supports through the community, county and city childcare committees and I hope they will be their first port of call in looking for that kind of support. If there are other questions, we are always available to answer.