Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ceisteanna (58)

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Children)

Deputy Rabbitte kindly offered to forgo this question to allow Deputy Browne's Question No. 60 to be taken, but we will get all three in if everyone co-operates. Perhaps Deputy Rabbitte and the Minister could keep their questions and replies brief.

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

58. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the implications the new after-school care regulations will have for schools and childcare providers; and her views on whether sufficient consultation was conducted with the affected groups. [29821/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The Minister and I are pros at that at this stage. Has her attention been drawn to the implications that the new after-school care regulations will have for schools and childcare providers? What are her views on whether there was sufficient consultation with affected groups?

The new school age childcare regulations were developed following comprehensive advice received from experts in the sector. They have been received positively overall, with providers and parents recognising my duty to protect children and assist in ensuring quality of service. Concerns raised in the media focused on the minimum ratio of one adult to 12 children that will come into force in August. However, data available to my Department indicate that the large majority of school age childcare providers will have no difficulty complying with the new ratio. A sample of 400 school age services surveyed in 2018 found an average ratio of one adult to nine children, well within the new ratio requirement, and 85% of sessions of school age childcare provided were within a 1:12 ratio. A separate survey was carried out in May and June of this year by the county childcare committees. In the ten rural and urban counties for which data are available so far, 79% of services were already operating within the 1:12 ratio.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact on the number of places. However, the available data offer assurances. In the ten counties for which data are available, there will be an overall increase in the number of places this September. Additionally, my Department recently announced the results of a capital scheme, which will create 2,308 new school age places nationally.

The 2019 regulations are relatively limited in scope and were introduced to support the inclusion of school age childcare in the new national childcare scheme, which will open later this year. We need some regulations if providers are to receive subsidies. It will be necessary to replace the regulations in due course with comprehensive ones to ensure children's health, safety and well-being.

I recently carried out a full public consultation to inform the future regulations and quality standards. The consultation period closed on 5 July and I am looking forward to hearing the outcome.

I will pick the Minister up on two points. Concerns focused on the minimum ratio of 1:12. Do I understand her correctly that there will be scope for expansion in this? Is that because the ratio applies to younger children or will it be applied for all attending after-school services?

I welcome the regulations and the legislation, but I have a slight concern about the ratio, not as it relates to 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. pick-ups, but as it relates to older children who are coming out of classes with a ratio of 1:26. Is there a way of phasing the regulations in so that, if certain childcare providers exceed the 1:12 ratio, they will be able to change that over a period of six or 12 months?

I will make two points. I have indicated that we had a full consultation process as regards the development of the regulations.

We will see if that concern has been raised. I will certainly bring what the Deputy has said back to my Department. I would not say "No" to it outright. The Deputy has offered a rationale, about which perhaps we could talk further. Having said that, what I am describing is what was recommended not only by experts but also by key stakeholders, including Early Childhood Ireland, Children's Rights Alliance and the National Parents Council. It has fed into the development of the ratio and the strong belief that is what is required to ensure quality of life and the safety of children. I do not think I can promise that anything will move, but I will bring the specific argument the Deputy has made back to the Department for it to look at it.

That is fine. I thank the Minister.