First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families (2019-2028), was published in November 2018. First 5 identifies over 150 actions across the domains that impact on young children’s lives including ambitious and far reaching actions related to the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare sector.
First 5 sets out Government’s intention to increase public investment in high-quality Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare for all babies and young children to raise quality and address the affordability of provision for families, particularly families on low income. A specific target is identified of at least doubling the level of public investment in Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare by 2028.
My Department has secured substantial increases in funding of the Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare in recent years. Over the past four budgets, investment has increased by 117%, from €260 million in 2015 to €574 million in 2019. This has enabled, for example, doubling of the ECCE programme to two years, doubling of the number of places available, doubling of the number of children availing of subsidies, greater access to early learning and care services for children with disabilities, and more investment in the workforce itself.
The First 5 commitment to doubling investment again from current levels will require successful estimates campaigns based on high-quality data and evidence on the need for additional investment. Every 0.1% increase in the proportion of GDP expenditure would cost approximately €300 million.
A key vehicle to ensure that such significant additional investment delivers for children, families and the State will be a new Funding Model to design mechanisms to deliver additional funding to Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare providers to ensure greater levels of affordability, quality and inclusion in their services. I am establishing an Expert Group to make proposals on this model and the Group will begin work next month.
The National Childcare Scheme being introduced shortly will, for the first time, provide Government with a robust infrastructure to route investment to parents, both on a universal and targeted basis. This radical and innovative new scheme will support the provision of quality services to children and enable greater subsidisation of parental costs as more investment becomes available year on year.