First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families (2019-2028), was published in November. 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 commits to at least doubling investment in Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare by 2028 and a key vehicle to ensure that such significant additional investment delivers for children, families and the State will be a new Funding Model.
The intention with the new Funding Model is 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. It is planned that the new Funding Model will operate in addition to the major funding streams for the universal pre-school Early Childhood Care and Education programme and the National Childcare Scheme when it comes into operation later this year.
In order to lead the development of the Funding Model, I am appointing an Expert Group with expertise in Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare systems, funding, and quality, as well as those with skills in economics and policy development. This Group will be asked to agree principles to underpin the new Model in consultation with stakeholders, identify and consider options on how additional funding for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare can be structured to deliver on policy objectives, and design a new Model to recommend to Government.
One of the issues that the Expert Group will be requested to explore in their work will be the potential for linking of additional funding to Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services to operation of services on a not-for-profit/surplus basis, or reasonable profit/surplus basis. This will require detailed economic and legal analysis.
An important strand of work in the development of the new Funding Model will be the inclusion element, whereby consideration will be given to how best to fund Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services operating in the context of concentrated disadvantage which can face challenges in providing supports and services to children and their families commensurate with their needs. There is potential to build on the long-established precedent of the Delivering Equality of opportunity in Schools (DEIS) model that exists in the primary and secondary school sector.
A Research Partnership will support the Expert Group with evidence and analysis as well as engagement and consultation work. The Request for Tender for this project has recently been published. The Expert Group will hold its first meeting next month beginning a complex project that is likely to take some time to bring to fruition. Further updates will be available as the work progresses in the coming months.
The new Funding Model will be a key vehicle to achieve the vision of Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare services that are equipped to provide high-quality services for children, affordability to parents and sustainability for providers.