The Deputy will be aware that the number of children accessing Government subsidies continues to increase and doubled in a four year period, partially driven by the fact that that investment in early learning and care and school age childcare has increased by an unprecedented 117% over the last four budgets, now totalling €575m per year. My Department has also provided capital funding every year to increase capacity in the sector.
The figures presented in the question were provided in response to Parliamentary Question No. 227 and 228 of 19 September 2019. Currently, data on the impact of compliance visits are not recorded at the level of individual children; instead, this information is recorded on a service level and contract level. It is therefore not possible to provide an answer to the Deputy’s question relating to the overclaims identified to children registered . However, two important factors are important to note.
Firstly, compliance visits should not result in children attending services and accessing subsidies being refused subsidies or services. The DCYA continues to pay services for children who are in attendance. In fact, the increased compliance may see the attendance of children increase. As stated earlier, twice as many children are being subsidised now as were subsidised 4-5 years ago. Twice as many childcare places exist, and the average childcare service has grown from 33 places in 2014 to 47 in 2019. I would also note that the new IT system built to support the National Childcare Scheme will facilitate a greater level of insight into changes in the sector and compliance outcomes.
The rules of the Department’s early learning and care and school age childcare programmes are very clear: subsidies are paid based on patterns of child attendance. That said, it should be emphasised that Pobal, when determining a pattern of attendance during a compliance visit, aim to apply the rules in a manner which maximises the subsidy available to the child.
The attendance rules of the new National Childcare Scheme will seek to reflect the reality of children and parents' lives and the need for services to operate as businesses. The attendance rules will reflect a further degree of flexibility whilst honouring the requirement to ensure that Exchequer funding is used for the purposes it was intended.
My Department continues to work to support providers who deliver the early learning and care and school age childcare programmes. The increased investment in recent years should have assisted sustainability significantly. The €19.4m annual Programme Support Payment recognises the additional time required of providers to complete the administrative work associated with childcare programmes funded by the Department. Compliance visits are critical to protect the Exchequer and ensure that finite resources for children and families are used to support as many children as possible. Any service which experiences financial difficulty following a compliance visit is encouraged to access available supports through Pobal's Case Management service and through their local City/County Childcare Committee to address.