In August of this year I launched a Draft Childminding Action Plan for the purposes of public consultation. Currently only childminders who care for 4 or more children of preschool age, or, 7 or more children including those of school age, can register with Tusla and therefore take part in State subsidy schemes. To address this limitation while protecting children and providing assurance of the quality of childminding provision, First 5 - the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2018-2028 - committed to extend regulation to all other paid, non-relative childminders on a phased basis over the lifetime of First 5.
The Draft Action Plan proposes that in Phase 2 of the Action Plan an amendment to the Child Care Act 1991 would enable registration with Tusla - and therefore participation in the National Childcare Scheme - by all paid, non-relative childminders who meet initial qualification and regulatory requirements that would be determined during Phase 1 of the Action Plan. While I am keen for this step to be taken at the earliest possible opportunity, it will be important that this step is only taken when preparations are complete, including: when new Regulations are in place that are proportionate and appropriate to the home setting in which childminders work; when the Tusla Inspectorate is ready to register and inspect all non-relative childminders; and when more detailed costings have been completed on the budgetary implications for the National Childcare Scheme.
The Draft Action Plan estimates that Phase 2 costs, including all of the reforms outlined in the plan, could be in the region of between €27m and €58m based on two scenarios of either 5,000 or 10,000 childminders registering with Tusla and becoming eligible for participation in the National Childcare Scheme. The costs are related to both early learning and care and school-age childcare.
However, there would be offsetting savings, principally through increased labour market participation as a result of wider access for parents to National Childcare Scheme subsidies.
However, it should be noted that the costing the Action Plan is challenging given considerable uncertainty about the number of childminders currently working in the country, and the number of childminders who would remain in the sector following the introduction of regulations. This uncertainty impacts on estimates of the number of additional children and families who would be able to access the new National Childcare Scheme subsidies. The cost estimates outlined in the Draft Action Plan are therefore indicative and will be refined during the first phase of the action plan.
The Inter Departmental Group on Future Investment in Childcare which reported in 2015 recommended that supply side measures (such as the NCS), rather than tax credits to parents, represented the most effective use of Exchequer investment. This was based on international experience and the ability to leverage quality and control costs to parents with supply side measures, i.e. subsidies paid directly to providers to reduce the childcare fee to parents.