The National Childcare Scheme is a key pathway to quality, accessible, affordable childcare in Ireland. It represents a landmark for parents, underpinned by an innovative IT system, and offering the option of paperless, automated assessment. We know parents have a lot on their plate, so we are designing an application process that will be as safe, speedy and stress-free as possible. This means that we have to develop 30,000 different applicant circumstances and choices through the system, to cater for all possible variations.
The IT system is built and is being piloted at present. The objective of any pilot is to identify potential issues or “snags”, and to support readiness for full launch. The pilot has been highly valuable in this regard, allowing us to identify and address a number of issues. Last week I signalled that a minor snag had been identified which blocked a small number of applications from proceeding through the system. This has required additional time to address the issue and retest the system. This means that the Scheme should now open for applications in November. Subsidy payments, as previously advised, should still flow from November.
In the meantime, the pilot will continue and we will also enable providers to complete programme readiness activities in advance of the full launch.
With regard to a specific date for full launch, the Project Board overseeing the Scheme will meet this week and hopes to recommend a new date at that time.
Allowing these extra few weeks before launching the National Childcare Scheme is the right thing to do. Parents and providers deserve a robust system and a positive user experience. It is too important for families for us not to deliver the best possible Scheme and system.