The National Childcare Scheme includes specific arrangements for vulnerable children and families to be referred to the Scheme by certain statutory bodies. This arrangement (commonly referred to as a 'sponsor referral') will enable such children to avail of free or additional childcare under the Scheme. The five statutory bodies specified as sponsors in the Childcare Support Act 2018, and the specific groups of children who may benefit, are:
- Child and Family Agency (Tusla) - to promote the welfare of children, either where there is a child protection concern, or as a form of early intervention or family support;
- HSE - to support child development for children who are below the age for participation in ECCE and where there is an identified need for childcare as a developmental support for the child;
- Minister for Education and Skills - for teen parents who are still in education or training;
- Minister for Justice and Equality - to enable parents who are programme refugees to participate in education, integration and other relevant supports; and
- Local Authorities – to support homeless persons with children who are homeless or moving out of homelessness to access childcare services.
If a sponsorship referral is made by one of these bodies, the family in question will automatically qualify for a subsidy for the number of hours considered appropriate by the sponsor without having to satisfy the scheme’s eligibility, income or enhanced hours requirements. The family will not need to make any co-payment.
The criteria under which children will be referred by each body is contained within the respective agreements, each of which are being finalised at present. It is anticipated that signed agreements will be in place with each of the bodies before the launch of the National Childcare Scheme.