Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Ceisteanna (447)

Pat Casey

Ceist:

447. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to ensure quality and safety in childcare providers in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49113/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

My Department has made significant strides over the last number of years in progressing the quality agenda both nationally and locally, to enhance quality and safety in early learning and care and school-age childcare. Measures already undertaken and which will continue over the years ahead include:

- Introducing a minimum qualification requirement in law which ensures that all staff must have at least a Level 5 qualification in early childhood care and education

- Incentivising the recruitment of graduates. 25% of those working in the sector now have degrees in early childhood education and care 

- Establishing the Better Start Quality Development Service that provides mentoring and training to services all across the country.

- Providing Learner Fund Bursaries and payments for participation in Continuing Professional Development, to support the upskilling of those working in the sector. 

- Funding the provision of training in areas such as the curriculum and inclusion. 

- Expanding and strengthening the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate, which is the statutory regulator of the sector. The number of inspections carried out by Tusla each year is nearly double what it was 5 years ago.

- Creating a register of providers, and giving Tusla the power to deregister providers and to attach conditions to their registration.

- Introducing “education-focused inspections” for the ECCE programme that are carried out by the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate on behalf of my Department.

- Supporting the 30 City and County Childcare Committees - including Wicklow County Childcare Committee - to assist my Department in ensuring that schemes and other initiatives we operate nationally meet local needs. 

- Introducing (in 2019) the regulation of school age childcare for the first time.

- Consulting on a Draft Childminding Action Plan (published in August 2019 for the purpose of public consultation), which sets out how we propose to introduce the regulation of childminding over the years ahead and to open up a full range of supports for childminders, including supports for quality and safety. 

In addition, First 5, our Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, which I published last year, sets out a wide range of further measures that I - working in collaboration with my colleagues in Government - intend to take. These include, for example, the Workforce Development Plan, work on which began earlier this year and which will set out a detailed plan of actions to achieve a graduate-led workforce in early learning and care settings by 2028. In relation to school-age childcare, following the initial Regulations introduced earlier this year, a public consultation took place in summer 2019 which will inform the development over the period ahead of comprehensive Regulations and a quality improvement framework for school-age childcare settings.

Following the recent broadcast of the RTÉ investigation, Behind Closed Doors, I wrote to the Chair of Tusla to ask what additional powers the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate might need. Following Tusla’s reply, my Department is now examining legislative options, which may include mechanisms to inform parents of inspection findings at an earlier stage, to require services to display prominently their inspection status, and to alert parents in relation to the operation of unregistered services.

Additional powers for Tusla must form part of a multi-faceted approach that also includes: additional training for those working in the sector, with a renewed focus on the child protection training that is already under way; strengthened advisory supports before and after inspections; supporting the Garda Vetting process for the sector; and additional information for parents. In short, we need to keep strengthening the quality agenda we have been successfully pursuing over recent years.