I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to the supporting documentation required as part of the re-registration process for early years services by the Early Years Inspectorate of Tusla, the independent and statutory regulator of this sector.
The suitability and safety of premises is a key concern in the assessment of quality provision for children in early learning and care settings. Section 58G of the Child Care Act, 1991 (as amended by Part 12 of the Child and Family Agency Act, 2013) places an onus on the providers of early years services to ensure that they take all reasonable measures to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of children.
In August 2019, Tusla. as regulator, issued guidance for registered providers of early years services on the fire and planning requirements for the re-registration and change in circumstances process. It is important to note that these were not new Regulations, but guidance on the submission of documentation for the purpose of re-registration.
Registration of Early Learning and Care settings is granted where Tusla is satisfied that the premises, operation and location of the setting poses no unmanaged risk to children.
In recognition of the difficulties many providers were experiencing in completing re-registration, Tusla decided to revise the time-line for submission of some supporting documentation for re-registration. Under the revised arrangements, while providers were required to apply to Tusla by 12th December for re-registration, they have until 30th June 2020 to provide some of the supporting documentation required, including on fire safety and planning requirements.
While many services already have the necessary documentation in place, Tusla has been made aware that, in certain parts of the country, some providers were experiencing difficulties owing to a shortage of available professional persons to complete the required fire risk assessments. The extended deadline of 30th June 2020 for providing supporting documentation will allow providers to access the relevant professionals and get the required documentation in place.
While the health and safety of children is the primary concern in decisions on the regulation of early learning and care services, I recognise that a balanced approach to the re-registration process was required, given difficulties some providers experienced in completing their applications. In that context, I fully support Tusla’s decision.
The importance of addressing fire safety concerns cannot be underestimated. In recognition of this, my Department awarded €330,000 of capital funding to community-based, non-profit services in 2019. This has helped to address fire safety issues that had been highlighted in inspection reports. A further, related round of capital funding will be provided in 2020.
Fire safety audits, fire safety legislation and compliance come under the remit of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Tusla Early Years Inspectorate liaises with Local Authority fire services where appropriate.
Tusla is available to answer questions from providers as required.