I strongly believe that childminding has an important and distinctive role to play in the future of early learning and care and school-age childcare in this country. The public consultation on the Draft Childminding Action Plan was extensive, and I warmly welcome the high level of participation in the consultation by both childminders and parents.
A central part of the consultation process was a series of 32 focus groups of childminders that were organised around the country by the local City and County Childcare Committees, with a total of 205 childminders taking part. The focus groups were designed specifically to enable childminders to take an active part in the consultation: all 32 events were run in the evenings, and they were organised at county level, with the help of the new team of regional Childminding Development Officers that I have put in place this year.
In addition to the focus groups, the consultation process involved an online survey, a call for submissions, and an Open Policy Debate (with 55 participants) that took place in the daytime to facilitate participation by other stakeholders. The online survey had 467 respondents, of whom nearly 40% were parents and nearly 60% were childminders. 14 submissions were also received.
The public consultation process on the Draft Action Plan was widely publicised through the National Voluntary Childcare Organisations (including Childminding Ireland) and the local City and County Childcare Committees, all of whom communicate on an ongoing basis with Early Learning and Care providers, School Age Childcare providers and parents.
The consultation with parents and childminders on the proposed reforms also included a major consultation process that was carried out by the Working Group on Reforms and Supports for the Childminding Sector. The Draft Childminding Action Plan is firmly based in the Working Group's report, which was submitted to me last year. The Working Group itself was chaired by Childminding Ireland, and its work included an online survey of childminders and parents, in which there were 3,630 participants.
While a significant amount of consultation has already taken place, the Draft Action Plan also commits to further consultation with childminders, parents and other stakeholders during development of regulations specific to the home environment, during Phase 1 of the Action Plan.
The Draft Childminding Action Plan is very much about recognising and supporting all that is distinctive about childminding and about the home and family setting in which childminders work. The Draft Action Plan proposes to move away from the current situation in which childminders face the same regulations as centre-based providers, and proposes instead to develop new regulations that are specific and appropriate to childminding, and to develop bespoke training and resources to support the quality of childminding provision.