I have spoken with Minister Donnelly on a number of occasions since the full level five restrictions were put in place on the 30th December on this specific issue. The provision of suitable childcare for the children of frontline healthcare workers, particularly for those with new childcare needs as a result of the closure of schools, is a significant concern for the Government. My officials have been examining options as regards this and are engaging with colleagues in the Department of Health to address the issue.
Following Cabinet approval on 26 January for the continuation of additional measures under full Level 5 restrictions, I have announced new funding measures to support the Early Learning and Care and School Aged Childcare (ELC and SAC) sector to cover the period 1 February to 5 March. These measures have been developed in order to ensure that childcare services which are open can continue to operate safely and in line with public health advice, with a particular focus on addressing the childcare needs of those working in essential services and for vulnerable children.
The pre-school (ECCE) programme will continue to be suspended during these extended restrictions, however all other early learning and childcare services can remain open for children whose parents work in an essential service and for vulnerable children.
The new funding arrangements are as follows:
- Services open during this period will continue to receive 70% of the value of ECCE programme funding and 100% of funding provided under other Department schemes (i.e. the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), the Community Childcare Subvention Plus (CCSP), and the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)) These services can also receive the additional 30% of ECCE Programme funding if they commit to certain conditions that includes waiving fees for parents not using the service and retaining staff where possible.
- Services closed during this period, where the closure is approved by the Department, will receive 70% of the value of ECCE programme funding and 100% of funding provided under other Department schemes (i.e. NCS, CCSP, and AIM). This funding will be conditional on a commitment to waive fees for parents and retain staff where possible.
- A newly designed Covid-19 Support Payment is being put in place to support some providers with a significant reliance on parental fee income to waive fees during this period while remaining sustainable.