The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD, has today (22 July 2015) published a major report which proposes how best to invest in childcare services over the coming years.
The report, prepared by an Inter-Departmental Group established by the Minister in January, puts forward options to enhance affordability for parents, improve the quality of services and outcomes for children, and promote greater accessibility in the sector.
Commenting on the report, Minister Reilly said:
Affordability, quality and accessibility are the big concerns for us all. This document offers a clear vision for future investment in early years and school-age services. It represents the most ambitious, detailed and costed plan for childcare ever produced by Government, and it follows a period of very productive consultation with parents, providers and the general public.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs spends over a quarter of a billion euro (€260m) on childcare and early education each year. The purpose of this report is to ensure that any available extra funding is invested in a strategic manner that supports good outcomes for children and helps families to raise children to reach their full potential.
The Report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Future Investment in Early Years and School Age Care and Education Services, sets out three strands of action over the coming years:
– Incremental investment in subsidising fees through existing and reformed schemes
– Measures to make sure there is adequate supply for future demand and
– Measures to embed quality in the sector.
I am pleased that the Group has looked in depth at the international evidence. It has pointed to the shortfalls in the current provision in Ireland and has put forward costed options which can be of real benefit to children, parents, families and society.
As the economy improves, we now have opportunities for strategic investment that will help achieve better outcomes for children, offer greater supports to parents, improve quality, and upskill the sector.
The report proposes three main areas where the incremental investment can be targeted:
– A longer period of parental leave to enhance outcomes in the first year of a child’s life;
– An enhanced ECCE provision (currently the ‘free pre-school year’) which would be extended to the point at which primary school starts; and
– A new, single subsidy scheme for pre-school and school-going children with simplified eligibility based on income.
The report provides costed options for the extension of paid parental leave in respect of children under the age of 1, which could be shared between both parents. All international evidence shows that children benefit from being cared for by their parents in the first year of their life.
The extended ECCE scheme would offer longer coverage and last until primary school (up to a maximum age of five and a half years). Entry could be at any month between September and June, rather than September as at present.
The report suggests a single subvention scheme to cover after pre-school, after-school and out of school childcare up to age 12. This new simplified scheme called would replace all existing targeted schemes including the Community Childcare Subvention Programme (CCS), and the Training and Employment Childcare Programmes (TEC). It would cover both community and private settings, rather than the community sector alone as at present.
The report has a range of proposals to ensure adequate supply of childcare facilities, with a greater geographical spread. It recommends work to establish the scope for using school buildings for after-school care. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will explore the role that might be played by the youth sector in after-school provision.
The report also contains proposals to enhance the quality of childcare provision, including an audit of quality of services, along with proposals for an upskilling of the workforce and an expansion of mentoring services and continuous professional development.
Minister Reilly added:
I am delighted to publish this report with its important options for future investment. I believe that it provides the basis for real improvements in affordability, quality and accessibility in the sector. It gives the Government a clear evidence base when we are making decisions for Budget 2016 and in the years beyond.