Additional investment essential in childcare sector – Brendan Smith T.D.

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 07/11/2017 

Question Number(s): 1098 Question Reference(s): 45844/17 Written 

Department: Children and Youth Affairs 

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QUESTION

* To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to issues raised by a local authority (details supplied) in relation to childcare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. Brendan Smith T.D. 

REPLY

It is important that we acknowledge the critical role childcare workers play in delivering high quality childcare services. They deserve to be recognised, valued and respected for this. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs acknowledges that pay and conditions are major issues facing the sector. My Department is exploring how this can be addressed.

The Programme for Government commits to carrying out an independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare. The ‘Independent Review of the Cost of Delivering Quality Childcare’ which will be carried out by Crowe Horwath, will examine the costs faced by childcare providers in delivering quality childcare, including a survey of childcare providers. Following completion the review is intended to be used to strengthen the evidence base underpinning investment in early years. As such, it will feed into future policy development, including in relation to levels of payments to services.

In terms of pay for the Early Years sector, it must be noted that my Department is not the direct employer of childcare workers. However, in terms of improving pay and conditions I have suggested to the sector that they could apply to the Labour Court for a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO), asking the Court to make a recommendation in relation to pay for the whole Early Years sector.

Under a SEO process, organisations substantially representative of employers and employees come together to agree a way forward and submissions are sought from key stakeholders. My Department would not be party to the SEO process, however, as a significant funder, and with policy responsibility for quality, my Department would be well placed to make a submission to the Court once it publishes its notice in relation to the matter of the application for a SEO for the sector. I will be very supportive of any reasonable measures aimed at improving pay and conditions of the Early Years sector. While my Department does not have direct control over the matter, it will continue to support any appropriate initiatives in this area.

In the interim, my Department continues to invest significant resources in the early years sector. In the last three Budgets (2016, 2017 and 2018) investment in Early Years sector has increased by some 87% which reflect the emphasis being placed on developing a quality service with appropriately supported staff. This has helped to address affordability, access and quality, although it is recognised that there is more to be done. The announcement under Budget 2018 to increase ECCE capitation rates by 7% is intended to support the workforce.

The funding provided by my Department has always been intended to be sufficient to cater for all of the costs associated with the childcare schemes funded, including administrative and “non-contact time” work, or to fund this pro-rata where my Department’s contribution is a part of the total cost of care provided. Notwithstanding this, to take account of the additional administrative burden on childcare providers as the result of significant changes to the childcare schemes in 2016-2017, including the expansion of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme to include three intake points, contractual changes and the coming into force of the Childcare Regulations, some €14.5 million was provided in 2017 to be drawn down as a “non-contact time” payment for providers, equivalent to seven days’ funding. I have also secured an additional once-off payment of up to €3.5 million in December in respect of the Community Childcare Universal Subsidy (CCSU). This will bring the overall total ‘non-contact’ support (or ‘Programme Support Payments’) to €18m in 2017. In Budget 2018 it was announced that €18m in programme support payments will be continued for the the coming year. This funding is also intended to support providers and their employees.

On 11th April 2017 I made an announcement that the Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) would not commence this September but that a range of measures would be introduced in September by my Department to make childcare more affordable for thousands of families throughout Ireland. This honours a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

The ‘September measures’ relate to the introduction of the Community Childcare Subvention Universal (CCSU) payment and the increase in band rates across the different strands of the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) Scheme and the Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Scheme. As part of these ‘September measures’, a universal subsidy is available for all children aged between 6 months and 3 years of age (or until they qualify for ECCE if later than 36 months) in registered childcare. This amounts to up to €20 a week or €1,040 per year for children in full time childcare.

I am keenly aware of the pressures on the sector with regard to availability of places and sustainability and, following on from significant investment in 2016 and 2017, my Department will provide €6.86m for its capital funding programme under Budget 2018.

Although my Department has been successful in securing additional funding for this sector over the past three budgets, as outlined above, it is acknowledged that much more must be done if we are truly to have affordable, accessible, quality childcare and continue to improve both the affordability and quality of childcare. To this end I will continue to engage with Government colleagues with a view to securing additional investment for the Early Years sector in future budgets. Childcare workers are part of a growing sector, which the Government is strongly supporting. My Department and I believe that by working together with all the stakeholders in the Early Years sector we can ensure that it is a viable and strong sector which makes a significant contribution to the care and personal development of our children.

I am committed to ensuring childcare is affordable, accessible and of a high quality.

 

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