- To ask the Minister for Children what provision is being made by her Department to assist in the provision of childcare for frontline workers who are providing essential services to the public at present and if she will make a statement on the matter.
DCYA Covid Queries for answer 20 April
The Deputy is aware that the COVID-19 Pandemic has created major challenges for Ireland. The sudden closure of centre-based Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) services on 12th March was an unexpected but necessary move to safeguard public health in Ireland. Some childminders continue to be allowed to operate where they care for the children of essential workers and where they follow HSE advice.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been preparing for any decision by Government responding to any recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to make childcare services available for essential workers.
I can assure you that my officials and I have been working intensively with key Departments and Agencies to prepare for such an eventuality and to deliver a safe and pragmatic solution that meets the needs of essential workers, is child centred, and protects any childcare practitioners who might volunteer.
Further consideration will take place and information will be made available as / when a decision is made and based on any guidance provided by NPHET.
62/708. To ask the Minister for Children the measures she will implement to assist the Childcare Sector through present difficulties; if additional funding will be provided and if she will make a statement on the matter.
DCYA Covid Queries for answer 20 April
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented situation that has required a series of emergency responses from the Government.
I am acutely aware of the particular impact the pandemic and the emergency measures have had on early education and childcare providers. I am also very conscious of the importance of the early education and childcare sector, particularly in the context of the current conditions and with a view to supporting the economy as we move beyond this crisis.
Recognising this, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme was launched on April 15th. This followed from my commitment on March 25th regarding the development of this Scheme.
The aim of the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme is threefold:
- to support the sustainability of the Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare Sector so that it is in a position to reopen after COVID-19;
- to provide parents with a reassurance that they are not required to pay fees during this COVID-19 crisis, while providing them with reassurance that they will maintain places for their children;
- and to give Early Learning and Care practitioners security and to retain these vital Educators in the sector.
To achieve this, the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme will provide funding towards a portion of staff wages and services’ overhead costs. The funding will be paid on the 24th of April to any providers who sign up by April the 21st. Details of how to sign up have been made available through the Pobal programme platform used by childcare providers.
Clearly the sector is experiencing considerable anxiety and stress at this time. To alleviate this, I had directed that the programme payments (including ECCE (free pre-school) and the National Childcare Scheme) continue on an ex-gratia basis, despite services being closed until the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme was up and running.
It was important to move to this new temporary funding model which repurposes existing childcare monies to support the multiplicity of childcare provider types with varying ratios of State income and parental contribution.
The Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme builds on the wider provisions by Government and also recognises the unique place and importance of the childcare sector.
I would also note that there were supports available to improve the sustainability of services before COVID-19, and these remain available to services which may still be facing regular challenges on top of the difficulties imposed by the pandemic.
Details regarding the mechanics of the scheme and many queries received from providers in recent days are now addressed in a comprehensive set of FAQs released on Wednesday 15th April. These will be updated as required. I would request that the Deputy directs concerned providers to these documents for support and guidance. The Pobal Service Provider Centre is also available to respond to queries.
My Department has made considerable investment in the sector in recent years. I want to preserve the fruits of this investment and I want to ensure that early education and childcare places are retained for children and parents for when these difficult times pass.
1.1. Technology and broadband access
|123||To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if assistance can be provided for Leaving Certificate 2020 students who do not have access to up-to-date technology and/or students living in areas with inadequate Broadband coverage and if he will make a statement on the matter.||Brendan Smith|
The responses set out in the attached composite response document relate to week 2 questions submitted by April 14th.
Schools have been asked to be conscious of students who may not have access to online facilities and to consider this actively in their responses. School buildings have been available to staff who wished to access the facilities in order to provide online delivery, or essential services, as long as this was in line with public health advice.
Officials in my Department have liaised with colleagues in the DCCAE to raise the issue of barriers to connectivity impacting access to remote learning. Minister Bruton has announced a package of additional supports from the telecoms companies including that access to healthcare and educational resource websites identified by the Government will be zero-rated for all customers where technically feasible.
The Department is supporting a pilot initiative, under which Cisco and IBM are providing support directly to schools to operate the WebEx platform. This facilitates schools, with no alternative capability, with a collaborative platform to enable them engage with their students and staff.
My Department is also engaging with IBEC on the potential for companies to donate devices and other supports to be targeted at disadvantage students who otherwise would not have a device.
The Department will continue to work with the education partners to provide solutions in areas where digital and remote learning options may not be possible, and work is underway to provide guidance to schools about how best to use digital and other solutions to provide ongoing learning for students at this time.