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Child Care Services Provision (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] This is in line with the Government's overall strategy to support parents of low-income families to take up employment and demonstrates how Departments are working together to deliver the Government's agenda on promoting employment and supporting children's development.

  The new after-school child care scheme will further augment my Department's programme of child care supports for low income families. These include the CCS, CETS and ECCE schemes, which provide subsidised child care, including for qualifying parents who are on approved VEC and FÁS education and training courses. Almost €71 million will be spent next year on the CCS and CETS programmes, supporting more than 30,000 child care places.

  Officials in my Department and the Department of Social Protection are working to finalise the details of the after school scheme and its operational arrangements. As is the case with the CETS scheme, the new scheme will be open to both community and commercial child care providers across the State and it is anticipated that places will become available on an interim basis from early 2013 with the full rollout of the programme commencing in September 2013. As soon as this work has been completed between my Department and the Department of Social Protection, I will correspond with the Deputy to give him further information.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  My Department also implements the universal free pre-school year in early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme, under which all children have equal access to free pre-school education in the year before commencing primary school. Some 65,000 children are currently availing of the ECCE programme at an annual cost of some €175 million.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank the Minister for her reply. Obviously I welcome any new service that will help low-income parents back to work or education. I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister does not have more information for us today, but she has acknowledged that once she receives it, it will be forthcoming. The Department keeps referring to this as a pilot scheme and to 6,000 places. Can the Minister give a guarantee that the pilot scheme will consist of those 6,000 places? If we start with a small pilot scheme it could be 2014 before we see the 6,000 in place. Can the Minister confirm that those 6,000 places will become available early next year?

The after school sector is unregulated, as is the childminder sector. I have received calls from people working in the industry who have grave concerns in this regard. What are the Minister's plans to deal with this issue? Does she intend to introduce regulation for this sector? Given the amount of public money that will be spent in this area, it is appropriate to have adequate regulation in place.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Some 500 places will be available on a pilot scheme early in the new year, hopefully around March. The full 6,000 places will be available - that is fully the intention - from September 2013. A new initiative at a time of severe difficulties in our finances must be welcome. I acknowledge that child care provision in this country has not got the attention it has deserved over the years. The ECCE scheme was a very welcome initiative by the Government of the Deputy's party but, of course, it only covers one year. I would like to see a second year of a pre-school initiative launched. This is complementary to what we have at present and is to be welcomed.

The sector is not regulated, as the Deputy rightly said. I will need to examine that and ascertain the appropriate standards and criteria that need to be in place as we establish the service, and I will do that.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy In reality the Minister is telling us that it will be the tail end of 2013 before the scheme will be fully operational.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald September.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Has the Minister taken on board the additional administrative costs that will be associated with the county child care committees? I am sure the Minister is hearing, as my colleagues and I are hearing, that they are under severe financial pressure at the moment to administer all the schemes they are currently administering.

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