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Written Answers. - Child Care Services.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 43. Mr. Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the plans he has to ensure the wider provision of child care, having regard to the findings of a recent study showing that more than half of Ireland's female workforce use their own annual leave to care for their children when child care arrangements break down; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18521/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell There have been very significant developments in relation to the provision of child care over the last number of years. In 1997, the Government established the Partnership 2000 Expert Working Group on Child Care, chaired by my Department, with the responsibility to develop a national strategy for the child care sector to meet the needs of society in general. The expert working group made a series of recommendations to Government in February 1999 in relation to the development of quality child care services to meet the increasing demand by parents for child care places. This report forms the basis of the Government's current child care programme in relation to the development of the supply side of child care.

Child care was identified as a priority area for investment in the National Development Plan 2000 to 2006 and my Department has been given responsibility for the co-ordination of child care service delivery during the period. The equal opportunities child care programme was established by my Department in April 2000 as a seven year programme to increase the number of child care facilities and places, to improve the quality of child care services and to improve the structures for child care. The total funding allocated to my Department for these purposes during the seven year period of the programme is €437 million, including €317.4 million provided under the national development plan, co-funded by the European Union.

The equal opportunities child care programme has an equal opportunities and social inclusion perspective and facilitates the further development and expansion of child care facilities to address the needs of men and women in reconciling their child care needs with their participation in employment, training and education. The programme provides capital grant assistance to community and not for profit organisations and to private child care providers to increase the supply [1156] of child care places or enhance the quality of existing places. It offers staffing grants to community based and not for profit organisations which have a focus on disadvantage and offers supports to the national voluntary child care organisations and to other groups which are working to improve the quality of child care.

Since the availability of funding was formally announced in April 2000, funding of over €132.6 million has been committed to over 1,300 child care projects on the ground, both in the community and private sectors. It is estimated that over 38,900 child care places will be supported by this funding including the creation of over 18,350 new child care places. The funding will also enable many of the services extend their hours of operation and enhance the quality of the child care provided. In addition, funding of over €20 million has been approved for quality improvement projects such as the county child care committees, the national voluntary child care organisations and innovative projects. This brings the total amount allocated under the equal opportunities child care programme to €153.2 million to date.

In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Finance makes available a number of incentives in relation to child care, such as capital allowances for capital expenditure on the construction, extension and refurbishment of a building, or part of a building – or the conversion of an existing building – which is used for the purpose of providing a pre-school service, day care or other child care facility. With regard to the Deputy's comments on the findings of a recent study regarding the use of annual leave by mothers to care for their children when their child care arrangements breakdown, I draw the Deputy's attention to the Parental Leave Act, 1998 which provides an individual and non-transferable entitlement to both parents to 14 weeks unpaid leave to take care of young children, i.e. under five years old, except in some cases of adoption where an older age applies. This leave can be taken as a continuous block, or with the agreement of the employer, broken up over a period. A review of the Act was conducted, in consultation with the social partners, in 2001 and the report of the working group on the review of the Parental Leave Act, 1998 was published in April 2002. In our programme for Government, we have committed to strengthen the parental leave scheme in line with the recommendations of the social partners.

The Parental Leave Act also provides for limited paid leave –force majeure leave – to allow employees, both male and female, deal with family emergencies resulting from illness or injury of an immediate family member. This leave cannot be more than three days in any 12 consecutive months, or five days in any consecutive 36 months.

The provisions of the Parental Leave Act assist working mothers and fathers to combine their work and family responsibilities. The programme [1157] for Government and the progress of my Department's equal opportunities child care programme are confirmation of the Government's commitment to developing and reviewing child care services and to keeping child care at the forefront of its social agenda.


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