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Written Answers - Child Care Services

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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 121.  Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan  asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  if she intends to introduce a Scandinavian system of childcare here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24032/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Government currently supports the provision of early childhood care and education through three support programmes — the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme and the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme. These programmes are administered by my Department.

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, introduced in January 2010, provides a free pre-school year to all eligible children in the year before commencing primary school. Almost every pre-school service in the State is participating in the programme, ensuring it is available to children in all areas. About 65,000 children, that is approximately 95% of children in the year before school, are availing of the free pre-school provision at this time. In line with the Programme for Government, my Department has made a significant commitment to maintaining the universal free pre-school year and to developing early childhood care and education as resources allow. In this context the funding for the pre-school year has been increased from €166 million in 2011 to €175.8 million in 2012 to cater for changing demographics, and provide for the increased number of children in the relevant age cohort.

It is my objective to incrementally develop the ECCE programme over the term of this Government as resources permit. A key element of this is the implementation of the Workforce Development Plan by the Early Education Policy Unit of the Department of Education and Skills, which is co-located in my Department.

Officials from my Department worked closely with the Department of Education and Skills in the development of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, and I welcome the recognition of the role of early childhood care and education. The Strategy was formally launched by my colleague,the Minister for Education and Skills, last year. My Department is committed to incentivising the early years sector to acquire additional skills in oral language competency development for young children once this minimum qualification requirements of the ECCE programme have been met.

In developing the ECCE programme the focus will be on improving the quality of childcare services.

The Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme supports community-based childcare services by enabling them to provide childcare at reduced rates to disadvantaged and low income families. These not-for-profit facilities provide childcare at cost price with reductions to qualifying parents based on the level of subvention they are entitled to under the programme.

Under the Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS) programme, which was introduced in September 2010, funding is provided by my Department to participating childcare services in return for the provision of free childcare places to qualifying students and trainees.

[334]The eligibility criteria under which students and trainees qualify under the programme is determined by FÁS and the VECs. Approximately 2,800 full time equivalent childcare places are currently funded under the programme.

I am pleased that all three support programmes are being retained despite the ongoing need to reduce Government expenditure. While there has been some revision to payment rates and subvention levels I am satisfied that the programmes are being implemented in a way which generates efficiencies and improvements in outcomes, within available resources.

In December 2011, the Government announced a new National Childcare Investment Programme (NCIP) Capital Funding 2012 grant. This grant will provide capital funding of €6m this year to both community and private childcare providers currently participating in one or more of the above funding programmes: CCS programme; CETS programme and ECCE programme. The capital grant, which provides funding up to €50,000, is available for small maintenance/renovation work or equipment, will ensure that childcare services are in a position to continue in the future to deliver quality care and education as required under the programmes.

Future developments relating to early years care and education will be considered during preparation of the new National Early Years Strategy 2012. This Strategy will be developed during 2012 and will cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life.

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