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 Header Item DEIS Scheme (Continued)
 Header Item Child Care Services Provision

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin] The school and the community are making great efforts in that regard. The letter I received from the Department states that the school completion programme, as well as the home-school liaison scheme, will be taken from the school. That is not good enough, and I want the Minister to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to reverse that decision.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I am indicating in my answer that, as we move forward, it is not necessarily the case that DEIS and school completion will be coupled. I am saying we need to look at that again, in light of the DEIS review, its focus and its reform. I am not saying that we will necessarily decouple but the case the Deputy has put to me, and the Minister for Education and Skills also, needs to be listened to in general. In terms of the particular case, however, I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the Minister for Education and Skills as, clearly, it is within his remit.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I compliment the school completion programme, which has been in existence for over 15 years since Fianna Fáil introduced it. It has been identified as a model of best practice by the European Union and the OECD as a targeted programme that increases retention rates in schools and reduces educational disadvantage. However, I understand that its budget has been reduced and that there may be plans to reduce it further. Is the Minister committed to reversing the resource cuts to school completion programmes across the country? Will she instruct Tusla to restore the programme's educational focus? There are reports that the Department intends to downgrade the programme. I want the Minister to assure those of us in this House, and the people in the community, that this programme will be consolidated as a proactive, preventative programme rather than a reactive one. I believe it should come under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills as opposed to Tusla. I appreciate that the Minister will make the Minister for Education and Skills aware of the argument concerning the community school in Kildare but there are wider issues around it also.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone To be perfectly clear, there were no funding cuts regarding the school completion programme 2014-2015 allocation of €24.7 million. Tusla has confirmed that the funding this year is €24.756 million and that there has been no cut in funding for the year 2016-17. I am not sure where the Deputy is getting that information from and I am not clear on her concerns about the scaling back of this kind of programme. The opposite is the case. In terms of school completion, the ambition is to engage in major reform. That is already taking place in terms of the response of the education and welfare service with a director, who I had the opportunity to meet because of my own concerns in this regard, responding line by line to the different recommendations from the ESRI report to make it even more effective. That is the first phase with regard to our commitment to the school completion programme.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The next question, No. 22, is in the name of Deputy Bríd Smith. Deputy Smith is not present.

  Question No. 22 replied to with Written Answers.

Child Care Services Provision

 23. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone if she has given further consideration to concerns raised regarding the proposed single affordable child care scheme that some of the poorest families will have less access for their children to after-school provision including homework clubs and social activities; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [15135/17]

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I acknowledge that other members of the committee have raised this issue, Deputy Ó Laoghaire in particular. It is to do with the fact that the new single affordable child care scheme will offer less support for unemployed families than for families where the parents are at work. I know the intention is to support people going out to work and so on but it will disadvantage some of the poorest children in the country. We engaged with the Minister on this issue in the committee. Is further consideration being given to the concern, particularly of the community child care sector?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The affordable child care scheme will give priority to the poorest families. The highest rates of subsidy will go to families with the lowest incomes. In particular, the maximum rate of subsidy will go to families with net income below €22,700, which means that all families below the relative income poverty line will receive the maximum hourly rate of subsidy. For school-age children, the maximum subsidy will be €3.76 per hour, which amounts to €38 per week for a two-hour per day after-school session.

I want to ensure a balanced approach to eligibility: while people will qualify for a subsidy based purely on income, parents’ participation in work or training will determine the number of hours of subsidy available. When parents are engaged in work, including part-time work and labour market activation programmes or education or training, they will be eligible for an enhanced hours subsidy of up to 40 hours per week. When parents are not in work or training, child care will be subsidised on a standard hours basis of up to 15 hours per week.

I believe that this is a reasonable approach. It will mean that this scheme is open, albeit for standard hours rather than enhanced hours, to parents who stay at home to care for their children and are not taking part in work or training but who choose to avail of up to 15 hours of child care per week. In the case of school-going children, the child development objectives are met through school-going hours and, as such, the 15 standard hours child care applies to non-term time.

I acknowledge that where a parent is at home and not engaged in work or study, the family will not benefit from subsidised after-school child care. However, I believe it is important that the scheme should actively support labour market participation through linking the number of hours of subsidy to a family’s need for child care for the purpose of work, education or training.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The concern that has been expressed to me in an e-mail is that, in effect, this means that children of unemployed parents will not be able to attend after-school and avail of the homework help, development of social skills and learning provided, apart from the 15 hours during non-term time. This is a genuine concern, particularly of the community sector. I acknowledge that labour market participation is one of the objectives of the scheme but the main objective is child-centred and child-focused. I do not know if the Minister has met the people who are directly concerned about this issue but there is a genuine fear that in some cases community child care services would not be able to afford to continue. An additional concern, apart from the concern around the children themselves, is that some of these services will not be viable under the new scheme. The legislation has not been passed yet so I do not know if there is an opportunity to consider the effects of this particular element of it but the Minister might do that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy Ó Laoghaire has a question that is combined with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's question.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I thank the Minister. I support the Deputy asking the question and want to place on record again that it is an issue of concern, particularly in that it interacts with the change in regulations, which we have discussed already. The community services particularly affected are those providing services to children aged up to three years because of the much-reduced ratio they are dealing with in the absence of community employment, CE, workers. The change in the subsidy means that this aspect of the community sector is at particular risk, and I have spoken to the Minister previously about a number of services in both the north side and south side of my own city, but we should perhaps consider an enhanced capitation of some form for community settings in disadvantaged areas.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank both Deputies who are highlighting a number of interrelated issues. On the initial question, I referred in my answer to people who are working, in part-time work or in training versus being unemployed and we might continue this discussion. It is about labour market activation but also encouraging people to move into forms of training and if parents are able to do that, those subsidies will be available to them. It is only right that we encourage that, although I am not saying that we would not necessarily look at that again. I understand the point about the unemployed but incentivisation in terms of training is really important. I know it couples with all of the other issues, some of which I have already addressed.


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