Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Reviewing Childcare Programmes & the role of City/County Childcare Committees

Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide an update on the progress of the review of child care support programmes which her Department initiated; and if she will outline the objectives of the review; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Will the Minister provide an update on the progress of the review of the child-care support programmes which her Department initiated, outline its objectives and make a statement?

Minister Frances Fitzgerald: As I have already outlined in my response to an earlier question, we administer two targeted child-care schemes involving community child care subvention, or CCS, and child care education and training support, or CETS, respectively.  In the region of €260 million is spent annually to provide support to those programmes, including €175 million for the free pre-school year.  The total number of children benefiting from support under the programme is approximately 100,000, which is very significant.  My focus on quality services and the qualifications of staff means the support children get will improve continously.  Staff will receive better training, services will receive mentoring and staff will complete their qualifications.  It is also the case that there are now more than 2,000 inspection reports online.

I have commenced the review of CCS and CETS as a number of issues have been identified in the schemes, including varying rates for subvention and different eligibility criteria.  I have commenced an internal review of these child-care support programmes to consider how best to structure them going forward.  They have been in place for a number of years and it is time to review them.  I will ensure that the participation of the wider child care sector in the review is considered as the internal review progresses.

I cannot say at present when the review will be finalised.  It has just started and its scope is being determined.  A review of the schemes should lead to improved targeting to ensure that those individuals who are going back to work obtain more support.  I do not expect the review on its own to result in increased capacity as that is an issue of additional resources in the sector to increase the number of child-care places.

Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for her reply.  There is a debate at present on the ongoing costs of child care, as there is a debate about the cost of many things.  Sustainability remains an issue for child-care providers.  Many parents find the costs of child care too high and many providers are finding it difficult to meet overheads.  As part of the review which is taking place, will the Minister look at the €62.50 figure and will she consider whether an alternative capitation rate should be implemented to provide a better service for users and providers?

Minister Frances Fitzgerald: The extremely difficult financial position the Government has had to deal with and control has worked against increased investment.  I hope that as public finances recover in the coming years it will be considered important to channel any funding which becomes available to schemes which fulfil the objectives I have outlined and support the parents the Deputy rightly says are concerned about costs.

The Deputy asked about supports for the child care sector.  I take the Deputy’s point about the need to continually review the current level of subvention and, where possible, to build in more support to providers, because it is clear that the staff providing those services do not earn large salaries and many are on very low wages.  Sustainability is an issue.  I believe that the sector needs to grow and be supported and that the people working in the sector need to have a career path.  This is the reason we are introducing the mentoring schemes.  As resources become available it is critical from the point of view of the individual child, but also from an economic and competitive point of view, that we have more affordable and accessible child care, as much for the sake of the country’s economic development as for meeting the needs of individual children.

Deputy Seán Kyne: I welcome the Minister’s response.  Obviously, as circumstances allow, I presume a review of the rates will be kept in mind as the economy improves.

Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs  the current role, including programmes and schemes, of the county child care committees; and if further responsibilities could be transferred to the  child care committees, particularly in view of the way the flexible structure of the child care committees has enabled them to take on additional tasks in recent years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14205/14]

Deputy Seán Kyne: My question refers to the current role, programmes and schemes of the county and city child care committees and whether further responsibilities could be transferred to these committees, given their flexible structure.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald: I thank Deputy Kyne for his question.  I welcome the opportunity to speak about the child care committees.  Thirty-three city and county child care committees were established in 2001 under the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children to help support the development of local child care.  The current role of the committees is to assist the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in improving and expanding the quality of child care services available to parents in their area.  The committees offer information and guidance locally on a wide variety of services, including advice on establishing a child care business, organising child care information sessions and supporting parents by providing information on local facilities and parent networks.  The committees also have a significant role in the delivery of a range of child care support programmes which are currently implemented by the Department.

Each committee submits an annual implementation plan which outlines its strategy for the year and the annual funding level is determined on the basis of this plan.  The implementation plan provides for a range of activities to be undertaken by the committees and identifies locally focused initiatives which are designed to address specific local needs.  In 2014, a total of just over €10 million has been allocated to the child care committees.  All Deputies will acknowledge that these committees have played an important role in the development of child care services in local areas since their introduction in 2001.  They have worked closely with this Department and previously with the former office of the Minister for Children in co-ordinating the increase in the number of child care places in their areas.  The introduction of the additional support programmes and the expansion of the existing programmes have significantly increased the workload undertaken by the committees.

In answer to the Deputy’s question, the committees will continue to play a key role in the ongoing development of child care services and will have a central role in supporting the implementation of new and emerging child care policy developments, including in the area of quality improvements.  Future developments with respect to child care committees can be further considered in the context of the establishment this year of a new national quality support service for early years and child care services which forms a key objective of my eight-point agenda to improve quality standards in early years and child care services.  Increasingly, the Department works collectively with the committees.  It is important to bring together the information and the views of the child care committees in order to have a national picture of their work.  They have tended to work locally, but we are focusing on bringing them together and obtaining good-quality data from them and also having the benefit of their insights about what is happening in order to identify key issues in the sector and, indeed, key solutions.

Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for her reply.  I appreciate that the vast majority of child care committees work well and are improving the quality and availability of child care.  They now have an important role working with the new Tusla programme.  The Minister referred to the recent announcement about the national quality support service.  Her reply refers to an opportunity for the child care committees, based on their strong local knowledge and their work with the early years services, to provide support for the role of the national quality support service.  The focus on quality in services is welcome.  Will additional services to support and improve quality be channelled through the existing support services such as the support groups and the child care committees, given their local contacts and knowledge?

Minister Frances Fitzgerald: We have begun to bring the local child care committees together and they have formed an umbrella group called Child Care Committees Ireland.  This is a very positive development, and I thank the representative body for its work in this regard.  It has made an input into the development of the new national quality support service.  I will be holding a round-table meeting in the next two weeks which will be attended by Child Care Committees Ireland and national child care organisations to consult on plans for this service and to examine the overarching national architecture required to improve quality in early years and child care services.  I agree with the Deputy that the input of the child care committees, because of their local presence, will continue to be important.  They will play a vital role in the years ahead.

I look forward to ongoing discussion with them about their key role at a national level.  I will take on board their suggestions about the new learner service and the mentoring service.  I welcome their work within the umbrella group and their work with the other national organisations such as Early Childhood Ireland.  Such collaboration will provide the best information and strategic advice about the future of the sector.