Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth | Extent to which sufficient childcare places can be provided at an affordable rate.
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the extent to which it may be possible to provide sufficient childcare places at an affordable rate to ensure that parents may plan for the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ensuring the availability of high-quality early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible is a key priority for me.
Since 2015, significant increases in State investment in early learning and childcare has given rise to a substantial growth in the numbers of children participating in these services. Every year, more than 100,000 children participate on the universal pre-school programme (ECCE) and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) subsidises up to 80,000 children.
My Department’s Transition Fund operating from May-August this year and the new Core Funding Scheme to roll out from September include a fee freeze condition, which will ensure that parents feel the full affordability benefits of the ECCE programme and the NCS, including the enhancements to the NCS, which I announced as part of Budget 2022.
The reforms I am implementing will for the first time provide Government with the means to meaningfully reduce the cost of early learning and childcare for parents. With these reforms in place, preparations are now underway in my Department to seek significant investment into the National Childcare Scheme in the context of the forthcoming budget that will lead to a substantial reduction in fees for parents without adversely affecting the sustainability and availability of services.
I am also taking a range of steps to address issues of under supply. Some €70m has been allocated to my Department through the revised National Development Plan (NDP) – with the majority of this funding earmarked for new places. Under the National Action Plan for Childminding, I have committed to opening up access to the NCS to parents who use childminders following the extension of regulation to childminders, which is expected to happen within the first 2-3 years of the Plan.
My Department, in partnership with the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, is in the process of updating the 2001 Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities on Early Learning and Childcare Settings. In addition, City/County Childcare Committees have been mobilised to engage proactively with services to identify vacant places and to explore possibilities for expansion among services, particularly where there is unmet need.
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