To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the potential impact of the introduction of the affordable childcare scheme on community services providing the community childcare subvention programme has been assessed; her plans to produce a report on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The Government policy relating to the new Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) was informed by evidence and with the best interests of children and families in mind. The legislation supporting the scheme, the Childcare Support Act 2018, was the subject of much discussion in the Houses and many elements of the policy were considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children on a number of occasions. A Regulatory Impact Analysis was conducted as part of the ACS development.
The Affordable Childcare Scheme, when introduced, will represent a major landmark for all children and families in Ireland, and especially for lower income families and lone parents. It may be accessed by all families and not just those working or studying full time. International reports have stated that ACS will significantly address affordability for lower income families and, for example, Ireland will change from being the most expensive country in the OECD for childcare for lone parents, to 11th position. This will have strong benefits to the community childcare sector.
Community Childcare settings provide a valuable service to children and families across the country. These services often provide vital childcare and support to vulnerable families in areas of disadvantage. In the last 4 years, the DCYA has increased funding for early learning and care and school age childcare by 117%. A significant proportion of this funding has been targeted at families who use community childcare services, thus assisting with sustainability issues expressed in recent years. The ACS will further increase investment in childcare and will reduce the top-up many parents have to pay for their childcare, with many benefits accruing for services, one of which is to lessen bad debt experienced by community providers, an issue raised by them with the DCYA in recent years. The ACS is also expected to increase demand for services thus ensuring that community services can operate at full capacity with efficiencies ensuing.
Any community service which is currently experiencing sustainability challenges, or, which fears the impact of the introduction of the ACS, should contact its local Childcare Committee or Pobal immediately. A number of supports are available to them. Pobal and the 30 local Childcare Committees will provide expert non-financial assistance and support in the first instance to identify root cause and ways to address this. Additionally, €1.7m has been allocated for targeted sustainability purposes in 2019.
As well as the analysis already completed and the sustainability features already built in to the ACS, work is ongoing to assess any potential negative impact of the introduction of the ACS on those community services which currently provide the community childcare subvention programme. As stated above, the Department is actively urging services that believe they are at risk to make themselves known so that available support measures can be put in place.
There are currently no plans to further report on the matter.
Denise Mitchell TD
Dublin Bay North
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Children & Youth Affairs and Deputy Whip