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Committee Stage of the Childcare Support Bill 2017

March 13, 2018

On Tuesday 27th February, our Policy Officer Amy McArdle attended at the Committee Stage of the Childcare Support Bill 2017. You will recall that the Bill is before the Dáil, where it is common practice for the Committee Stage consideration to be taken by Select Committee, in this case the Select Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. The Select Committee is made up of the TDs from the wider Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. They are: Lisa Chambers (FF); Alan Farrell (FG and Chair); Kathleen Funchion (SF); Denise Mitchell (SF); Tom Neville (FG); Anne Rabbitte (FF); and Seán Sherlock (Lab).

 

Relevant reading

ECI’s written submission to the Select Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in advance of Committee Stage

Copies of both the proposed Committee Stage amendments, to which this article refers, and the Bill as it now stands after the debate are available here.

The full transcript of the Committee Stage debate can be found here.

 

The following is a summary of some of the main issues and amendments discussed at the meeting:

 

School age services and childminding
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD, advised the Select Committee that amendments would be introduced at Report Stage to amend the Child Care Act 1991 to redefine school age services, their scope and to include children up to the age of 15 years in line with the Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS). The Minister acknowledged that this could have unintended consequences for the current exemptions for childminders under the Child Care Act 1991 and additional amendments will be tabled to secure against this. In relation to childminders, the Minister said:

“The introduction of school-aged child care regulations will also have knock-on implications for the exemptions from registration for childminders, which are also set out in the Child Care Act at section 58L. Therefore, I intend to propose two related amendments to section 58L to ensure unintended consequences for childminders do not arise. At the same time, I want to confirm that all registered childminders will be eligible to participate in the affordable child care scheme. We will not only seek to maintain but to grow over time the number of registered childminders. The report of the expert group on childminding, which I commissioned, was submitted to me last month and will be published by the group shortly. I intend to develop an action plan setting out short, medium and long-term actions in response to the report to support the childminding sector on a path towards registration”.

Deputies Funchion and Mitchell tabled an amendment to section 8 Approved childcare service provider to add a new subsection (2)(i) “the inclusion of Tusla-registered non-centre-based childminding services”. Minister Zappone argued that Tusla registered childminders are already included for the purposes of the scheme in the definition of “childcare services provider” under section 1 Interpretation: “childcare services provider” means the provider of a pre-school service or a school age service whose name is entered in the register of prescribed early years services established and maintained in accordance with section 58C of the Child Care Act 1991.”

The amendment was voted on and carried. The new subsection (2)(i) now stands part of the Bill.

 

Persons eligible to apply for financial support
The Minister tabled amendments to section 7 Persons eligible to apply for financial support to make it clear that where only one child in a family qualifies for a referral by a statutory body that doesn’t preclude the parent from making an application for financial support for other children through the normal course (universal or targeted subsidy). It also means that both parents, where parenting separately, can apply for a subsidy in respect of the same child.

The debate under section 7 also established that for the purpose of the Bill “parent” includes “a person acting in loco parentis” and as such the definition of parent includes a guardian.

 

Application for financial support
In section 9 Application for financial support the Minister tabled an amendment to replace “attends” and “participates” in “the class the child attends…or whether he or she participates in a pre-school programme…” with “is enrolled” to make it very clear that non-attendance for reason of illness or other is not an issue. She also confirmed that “pre-school programme” includes the DES Early Start.

 

Assessment of income
Deputy Rabbitte tabled an interesting amendment, a new section 11 Specific Provisions for Lone Parents. The amendment refers to children between 7-13 years of age and the Intreo employment scheme. While the amendment was ruled out of order on revenue grounds, Deputy Rabbitte still spoke to the amendment and set out her rationale. The issue relates to the full-time 40 hours subsidy versus the 15 hours part-time subsidy. Deputy Rabbitte’s concern is that there is no bridging period between when a recognised labour market activation programme or period of study ends and a lone parent enters work.

Deputy Rabbitte raises a valid point that is relevant to the any parent receiving the full-time subsidy because they are engaged in recognised study or training. It is also relevant to the mums and dads doing unpaid work experience as part of a recovery programme, which ECI has raised with the Minister.

Minister Zappone confirmed that DCYA is doing research on the work and study issue to inform the regulations and we will continue to liaise on these issues.

 

Calculation of amount of financial support
The Sinn Fein Deputies tabled ECI’s amendment to section 13 Calculation of amount of financial support looking for the standard hours cap to be increased from 15 hours per week to 20 hours per week. As anticipated, because it has a charge on the Exchequer, the amendment was ruled out of order.

ECI is pleased that the amendment was tabled and aired. While we will continue to advocate for the removal of the 15-hour cap from the ACS, we will also continue to recommend increasing the capped ceiling, where the provisions of Section 14 are not invoked, from 15-hours of childcare per week to 20-hours of childcare per week. We see this as a mitigating measure in the underpinning legislation, which would entitle children to a minimum equivalent of part-time weekly childcare given that 40-hours is the weekly limit per child for the payment of subsidies under the ACS Policy Paper.

Deputies Funchion, Mitchell and Rabbittee tabled ECI’s amendment looking for a 6-month review of section 13. Minister Zappone said that 6 months was too short a period in terms of gathering the evidence required to assess how the scheme is working. She also said that a review of the entire scheme is provided in section 25 Review of Scheme.

However, the wording of section 25 is insufficient to ensure a review of the scheme in a timely manner. It says:

The Minister may, at any time, conduct a review of the operation of the Scheme and, not later than 2 months after completing such review, make a report in writing to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from that review.

ECI will be advocating for a new amendment at Report Stage to replace “may” with “shall” and “at any time” with “no later than 1 year after…”. This would also address our recommendation for a review of section 14 Provision for vulnerable children.

 

Provision for vulnerable children
Deputy Rabbitte tabled an amendment to section 14 that sought to automatically extend financial support to the end of the scheme year if a person has received three months or more support. Because of the potential to increase the period of financial entitlement and thus the cost to the Exchequer, the amendment was ruled out of order.

 

Schedule 2 Agreements with certain statutory bodies
Sinn Fein and Deputy Rabbitte tabled an amendment to the description of the role of the Child and Family Agency in Schedule 2 Agreements with Certain Statutory Bodies. They felt the language (“who are not receiving adequate care and protection”) was negative and inappropriate as it implies a failure on the part of the parent. This is very similar to the argument made in ECI’s written submission.

Minister Zappone pointed out that the language came from the Child and Family Agency Act but agreed with the amendment in principle. The new wording, which reads: “To enable participation in a childcare service as part of the provision of child care and family support services by the Child and Family Agency to promote the welfare of children who are in need of additional care nor protection” is being brought before the AG for consideration.

ECI will continue to consult and brief with Oireachats Members as the Bill continues through the Houses. We will keep you advised of the date for Report Stage in the Dáil and welcome any comments or suggestions you have before then.

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