DCEDIY Before the Public Accounts Committee

DCEDIY Before the Public Accounts Committee
DCEDIY Before the Public Accounts Committee

It was a busy day in the Oireachtas on 2 June 2022, with Early Childhood Ireland making representations to the Committee on Gender Equality, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman TD taking questions in the Dáil and senior civil servants from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) appearing before the Public Accounts Committee. In this week’s Policy Brief, we will focus on the latter two events. The Public Accounts Committee, which is focused on ensuring the efficient and good value use of public expenditure, is chaired by Deputy Brian Stanley and is made up of Deputies Colm Burke, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Matt Carthy, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Neasa Hourigan, Alan Kelly, Paul McAuliffe, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Verona Murphy and James O’Connor. The DCEDIY spoke to several of their functions, but this Policy Brief will focus on material related to Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC).

In relation to ELC and SAC, Deputies raised a number of important issues. Queries focussed on levels of vacancies and places available in the state in relation to under 3s. Some interesting figures were noted by the Department’s Secretary General Kevin McCarthy who said that 142,815 ECCE scheme places are currently occupied by children in Ireland and around 19,000 vacant places. In terms of SAC, some 37,823 places were currently being taken by children, with vacancies of around 6,000.

Of concern to Deputies are waiting lists for access to ELC and SAC services. It was noted that there are 38,000 children on waiting lists to access services in the country, a figure that has increased by 68% since 2018/2019. It should be noted however that waiting lists for ELC and SAC services are often distorted, with parents adding their children to multiple waiting lists in the hopes of securing a choice of service. Interrogation of Pobal figures collected in 2020/2021 reveals that some 39% of services report waiting lists to avail of their services. A number of these figures can be found in the Pobal Sector Profile Report for 2020/2021.

Further questions arose regarding the accessibility and affordability of ELC and SAC services and the potential impact of Core Funding. Core Funding was noted by Mr McCarthy as representing a mechanism for the state to address issues with accessibility, affordability and quality by freezing fees and increasing investment for staff pay and terms and conditions. Impacts on accessibility and affordability would be seen in further phases of the scheme, which would look at reducing fees for parents. In fact, commitments here had already been made with the Department set to put forward proposals to make progress on fees in the years ahead. To complement this information from the Department, in his questions in the Dáil Minister O’Gorman noted that increased investment that Core Funding represents would increase the number of places available for children under three.

Deputy Imelda Munster also queried the number of places for children from birth to one and noted that many services do not have availability for children of this age. Interestingly this was covered concurrently by Early Childhood Ireland’s Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning Frances Byrne, who appeared at the Committee on Gender Equality. Here, it was acknowledged that the ideal situation for children is to be raised by their parent(s) or guardians for the first year at home, and this should be facilitated by the state by providing adequate parental leave. However, adequate support should be given to children and families should plan change or crises occur in that first year. Responsive, available, affordable and accessible centre- or home-based early learning and care should be available for all families. Again, this is something which will only be achieved through increased investment allowing for increased spaces for younger children.

Early Childhood Ireland would welcome further investment in ELC and SAC with the goal of enhancing quality for children. If you have any questions about our work, please drop us an email at policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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