2022 has been a long and busy for the Early Years and School Age Care sector. Throughout the year there have been a number of developments in the sector that have caused service providers to shift and change. In the first of a two-part End of Year Review, we will look at the major policy developments between January and May.
In January, the final report for the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures National Policy Framework for Children and Young People was published. Updates to the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures Indicator Set were also published. One interesting finding was that the percentage of three-year-olds in pre-primary school education increased from 46% in 2013 to 98% in 2018.
At the end of January, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth announced the consultation on the next national policy framework for children and young people. The next national policy will run from 2023 to 2028. Submissions closed at the end of February.
In February, the National Public Health Emergency Team issued new recommendations that led to the Government’s decision to remove public health restrictions. For providers, this meant that physical distancing measures, such as play-pods and mask-wearing, would no longer be required.
February also saw the publishing of the 2021 edition of State of the Nation’s Children Report. This report provided important information on children’s health, behavioural and educational outcomes. It also provided details on children’s relationships with their parents and their friends. Some interesting facts from the report included that there were 1,191,125 children in Ireland in 2021, and in the 2020/2021 preschool year, there were 4,032 preschool services under contract to deliver the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme to 104,137 children.
At the beginning of March, the Minister announced the rates and values of the new Core funding Scheme. He also launched an online tool that allowed providers to estimate the potential value of the new scheme for their service. At the time of the announcement, the total budget for the new scheme was €221 million which was contingent on an Employment Regulation Order being agreed on by the Joint Labour Committee.
A consultation on a review of regulations governing the Early Years sector was launched at the end of March. The review will concentrate on strengthening the enforcement powers of the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate to enable it to intervene quickly where it has concerns about significant breaches of regulations by a service.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment began its process of updating Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. The first phase of consultation closed at the end of April.
The end of March saw the publishing of a report that suggested a major change to the operating model of the Early Years sector. The Independent Review of the Operating Model, completed by Indecon Economic Consultants, looked at the current operating model, and identified and assessed options for reform. The scope of the report included the functions of the Early Years section of Pobal, Better start, City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs), National Voluntary Organisations and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). The report recommended that a dedicated State Agency would be the optimal operating model for the sector. This agency would be responsible for the functions of the Early Years section of Pobal, Better Start, and CCCs, as well as the operational functions of the DCEDIY.
April started off with the announcement that the Transition Fund would be opening for providers in the sector. This is funding for services for the time between the end of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) in April and the introduction of Core Funding in September. A part of accepting this funding was freezing fees at the level of rates charged in September 2021.
Changes to the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) were also made in April. Access to the scheme was extended, benefitting up to 5,000 children and families. The change to NCS amounted to hours being spent in pre-school or school would no longer be deducted from a family’s entitlement to subsidised hours. This meant that eligible children would have access to subsidised Early Years care throughout the year.
Another policy development in April was the Minister’s announcement that he had signed two amending regulations relating to the sector. These amendments will allow for a streamlined process of re-registration for Early Years and School Age Care services. This will lead to a considerable reduction in administration for providers.
In May the Minister revealed that at that point 92% of Early Years and School Age Care providers had agreed to a fee freeze for parents by entering a contract for the Transition Fund.
We will further detail the policy developments in the sector from the rest of 2022 in next week’s Policy Brief. But the first five months of the year speak to the amount of change that occurred in the sector.
If you would like to know more about this conference, or speak to us about our work, please get in touch with our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team at firstname.lastname@example.org.