The Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is engaged in ‘pre-legislative scrutiny’ of the General Scheme of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2023.The Committee met last week with representatives from Tusla, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Barnardos and the Children’s Ombudsman.
During the discussions Sean Sherlock TD (Labour, Cork-East) and Jennifer Whitmore TD (Social Democrats, Wicklow) asked officials from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), if the proposed regulations would involve Tusla inspecting childminders’ homes, and if the new regulatory regime would be set in primary legislation.
In response, Toby Wolfe (Principal Officer, Early Years Quality Unit, DCEDIY) informed the Committee that:
- In line with the National Action Plan for Childminding 2021-2028, primary legislation will remove the exemption of childminders from being regulated under the Child Care Act 1991, and will allow for the Minister to make regulations.
- Tulsa will continue to be the Inspectorate of Early Years and School Age Care services.
- The childminding regulations, when introduced, will be childminder specific, proportionate and appropriate.
- The childminding regulations will not be the same as those for centre-based settings.
- Once the childminding specific regulations are commenced, the legislation allows for a three-year transitional period for childminders to register with Tusla i.e. childminders will not be required to register immediately but may do so over the period of transition. It will not be an offence for childminders to operate without registration during the transitional period.
- Public funding through the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) is conditional on registration with Tusla. Following the transitional period, only registered childminders can take part in the NCS.
- At the end of the transitional three-year period, all childminders must be registered with Tusla and will be subject to regulation as is the case for other Early Years (EY) and School Age Child Care (SAC) settings.
A duty on relevant bodies to cooperate, including EY and SAC services.
Several members of the Committee had questions about new provisions in the Bill which require relevant bodies to cooperate with Tusla and with each other. Under this new legislation, Early Years and School Age Care services come under the definition of a “relevant body”. Other relevant bodies include, Tusla, schools, Gardai, and the HSE.
Relevant bodies have been identified on the basis that they have responsibility for matters relating to the development, welfare and protection of a child.
These new provisions are intended to address longstanding concerns about the ability of organisations to share information with Tusla, and to allow for interagency cooperation.
Under this legislation a relevant body “may” cooperate with another relevant body for the purpose of promoting the development, welfare and protection of children. During the discussions at the Committee, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office expressed concerns that, in this regard, the Bill is “timid” and “needs to be strengthened”. Dr Karen McAuley, Head of Policy at the Ombudsman for Children, believes that the legislation should go much further and ensure that relevant bodies must cooperate. i.e., the Bill should state that relevant bodies “shall” cooperate.
Early Childhood Ireland will be meeting with the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth this week to discuss this wide-ranging Bill which, when enacted, will be of huge significance for children and families in Ireland. Our Policy Brief about the Bill is here.
You can find out more on the Oireachtas Committee here. If you have any questions on this legislation or other related policy, the policy team can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.