Concerns about new financial reporting requirements on Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) providers were raised at a meeting between policy makers and officials from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and members of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Education, Disability, Integration and Youth, last week (14 November 2023). Questions regarding Core Funding, administration, and the new Single Agency were also raised.
Return date for financial returns for Early Years and School Age Care settings is 28 February 2024.
On 25 October, the Department sent a communication to Core Funding Partner Services for the 2022/23 Programme Year, which stated that all Partner Services, who had an active Core Funding Contract during the 2022/2023 Programme Year, must provide validated Financial Returns, which covers the period from 1 September 2022 to 31 August 2023.
Each Oireachtas Committee member who was present at the meeting, questioned officials from the Department about this new reporting requirement. Committee members asked about the need for this new requirement, and about what was being done to ease the administrative burden on EY and SAC providers.
In response, Department officials stated that when the Core Funding agreement was published in 2022, the Department was clear that, in the interests of transparency and to ensure that funding was being used for its intended purpose, the Department would be seeking financial returns.
Officials told the Committee that due to the diverse range of EY and SAC settings, they felt that a sector-specific Chart of Accounts approach to reporting would be proportionate. The Chart of Accounts was chosen “to ensure consistency in inputs across the sector so that we could understand the different cost drivers” in each of the different types of EY and SAC settings.
The dates 1 September 2022 to 31 August 2023 were chosen because those dates align with the Department’s programme/funding year, which corresponds with the school year.
When asked about the return date for settings to comply with this financial requirement, Department officials told Committee members that “the return date is 28 February 2024”.
Action Plan responding to administrative burden due in Q2 next year.
The Committee was told that the Department recognises that the administrative burden has increased for service providers and that funding is allocated under Core Funding to address administrative costs.
Policy makers heard that the membership of an advisory group for the development of an Action Plan for Administrative and Regulatory Simplification is being finalised with a working start-date of 1 December 2023. This advisory group will look at all of the EY and SAC administrative requirements for settings and parents. Separately, in a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD, wrote that he hopes “to bring an action plan responding to the administrative burden, probably in quarter 2 of next year, and to start implementing that.”
Year 3 of Core Funding will move into a fee management process.
In relation to Core funding, Department officials stated that Core funding “will offset the extra costs” that services are facing, and that Year 3 of Core funding will “evolve the fee management process.”
The Committee was told that if settings have viability concerns, they can contact their local County Childcare Committee and work with Pobal to apply for sustainability funding. In the year to date, two services have received sustainability funding, however, no services have availed of the sustainability funding that is associated with Core Funding and Partner Services.
Consultations on the new Single Agency for the EY and SAC sector are due to start in December 2023.
Progress is being made on the Single Agency for the EY and SAC sector. A programme board to design the Agency has been established and advice has been sought by experts. Consultations with Pobal and the County Childcare Committees will start in December 2023, with an expansion of consultations to the wider EY and SAC sector, including parents, in 2024.
You can look at the full video of the meeting of the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth here.
If you are interested in hearing more about our Oireachtas work or our engagement with members about policy development, please contact us on email@example.com.