Policy in Action 5 June 2024

Policy in Action 5 June 2024

Last week, Early Childhood Ireland participated in two consultation sessions that were held by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). These consultation sessions focused on the formation of the National Agency for Early Learning and Childcare, followed by an open consultation on the Administration and Regulatory Requirements.

Consultation on Administration and Regulatory Requirement

The consultancy firm Indecon has been appointed by the DCEDIY to undertake an independent review of end-to-end processes linked to publicly funded Early Years and School Age Care schemes. And independent report will follow and will support the DCEDIY’s commitment to develop an Action Plan on Administration. To this end, consultations were held to provide stakeholders with opportunity to input to the process in a workshop discussion format. Several areas were examined, including the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), Core Funding and other relevant issues.

Some issues that were raised during the session included:

  • Issue of rolling ‘CHICKS’ for the NCS
  • The administration posed by Weekly Returns in the NCS
  • Paper applications for the NCS and paper agreements to be signed off by parents.
  • Chasing parents to complete documents for various schemes.
  • Policing parents about attendance and the duration of attendance for both the NCS and ECCE.
  • Sponsored children having difficulties accessing the scheme due to administrative processes on the part of sponsoring bodies and providers.
  • Difficulties around Core Funding processes including the Service Profile inflexibility, financial reporting requirements and difficulties administrating staff on the system.
  • Further issues were raised about the Early Years Hive.

A lively discussion followed on these issues, with commitment from Indecon that these would be noted in the final report. Early Childhood Ireland has a representative on the Administration and Regulatory Requirements Group and we will continue to monitor this work by the DCEDIY and Indecon on the administration burden faced by providers.

National Early Learning and Childcare Agency Consultation

In December 2023 and January 2024, initial consultation events with a wide range of stakeholders regarding the vision, mission and values of the proposed Single Agency took place. A report has been compiled from these initial consultations and circulated to the participating stakeholders.

To continue this work on the planning and design for the new agency, the consultants Indecon have been appointed to undertake a detailed function mapping exercise. This includes an analysis of functions undertaken by the current operating mode, an international comparison and gap analysis in relation to functions. A series of consultation events are taking place and there is also an opportunity to attend an online event on 13 June. The stakeholder consultation attended by Early Childhood Ireland concerned these functions. Early Childhood Ireland has published a Policy Proposal  about the Single Agency for the EY and SAC sector. Our concerns and recommendations were raised at the consultation as well as the benefits. These benefits for the sector would include:

  • Resolve Fragmentation: The current system, according to Indecon’s Operating Model Review (2021), is characterised by a fragmentation with multiple intermediary bodies, many of which are very small in scale and have voluntary part-time boards. The establishment of a Single Agency would serve to resolve this as a centralised body with a unified purpose, avoiding duplication and reducing administration for settings.
  • Child Safeguarding: The fragmentation between different bodies has implications for Child Safeguarding. Each body currently retains their own child safeguarding procedures, policies, Designated Liaison Persons and culture. A centralised system for reporting concerns should they arise is what the Agency should provide, including the child safeguarding training functions currently held by the City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs) will be folded into the body.
  • Quality Improvement: The establishment of a Single Agency will bring data collection, programme design, and quality improvement under one roof. At the moment these are spread across the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), Pobal and Better and the CCCs .
  • Improved Data Collection and Analysis: A Single Agency will facilitate and coordinate the collection and analysis of data related to EY and SAC planning and development. This data-driven approach can lead to more evidence-based decision-making, allowing for proper capacity-planning.
  • Stakeholder Response Team: In a concurrent Policy Proposal, Early Childhood Ireland has recommended the establishment of a Stakeholder Response Team, whose purpose is to manage setting closures by responding in a timely manner and to examine a range of options, focussed on the best interests of children. The functions of this Team will be subsumed into the Single Agency once established.

The results of these consultations will be collated and analysed by Indecon to develop an initial plan for the functions to be undertaken by the new agency. As Early Childhood Ireland proposed the establishment of the Agency, and sought political commitment, we look forward to receiving this proposal and reviewing the findings.

Conclusion

You can read more about Early Childhood Ireland’s work on a Single Agency, and other policy submissions, on our website. You can find out more about our work by contacting us at [email protected].

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