In this week’s Policy in Action, Early Childhood Ireland provides an update on Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) matters that have been raised recently in the Dáil.
Early Childhood Ireland monitors the relevant work of the Oireachtas each week. Part of this work is to review Oireachtas debates and Parliamentary Questions (PQs) that are relevant to the Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) sector. Recently, these have included:
- Childminding Regulations: The Draft Childminding Regulations will go out for public consultation on Thursday, 8 February 2024, according to the Minister for Children, Equality Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD, at a recent Oireachtas Committee.
In response to questions on the Early Years and School Age Care sector from the Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Kathleen Funchion TD (Sinn Féin), the Minister said that the draft regulations will be published in legal and in plain English formats. Minister O’Gorman added that the draft regulations “are not the final draft” and may be subject to change following submissions from the public. Childminding regulations cannot come into effect until the enactment of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, which is still at drafting phase.The Minister expects the Bill to be published and passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas over the summer, allowing parents who use childminders to access the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) by autumn 2024.
- Early Years and School Age Care closures: In the same Oireachtas Committee meeting, the Chairperson of the Committee, Deputy Funchion, also asked the Minister for “official figures” and “factual information” regarding EY and SAC settings closures and new services.
In response the Minister told the Committee that 2023 saw 115 EY closures and 52 stand-alone SAC closures. The total number of closures in 2023 was 167, the lowest number of closures in the previous 5 years. He added that last year, 296 EY and SAC services opened, a net increase of services and the highest number of new services per year.
- Modular accommodation: Funding projects that may deliver modular accommodation for Early Years and School Age Care services are being considered among various options to increase capacity in the sector by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, according to a response from Minister O’Gorman to a parliamentary question asked by Deputy Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael).
- EY and SAC supply: A new Supply Management Unit has been established in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). According to the Minister, this new Unit includes ‘early learning and school age childcare supply management advisors’. A key part of the Unit’s remit will be to develop a planning function, for monitoring, analysing and forecasting of investment needs, in line with a recommendation of the Expert Group in their Report – Partnership for the Public Good.
- Review of the NCS: Early this year, the DCEDIY will begin the process of reviewing the NCS which has been in place since 2019. This review will examine whether the NCS is meeting its objective of reducing the cost of childcare for those who need it most, it will also examine any possible enhancements that could be made to the Scheme.
- Tusla Early Years Inspectorate: In response to a question from Richard Bruton TD (Fine Gael) who asked why inspections of childcare facilities are not managed by one agency, Minister O’Gorman informed the Deputy that his Department is beginning a design and implementation planning process to bring together the functions carried out by Tusla’s Early Years Inspectorate and the Department of Education (DE) Inspectorate’s Early Years team into a single body that provides integrated care and education inspections. He added that Tusla’s Early Years Inspectorate has been allocated an extra €4m in 2024 in preparation for the extension of regulations to childminders later this year.
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