Policy in Action 7 May 2024

Policy in Action 7 May 2024
Oireachtas report

Last week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD, took Oral Questions in the Dáil. Several important issues for the Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) sector were raised.

Details of the new Equal Participation Model – Equal Start

The new Equal Participation Model, called Equal Start, will be launched this month, according to Minister O’Gorman in Oral Questions last week.

This new initiative will be “a DEIS-type model” that will offer universal and targeted measures to support access to, and participation in, Early Years and School Age Care for children and their families who experience disadvantage.

The Minister revealed some of the details of Equal Start to Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Green Party):

  • Equal Start will look at the children as well as the setting so it can target a setting or a childcare service in an area of very high disadvantage and provide additional supports. It can also be designed in such a way that children attending a setting in a non-disadvantaged area, but where a number of those children experience particular social disadvantage, can be supported as well.
  • It will target children from particular groups: children from the Traveller and Roma communities, children experiencing homelessness, children from international protection families, children sponsored through the national childcare scheme and children from areas which have a very high deprivation index score.
  • There will be an information campaign for parents on what Early Years and School Age Care supports are available to them e.g. National Childcare Scheme (NCS), the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM).
  • Universal support: Training for educators in settings on social inclusion will be provided.
  • Targeted support: Financial support for additional staff in settings that are in areas of high disadvantage will be provided, allowing staff to spend more time with children who need additional time.

There will also be additional financial support for things such as nutrition and meals.

Minister O’Gorman added that one of the funding streams in the first year of Early Start will be used to support a Traveller Officer and a Roma Officer in Better Start.

Regulation of childminders

In order to progress the removal of the exemptions relating to childminders and to allow the introduction of childminder-specific regulations by autumn of this year, the Government approved a proposal to separate the Child Care Bill into two distinct Bills, as follows:

  • a first Bill will provide for the legislative proposals relating to the regulation of Childminders. It is expected to be published in this Dáil summer session; and
  • a second Bill consisting of the remainder of proposed amendments, which arise from the Review of the Child Care Act.
Procedures for EY and SAC settings in primary schools

New procedures to assist schools considering applications for the use of their facilities for Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) are due to be published by the Department of Education shortly, according to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD in response to a parliamentary question from Neasa Hourigan TD (Green Party) who asked about schools facilitating the sibling hour and School Age Care. In the meantime, the current Guidelines for the Use of School Buildings outside of School Hours, published in October 2017, should continue to be referred to

Grants for Early Years and School Age Care new builds being considered

“As we go forward, and particularly in the 2025-26 capital funding year, I will look to put in place mechanisms for capital funding to support brand-new services. The Department is looking at that, and that is the next step in our capital programme,” said Minister O’Gorman in response to Deputy David Stanton (Fine Gael) who asked if there were any grants for new EY and SAC services.

Currently, the two streams of EY and SAC grant funding (Expansion and Extension Grants) which the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has approved to date are about the expansion of existing services and do not include new builds.

Public provision of Early Years and School Age Care is being explored

The new supply management unit that was set up in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in January 2024 will begin an exploration of public provision as called for in recommendation 25 of Partnership for the Public Good, said Minister O’Gorman to Deputy Brid Smith (People Before Profit – Solidarity) during Oral Questions.

The supply management unit will also develop a planning function for monitoring, analysing and forecasting the supply and demand of Early Years and School Age Care places, similar to the forward planning unit in the Department of Education.

It will also oversee the administration of new capital investment under the national development plan (NDP), as well as engaging with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to progress the updating of the 2001 planning guidelines for local authorities on EY and SAC settings.

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