Policy in Action 9 January 2024

Policy in Action 9 January 2024

This week’s Policy in Action gives an overview of policy developments that are expected in 2024 for the Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) sector.

Child Care (Amendment) Bill

New legislation which proposes to give Tusla greater enforcement powers in its regulation of Early Years and School Age Care settings, and which removes the exemption of childminders from regulation and registration, is expected to be published this year.

The Heads of the General Scheme of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2023 were published last year and a report was published by the Oireachtas Children’s Committee following its pre-legislative scrutiny.

The Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman TD, has stated that this legislation, which is currently being drafted, is a priority.

Under the proposed legislation Tusla will be able to:

  • immediately close unregistered EY and SAC services,
  • temporarily suspend registered services where there are concerns about significant risk to children, and
  • share information on enforcement action with parents.

The Bill will also place some additional enforcement measures on a legislative footing and introduce a “fit person” regulation. The “fit person” regulations will allow Tusla to assess the suitability of a person to become a registered provider, or any person involved in the management of Early Years and School Age Care settings.

In relation to childminders, the proposed legislation will:

  • Remove the exemption of childminders from registration and regulation.
  • Introduce Garda vetting of childminders and other adults in the childminder’s household.
  • Provide a definition of a “childminding service”.
  • Allow for the phased introduction of childminder specific regulations for a transitional period of three years within which childminders may register with Tusla, from the date that the regulations commence.
Childminder-specific regulations

Draft regulations, specific to childminders, are expected to go out for public consultation this month. Early Childhood Ireland is monitoring this policy development and will provide updates when possible.

Capacity Grant

From early 2024, Early Years and School Age Care services will be able to apply for funding to expand under the Capacity Grant. The Capacity Grant will be split into two strands, an Expansion Grant Scheme and a larger-scale Extension Grant Scheme. Priority will be given to delivering full-time and part-time places within the 1-3 age group. Places for children under age 1 will also be eligible. Full details have yet to be releases but the Department’ issued a press release about the Grant.

Equal Participation Model – Phase one

Phase one of the Equal Participation Model (EPM) is scheduled for September 2024. Under the EPM, EY and SAC services will be provided with a proportionate mix of universal and targeted supports to support children and families accessing their services who are experiencing disadvantage.

Early Childhood Ireland awaits the publication of the Equal Participation Model Strategic Policy for more information on what this model will entail.

Access and Inclusion Model (AIM)

From September 2024, Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) supports will be expanded to participating children beyond their time spent in the ECCE programme. It is disappointing that children participating in AIM will not be able to benefit from the expansion of the scheme until the next academic year.

The precise allocation model for the expansion of AIM is currently under design and will be communicated to services in early 2024.

Also, a report on the independent evaluation of AIM is expected to be published this month.

National Childcare Scheme (NCS)

From September 2024, the maximum hourly NCS subsidy will be increased from €1.40 to €2.14.

The NCS is expected to be opened up to families who use childminders, however, this will only be possible following the extension of regulation to childminders, which is expected to happen from autumn 2024. (See Child Care (Amendment) Bill above).

Child sponsorship rates

Where a child is approved for NCS sponsorship, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will fund their childcare place in accordance to current sponsorship rates with no charge to the parents. The rates paid to EY and SAC providers with a child with a sponsor referral attending their service is dependent on the age and educational stage of the child.

From September 2024 the sponsor rate under the NCS for children aged one and over will increase to €5.30 from a minimum of €4.31-€5.00.

Single Agency for the Early Years and School Age Care sector

Work on the establishment of a new Single Agency for the Early Years and School Age Care sector has begun. A dedicated agency will assist in the development of a more streamlined structure to better support the delivery of EY and SAC, and it will facilitate the implementation of reforms outlined in First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families.

The establishment of this agency is expected to take several years, however, initial consultations with sectoral stakeholders are due to take place in 2024.  The Agency is a vital commitment which Early Childhood Ireland secured in the current Programme for Government. We will shortly publish a Policy Proposal about the proposed Agency.

If you have any questions or would like to engage with Early Childhood Ireland’s policy team, please contact us at policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie

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