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Transcript of the Panel Discussion

May 11, 2016

Liz Canavan              Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA)

Eimear Egan              Department of Education and Skills (DES)

Fiona McDonnell       TUSLA – Child and family agency


Theme – Rolling enrolment, sufficient places, expansion.

Question 1 – With the introduction of a rolling enrolment entry to the ECCE scheme commencing in September, how will services remain viable and sustainable retain existing staff, yet hold places for incoming children or if services fill places from September. Does the department have a plan on how to cater for children and their families? Also will the department be doing a PR exercise with parents of children turning 3 throughout the year explaining to parents that due to a shortfall in places the department cannot guarantee every child will get a place? Already as a provider, I am getting angry calls from parents who are on a waiting list who understand they are entitled to a place but I cannot cater for a place for the child unless I close my under 3’s room which means if I do, I will not be able to cater for the under 3’s and my service will not be viable for the summer months.


Liz Canavan (DCYA) –With the expansion of ECCE, in the original consideration of the ECCE scheme, we looked a population projections, and we have been working closely with the DES looking at how they model and anticipate what kind of enrolments there are. We have been working very closely with the CCC’s who have been helping us to assess the current levels of supply and what we are anticipating in terms of demand. Our data so far suggests we are in a good position with regards September and we are reasonably confident with regards to anticipation enrolments for September we will be able to meet that. And that is outside anything else we might get in terms of any expansion arising from the capital funding programme. We are really conscious we need to monitor this really closely and will continue to do so over the coming months and obviously we are mindful of the data ECI are getting, and the data the government are collecting that we see the discrepancies and where they might be. When you look at it on a national level, it might be smooth but there may be pockets that we need to look at more closely.


We recognise the three entry points, especially in the first year and maybe on an ongoing basis may create a lack of this smoothness over the year, and in particular with the demand we will have to see how that is going to work out and we are very conscious of that. I know Theresa mentioned earlier about the possibility, or the reluctance of parents taking on afternoon sessions but there are opportunities around that, and we will have to see how that will pan out. We accept that traditionally parents are looking for morning sessions, so we do need to appreciate that.


We are at the beginning of this new arrangement so we need to see but it isn’t unique, other countries run it in a similar way. We are fully committed to ensure that we can work with you to ensure that the demand is going to be met and we will continue to work very actively with that over the next couple of months. As you know we have a €4 million capital investment programme, which is dedicated in 2016 to support the expansion of the ECCE and as you know the applications for that closed in April, and we have about 1,000 applications and that is going to be processed now.


Theme – DES Early Years Inspectorate, Publication of Reports.

Question 2 – Inspections have started by the DES this week, however, this was not communicated clearly to the sector. When will the DES early years inspection process be seen on the DES website – the results? And giving research is confirming that children’s learning under the age of 3 years is crucial to their later development, will the DES be focusing on this age group in the future?


Eimear Egan (DES) – In relation to the communication about the early years education focused inspections, from the time we launched our briefing paper last may we have taken every opportunity to engage with the sector and keep people up-to-date on what exactly we were doing. We have spoken at conferences and with the bodies that were involved including Early Childhood Ireland and to disseminate as widely as possible any updates we have had on the education focused inspections. Even as recent as the seminars which we ran around the country, we outlined very clearly what our next stages in the process were. That would have involved taking feedback from the consultations, taking feedback from the online survey processing those and finalising the inspection guide and having it signed off by the minister for children and youth affairs, and the minister for skills. We would have always giving the indication that as soon as that process was completed we would have begun the early year’s inspection. We finished the consultations midway through March and finalised the online survey, we did process all of the outcomes and finalised the guides and that is why we are out in the sector this week. We would like to complete a number of inspections before the summer so that we can then begin to take stock of the outcomes which we have found.


The question regarding when the reports will appear on the website, what we have decided to do is to hold back on the reports which we do between now and June and publish them in a block. We don’t want to publish the reports in a piece meal because that will draw undue attention to those early services. We are going to wait and publish all the reports in June, so they won’t be available until June.


As for the under 3’s, at the moment, we have a huge task ahead of us, there are over 4,000 settings, and we have 9 early years inspectors. We want to get our feet under us in relation to the ECCE programme first. Who knows what will happen in the future, but for the moment our concentration is going to be on the over 3’s.


Theme – Revised Regulations.

Question 3- When will the revised regulations for Pre-school Services be complete? Can you tell me the main areas we can expect changes in? And can you explain what had caused the delay in publication?

Liz Canavan (DCYA) It has been a lot slower that what we would have like, we have done a complete revision of the existing regulations, and originally we thought we would make adjustments to the original regulations but in fact we have had to completely revise and essentially start from scratch and that has involved significant consultations and discussions with the department and we hope they will be ready very soon.


The regulations will introduce the new process for registration of services, it will outline the stricter requirements on governance issues including training and supervision of staff, and the new minimum qualification requirements for staff working directly with the children. It will also provide a requirement for providers to have a complaints procedure in place, and how the complaints are recorded, and the outcomes.

ECI and others have been involved at a consultative forum to discuss the judgment framework which has been by TUSLA. That framework will also act as a guidance document to the sector, as to how to comply with the regulations.


Theme – Garda Vetting, E-Vetting, Compliance

Question 4 – We have all heard that there is a move to E –vetting, and there will be a closure of the unit for 2 weeks to facilitate the introduction. Will services be considered non-compliant if there is a member of staff without Garda Vetting during the down period 18th April to 3rd May 2016? How can this be managed by TUSLA?

Fiona McDonnell (TUSLA) – Our position would be that where possible that providers would not recruit within those two weeks. However, to maintain adult to child ratios we will allow one month in relation to it if there is not Garda vetting on premise to get it back into us. We will write out to services to provide a timeframe and we have been in touch with the National Bureau in relation to vetting. They have committed there will be a turnaround within 48 hours, we will link with them and will keep the issue live. In relation to the vetting document, it will now be a disclosure document and that will be acceptable for the inspectorate. Again we will correspond with you in relation to that.


Theme – CCS Scheme, Delayed payments, Attendance

Question 5 – delayed payments for CCS and bad debts for parents in general have made it difficult for services to stay sustainable. There has been various questions regarding the non-payment from Pobal where parents choose not to start children in the first week of September, or where children do not attend / late starting. Questions arise around national schools not facing cuts where children do not attend. The place is offered to the child, so where a child does not attend it is outside the control of the setting.


Liz Canavan (DCYA) With regard to delayed payments, one of the reasons for delayed payments is, it is administratively complex for both the service and from our end. We have been working with Pobal to try and reduce the impact of that. We know there have been improvements, but if you are suffering late payments, it doesn’t provide much comfort. The key to this is the new scheme, and the design of the scheme and it will deal with the complexity of these issues relating to administration.


Part and parcel of the new scheme is to look at exactly how the scheme will not just create a situation but allow for an evolution of the scheme which doesn’t allow for these added arrangements which cause these problems. We are working with Pobal to minimise any of the issues which are arising, it is a design flaw and we recognise that.


In relation to the payments, where providers are being asked to reimbursed for children who may have been registered and may not have shown up in the first couple of weeks. we are aware that Pobal have raised this with a number of providers, we recognise their intention was that a service wasn’t getting funding for a child who wasn’t attending however, we are also conscious there are very practical and reasonable reasons where children are registered, and the child has not been brought to the service for the first couple of weeks. We have discussed this with Pobal, and we are of the view that if the four week rule has not been breached, the money does not have to be reimbursed. We are taking to Pobal about it at the moment, we are conscious that providers we not intending to break the rules, and in fact the rules are not exactly clear if the child has not actually appeared before the four week rule arises. We have indicated to Pobal that we don’t feel that a provider should be penalised where a child is legitimately registered and the 4 week rule has not been breached.


Theme – DES Early Years Inspectorate, Follow up inspections, Supports

Question 6 –    Where a service receives a poor grade for the four areas, what are the repercussions of this? Will the DES Early Years Inspectorate revisit?


Liz Canavan (DCYA) – As part of the model for early years inspections we have included a provision for follow through inspections. We do that in all of the inspections we do in all other settings. We select a proportion across the board in all of the inspections we carry out within 18 months – 2years and we intend to do the same for the early year’s inspections. It is not for the purpose for those who have had poor ratings, it is for us to follow through on all inspections we have carried out. So yes, we will be doing follow through inspections.

Where a services receives poor grades, our focus is on improvement, we want to assist to bringing about quality improvement in the sector. We will take settings where they are, and our inspectors are vastly experienced practitioners in the field, and many of you will have met them already. They know your settings, and know what good practice is, and know what advice to give you. The regulatory inspections have a different process but ours is towards improvement. We will take you where you are, we will provide advice to you. There is an expectation that you will follow up on the advice, part of the feedback process is to engage in a co-professional dialogue to ensure you are aware of why the actions of improvement are being proposed in this context.


There are services which will be able to provide you with additional support that will assist you in bringing about those improvements, the guide itself, and the quality framework provides a wealth of information of good practice, and how they can be seen in practice. So there is assistance available there, when the reports begin to be published, you will be able to see how the system is being moderated by those systems and words on the quality continuum to the different practice to the different settings. One question which might arise may be how do I indicate I have made improvements given the advice provided?


We will do a certain amount of follow up inspections, but in the meantime the actions which are advised, you might be able to take steps in your own setting. You might have a website, Facebook page or newsletter to parents – you can highlight how you are addressing the issues. It is all a matter of communication to the audience who are availing of your service, to indicate to them how you are addressing the issues identified. Our focus is inspections towards improvement in any way we can assist to bring about that improvement that is what we are going to do.


Theme – Revised Regulations, consultation

Question 7 – Will the DES quality framework compliment the preschool inspector’s judgement framework? Will the sector be consulted on the judgement framework from the DES? Also, will this be available to the sector?


Fiona McDonnell (TUSLA) my answer might seem blunt but the reality is the judgement framework which we are calling the quality regulatory framework is not required to compliment the DES framework as we are looking at regulations. At the consultation group, we are giving additional information and we value the contribution with Early Childhood Ireland. We have taken on initial feedback to the consultation group on the quality and regulatory framework. It will not be possible for us to do a wider consultation as it has to be completed by July 2016. Once it is completed, the quality and regulatory framework it will be a guidance document for services. It will be informed by national and international best practice and research. It will clarify what the inspector will be inspecting on.


Question 8- My service recently received a great report from the DES pilot, but one week later TUSLA marked us non-compliance especially for our outdoor area, which DES inspectorate had complimented us on.


It is difficult, TUSLA do not comment on individual cases or from a forum. But to take an outdoor area, in inspection against statutory regulation the threshold is different to a DES inspectorate. While a DES inspectorate might compliment an outdoor area, the regulation might also see it as a sufficient area outdoors. However, they may identify a risk to the child, so it is different threshold to inspection in relation to both inspectorates.


The DCYA have established an operational alignment group between both inspectorate groups, Pobal and Better Start. Within that alignment group, we are going to work together at issues like this and try resolve them. It won’t be easy, we will look at both thresholds, the development of the quality and regulatory framework as it will specifically show the threshold of inspection under each regulation. And with the DES you will see their threshold too. I hope by summer 2016, you will have a better understanding of the threshold, and it will clearly define the role of the inspectorates too. 


Theme – Guidance note, Sleep

Question 9 – In the guidance note for sleep which was circulated in March it states “There may be occasions when there is just cause for a child not to use a cot, but this should be the exception and clearly evidenced by the service.’ Can this be clarified as how services can evidence this? The tone of the guidance note on sleep was threatening and isolating using statements which are not sector friendly. As a provider I would terrified after reading this.


Fiona McDonnell (TUSLA) – The briefing note was highlighting how TUSLA makes a determination which is based on evidence of best practice. The tone was precise to the briefing note, however, I will take on board the feedback and we will look at possibly softer information. What we are trying to demonstrate in briefing notes is specifically how to we come to determination. This area in relation to cots has been disputed by some providers.


With regards to cases where children under 2 years of age do not require a cot, evidence suggests this may be linked to a medical or Occupation Therapy (OT) recommendation. That could be documented and submitted by the parent to the provider. There are also cases where children can get in/out of cots, and there is less risk for children to sleep on the sleep mats. A note to the parents would suffice, but again we would not want to see every child on the floor from a young age.


Themes – Expansion, Displacement

Questions – 10 How can I as a service owner have a view to expand and take that financial risk when there is no guarantee that another service wont set up beside me, take my business and leave me with a loan that I can’t pay. What are the DCYA’s plans to extend the displacement of existing services, and how will the contracts for ECCE be managed for September 2016 to ensure all children have access to a place.


Liz Canavan (DCYA) on one hand we want to make sure we have enough places, and on the other hand we want to make sure we don’t have too many places. Especially as you look across the country, there may be pockets where there are different things happening. We are closely monitoring how demand and supply are being matched, we don’t have evidence of the displacement being spoken out.

We do have a degree of confidence of the September intake but it will be something we have to keep monitoring, and we will continue to join the dots between you, the CCC’s and Early Childhood Ireland. This is an issue which has come up, and we did discuss it as to how we would interfere in the market. There are parameters in what we can do in terms of intervening with regard to competition law.


Theme – Community Employment Scheme, Qualifications

Question 11 – What will the DCYA do about community services when the new rules for employment kicks in December?


As you are aware there has been some changes for community employment, it has been on the agenda for some time. The purpose is to ensure there is a standard of quality right across the sector. We do acknowledge there are challenges with a new system, and we understand that. But there has been quite a long lead in period for this.


Through the learner fund, we have provide funding for those on a community employment schemes and their services to upskill them regarding qualifications. Having said that, there is a piece of work going on at the moment being led by CCI which is being designed to look at the extend of what this problem might be, and to see how many providers will be effected, and what degree will they be affected. From this, we can see what measures would be appropriate or effective in managing it. We see a lot of it around management supports. Many services have made their own changes to meet what is required now.


Themes – Level 7 programmes, higher capitation

Question 12 – A level 7 programme was withdrawn from the DCYA list of recognised level 7 programmes to receive higher capitation earlier this week? And why did it happen?


Liz Canavan (DCYA) – The approval of that course with Carlow IT was done at a point of time where there was an intake already there. The approval was given on a limited basis conditional on the cohort of who was coming in at the time, and the fact they had already applied for the course. The approval that given by the department was on that basis, it was very explicit in saying the approval was given for a restricted amount of time and that the course could only be provided on that site, and should not be extended beyond that site. There was a follow up for the second year, and the Department of Education agreed for approval for a second intake for September 2015. It was always on the basis this was not to continue, the approval was made for these two cohorts and that was made very explicit to Carlow IT at the time.


The Department Of Education have advised Carlow IT they can no longer continue with this programme. It will not attract the higher capitation and that is in line with the original conditional approval given. There is an overall review of educational programmes in this area being undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills. The programme may be recognised at a later date as resources allow. In terms of 2014-2015 graduates, they will continue to attract the higher capitation but it will not extend past that at the moment.


Theme – DES, mentoring

Question 13- In the DES pilot report it is suggested that early-years settings may wish to access the assistance available from early-years mentoring services and other sources of advice when planning and implementing improvements suggested by the DES – will this mean the DES will set the benchmark for quality to be reached by better start?


Eimear Egan (DES) –We are only one player in the early years sector there are many who have been ploughing this trough for many years. You are all very aware of the work which has been done in academic circle, and through organisations such as Early Childhood Ireland, Better start and all other departments. We are new, and we are committed in working in a co-professional way with the sector. We have set out our quality framework which is based on Aistear, and Sìolta. It has also taken account for international research and practice.


We would be open to reviewing that framework, and we have committed to a review of the whole process of the focused inspection and see if there are elements which need to be updated. If there are areas which we need to look at again, and we are open to that. Our experience of running the early years education focused inspections will certainly inform what happens in the future. The framework provides a lens which you can look at quality regardless of the philosophy of the setting. The framework provides an opportunity to look at the practice. We feel we are contributing to the debate, but we don’t feel we are the only people who have a view about quality, or have the final say on what quality is. We are very much committed to working with everyone in the sector, as what we do ultimately has to be best for the child.


Liz Canavan (DCYA) I think it is important to say the Department is chairing an alignment group who is keeping all of these people in a room together. From an operations and assistance point of view and how it is evolving over time, also our longer term view of the quality agenda. That is being worked in from the DES, TUSLA, Better Start and ourselves (DCYA).


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