Private Members’ Business – Childcare Provision

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 12 February 2014

Currently this Government is spending in the region of €260 million annually to support childcare programmes and that money is providing very valuable assistance to parents throughout the country to access affordable childcare.

In particular the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme and the Community Childcare Subvention programmes are particularly valuable to parents of young children, providing care in both private and community settings. Services offering the ECCE programme receive capitation fees of up to €73 per week per qualifying child, depending on staff qualifications.

The issue of qualifications for people working with pre-school children is a crucial question. Caring for small children is a very difficult job and it is only right and proper that such an important role should be restricted to those who have the interest and have taken the time to educate themselves in this area.

I note that work on a Pre-School Quality Agenda is progressing and part of this involves increasing the qualification requirement for all staff caring for children in a pre-school setting to a minimum of Fetac Level 5 by September 2015.

I believe that this is very welcome, but would stress that an enhanced regulatory and oversight regime is necessary to ensure that the additional learning is reflected in work practices. A robust inspection regime will help allay the fears of parents that children are being maltreated in the manner seen on the Prime Time programme.

One worrying aspect about the inspection regime is the suggestion that increased costs will be reflected in increased annual fees for childcare services. Rising costs for the childcare sector will result in a reduction in the number of childcare services, and could also result in increased costs for parents, which will be counter-productive for the sector in the long run. Already 77% of pre-school children are cared for by parents or relatives; if significant inspection costs are passed on to childcare providers this figure could rise.

One difficulty that I regularly encounter in terms of parents with children attending community childcare facilities is that a delay in processing medical cards is placing great stress on families intending to have children cared for in a community childcare setting.  The review of discretionary medical cards that took place last July created great difficulties for parents considering placing children in childcare in September, the subvention of €95 per week was the defining criteria as to whether or not this childcare was affordable.

I welcome the fact that parents who get work during the school year continue to receive the subvention until the end of the school year and have a further year of reduced support afterwards. Going back to work can be an expensive time for a family and these are the sort of common-sense measures that can be taken to ease that process.

I don’t believe that direct payment to parents via the Family Income Supplement is the way forward because that would simply swamp the FIS system and would require means assessments of the vast majority of the country’s parents. However, tax breaks for childcare and increased tax credits are incentives that could be put in place with much less effort and I believe that these, rather than any new childcare subvention, are the measures that would be most beneficial to working parents.