Today I will update the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on the progress taking place on the transformation of the early years sector in Ireland. I am writing to you as a childcare provider to update you first hand on the progress made to date and on the next steps over the coming months on our journey towards delivering accessible, affordable, quality childcare to families across the country.
Since becoming Minister for Children and Youth Affairs much of my focus and energy has been on supporting access to high quality and affordable early years care and education and school age childcare.
This is a difficult task, not least because of the many years of chronic under investment in the sector.
We have, together, taken some important first steps over the past 18 months. For example, recognising the administrative role of childcare services in delivering government schemes by introducing Programme Support Payments of €18m; rolling out AIM, and the expansion of ECCE to two years from Sept 2018.
Last April I called on the sector to work with me to deliver a suite of measures to make childcare more affordable to parents from September 2017. The sector responded by delivering these programmes to the families of more than 66,000 children (95% of our expected target). These supports are now available in 9 out of every 10 applicable services. In the meantime, officials from my Department and from Pobal have been working tirelessly in the development of the IT, legislative and administrative infrastructure needed to fully roll out the Affordable Childcare Scheme.
Our various consultative groups and forums have strongly advised us that we should not introduce the scheme until such time as the necessary IT system is fully functioning and thoroughly tested. To this end we are steadfast in our commitment to delivering a world class, robust system that will be user friendly for parents and childcare providers alike. The various timescales in relation to peer review of systems, open tender for IT and the passage of legislation through the Oireachtas mean that we have decided that the best course of action to take will be to continue the current CCS and TEC schemes in September 2018.
Whilst the launch date for the full Affordable Childcare Scheme is not confirmed as yet I felt it was important to flag to childcare services at this early juncture that it will not be launching in time for September 2018.
In last October's budget I secured a commitment for a further €18m in Programme Support Payments for 2018 and a 7% increase in capitation for the delivery of the ECCE programme. These advances will of course remain in place. The Independent Review of the Cost of Delivery of Quality Childcare is underway and will provide us with the necessary evidence for further, much needed investment into the sector. I want to thank those of you who have already contributed to this critical piece of work.
I look forward to working closely with you all over this coming year as we take further steps towards our goal of accessible, affordable, quality childcare for families in Ireland and the further development of a valued and sustainable sector.
Dr. Katherine Zappone
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs"