Minister Reilly announces €85m childcare package in Budget 2016

Tuesday 13th October, 2015

Dr. James Reilly TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has announced a major package of childcare measures as part of Budget 2016.

The Budget 2016 childcare package represents a good ‘first step’ on the road to achieving affordable, high quality childcare that is accessible for all children. During the summer, Minister Reilly published a plan for future investment in childcare, and the €85 million in new childcare funding announced today for his Department marks the beginning of a multi-annual programme of investment in this strategically important area. Each of measures progresses discrete components of the ‘wrap-around’ childcare provision outlined in the plan.

Minister Reilly said:
“This government takes the issue of childcare seriously. Affordable, quality, accessible childcare is critical to securing Ireland’s recovery. It is an investment in the future of our children and families, helping every child to get the best start in life, and supporting parents to take advantage of the jobs that are once again being created in the Irish economy.

This new funding of €85m increases the funding for childcare in my Department by a third – a real demonstration of this government’s commitment to children and hard-pressed working families. It’s a good ‘first step’ on the road to affordable, high quality and accessible childcare for every family who needs it.”

Budget 2016 childcare initiatives are based on solid evidence and best practice, and take careful account of the views of parents, providers, academics and other stakeholders The Future Investment in Childcare report was informed by two on-line consultations and an Open Policy Debate on priorities and costs. See . The measures were informed by the Future Investment in Childcare report that Minister Reilly published this summer. The package builds on the elements of current provision that work well, and starts the process of reform where needed.

Minister Reilly said:
“The childcare measures announced today form part of a balanced and integrated programme of investment in children and parents. The broader Budget package includes an extension of free GP care for children, increases in Child Benefit and a new paid Paternity Benefit, a step along the road to shared paid Parental Leave.
I am committed to ensuring that this significantly increased investment in the sector is matched by significant improvements in the quality of provision – because if children and families are to reap the benefits of this investment, we must have high quality childcare.
Budget 2016 represents a milestone in the development of affordable, high quality childcare that is accessible to every child – it is an investment in families, helping them to benefit from Ireland’s continued economic recovery by making work pay.”

Key elements of the childcare package
Today’s announcement provides for a balanced package of measures for children and families, which [together with the initiatives being delivered by the Department of Social Protection] signal the start of a multi-annual investment programme to make affordable, high quality and accessible childcare available to every family who needs it.

Free Pre-School
From September 2016, every child in Ireland will be able to start pre-school at age three, and to remain in pre-school until they start primary school Currently, children between the age of 3 years and 2 months, and 4 years and 7 months, are eligible for a year’s free pre-school (38 weeks) through the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme.. Children will be able to enrol in pre-school at three different points in the year – September, January and April. In line with this expansion of free pre-school, capitation payments to providers will be fully restored to pre-2012 levels.

This initiative will better integrate the educational experience of young children, providing a smoother transition between pre- and primary school. Currently, children are entitled to 38 weeks’ of free pre-school in the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE). On average, children and families will benefit from 23 additional weeks of free pre-school (or about a 60% increase in free pre-school entitlement). This extended provision will reduce parents’ childcare costs by a further approximately €1,500, on average. 
This measure will increase current investment in free pre-school (i.e. €172.4 million) by €47 million in 2016.

Accessible pre-school for children with special needs
During 2016, a suite of supports will be phased in to enable children with disabilities fully participate in, and reap the benefits of, quality pre-school care and education. 
Making mainstream pre-school settings fully accessible to children with disabilities is a high priority for this government. Supports include enhanced continuing professional development for childcare staff to better understand and respond to children’s’ different needs; grants for equipment, appliances and minor alterations; as well as access to therapeutic intervention.
Funding of €15m has been provided to phase supports in during 2016, with a full year cost of around €33m from 2017 onwards.

Quality Child Care 
Quality matters for our children. Budget 2016 funds a number of measures to build the quality of childcare provision, including:
•    Audit of childcare quality: to provide a solid evidence base on which to build quality. Regular audits over time will measure the impact of investment on higher quality;
•    Learner Fund: further investment in the Learner Fund will help Ireland’s childcare sector to move towards the professionalised workforce that characterises high quality childcare systems;
•    Síolta Quality Assurance: independent accreditation under the Síolta programme provides an objective quality mark. Funding in Budget 2016 will support further roll-out of the quality assurance programme, so that more children benefit from high quality care.
•    Enhanced inspection: an expanded childcare inspection team to monitor compliance with new childcare regulations to be introduced shortly, and to build the education-focused inspections which DCYA began funding this year. 
The funding of €3.5m provided for these quality measures in 2016 will be built upon over coming years.

Affordable childcare
The cost of childcare can be a significant barrier for parents wanting to take up work, education or training. Budget 2016 provides two initiatives focused on increasing the affordability of childcare, to lay the foundation for providing more affordable childcare to a broader range of families.
•    A single Affordable Childcare programme: Budget 2016 resources a dedicated Project Team to develop a single Affordable Childcare programme to provide working families with good quality childcare at a cost they can afford. Work on the Affordable Childcare programme will begin immediately, so that it can be in place by 2017. This single programme will replace existing targeted measures Community Childcare Subvention (CCS), along with the Training & Employment Childcare (TEC) programmes, comprising After-School Childcare (ASCC), Childcare Education & Training Support (CETS), and Community Employment Childcare (CEC), providing a new simplified subsidy programme, provided through both community/not-for-profit and private childcare providers. The objective is to make childcare more affordable for more families.  
•    Community Childcare Subvention: Budget 2016 provides for an additional 8,000 childcare places on the Community Childcare Subvention programme, providing affordable childcare for low income families. 
In line with the development of a single Affordable Childcare programme outlined above, for the first time, these 8,000 low cost childcare places will be available through private as well as community/not-for-profit childcare providers. The €16 million in funding for these new places will be targeted at areas with identified need. 
These 8,000 places are in addition to a further 5,000 low cost childcare places notified to the sector last week. Minister Reilly has been able to release these places with savings in achieved in 2015. 
Together, these additional 13,000 low cost childcare places delivered through the Community Childcare Subvention programme will help keep Ireland’s recovery going, helping to bring its benefits to more households. 
•    After-school care: A number of measures are included to support the development of more after-school childcare options. 
A €3 million capital fund will support childcare providers (both community/not-for-profit and private) who need minor funding to develop after-school services using existing school and other accessible community facilities. Work will also begin on the development of a Quality Framework for After-School provision, along with a consultation with children on their views about after-school childcare.


Notes for Editors:
In January 2015, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs established an Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Childcare to identify and assess options for improving the affordability, quality and supply of early years and school-age childcare. It reported in July 2015. This €85 million investment in childcare measures provided through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs through Budget 2016 represents the Government’s first response to the roadmap it proposed, towards a system of ‘wraparound’ childcare that is affordable, accessible and of high quality.

The report points to widespread evidence that investment in early years improves outcomes for children and families. The report emphasises the importance of the affordability and quality of childcare, so that children can reach their full potential and parents can work outside the home.