For Written Answer on : 22/06/2022
Question Number(s): 149 Question Reference(s): 33238/22
Department: Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the actions that he is taking to ensure that creche and childcare facilities and places for babies and children are available to families in all parts of the country; the research, if any that has been carried out to ascertain such availability; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The availability of high-quality early learning and childcare is a key Government priority.
Since 2015, significant increases in State investment in early learning and childcare has given rise to a substantial growth in the numbers of children participating in these services. Every year, more than 100,000 children participate on the universal pre-school programme (ECCE) and the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) subsidises up to 80,000 children.
Before the onset of Covid-19, national data indicated that, on the whole, supply of early learning and childcare places was meeting demand, with evidence of undersupply for certain age groups including children under 3, and in certain areas.
Data gathered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic revealed an expected lower demand for early learning and childcare. This gave rise to unprecedented vacancy rates – an overall vacancy rate of 21% and vacancy rates for children under 1 and children aged 1-2 years of 20% and 10% respectively.
In April of this year, City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) undertook a nationwide survey of capacity in early learning and childcare services. This survey was undertaken as part of the Action Plan put in place by my Department to respond to the early learning and childcare needs of Ukrainian children and their families. This survey was followed in May by the Annual Early Years Sector Profile Survey that is undertaken by Pobal.
Preliminary analysis of the latest data captured by CCC and Pobal reveal a drop in vacancy rates across the country – with the national vacancy rate now averaging at 13% and the vacancy rates for children under 1 and children aged 1-2 years 14% and 6% respectively.
The network of 30 CCC across the country are in a position to match children and families to services operating with vacant places.
I am also taking a range of steps to address issues of under supply. Some €70m has been allocated to my Department through the revised National Development Plan (NDP) – with the majority of this funding earmarked for new places. Under the National Action Plan for Childminding, I have committed to opening up access to the NCS to parents who use childminders following the extension of regulation to childminders, which is expected to happen within the first 2-3 years of the Plan.
My Department, in partnership with the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, is in the process of updating the 2001 Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities on Early Learning and Childcare Settings.
In addition, City/County Childcare Committees have been mobilised to engage proactively with services to explore possibilities for expansion among services, particularly where there is unmet need.
Parents experiencing difficulty in relation to their early learning and childcare needs should contact their local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) for assistance. Contact details for CCCs may be found on www.myccc.ie.