Budget 2018: Free pre-school plan to expand to two years

Zappone details ‘unprecedented €1.38bn’ spend allocated for Department of Children

Entitlement to the free pre-school programme is to be expanded from September 2018 to two free years for children aged at least two years and eight months. File photograph: Getty Images

Entitlement to the free pre-school programme is to be expanded from September 2018 to two free years for children aged at least two years and eight months. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she was “confident” the early childhood sector would be able to provide enough child places to allow a further expansion of the free preschool programme.

Entitlement to the programme, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, is to be expanded from September 2018 to two free years for children aged at least two years and eight months, it was announced on Tuesday.

Ms Zappone was speaking at a press conference detailing how the “unprecedented €1.38 billion” for her department would be spent.

“The extra €73 million will allow us to do more across a wide range of priority areas,” she said, particularly regarding the €40 million increase allocated to Tusla.

Refused to participate

There has been controversy around the separate affordable childcare scheme, announced in last year’s budget and available to children before entering the ECCE scheme. Many childcare providers refused to participate, saying they had insufficient capacity and had not been consulted on the scheme.

Ms Zappone said a 7 per cent increase in the capitation grant for providers, from €64.50 per week per child to €69, and where staff have higher qualifications, from €75 per child per week to €80.25, was intended to support them.

She said the expansion was built on last year’s extension of the scheme from 38 weeks to an average of 61 weeks, depending on children’s date of birth and age starting school.

“Now we are increasing this entitlement to 76 weeks – a significant achievement which will benefit thousands of children, parents and families.”

‘Considerably short’

Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), which represents more than 3,800 childcare providers, said the increased investment fell “considerably short of the level sought” by the sector.

“Considerable and sustained funding over successive budgets is what is needed to achieve the 1 per cent of GDP recommended by Unicef and others,” said ECI chief executive Teresa Heeney.

“Early Childhood Ireland awaits further detail on the increase of 7 per cent in the capitation levels. While this falls short of the 15 per cent increase identified by the organisation as key to supporting the recruitment and retention of high-quality staff in the sector, we welcome it as a step in the right direction,” she added.

The department will also increase funding to the 109 Family Resource Centres around the State, located in disadvantaged areas, by an average of €10,000 each per year.