Surge in childcare demand drives applications for new facilities

Childcare providers seek €30m from €7m fund for building and extensions costs

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone:  “huge demand” for capital grant supports shows scale of demand for childcare places. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone: “huge demand” for capital grant supports shows scale of demand for childcare places. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

There has been surge in the number of childcare providers seeking to build or expand their premises.

This follows the extension of the free pre-school year from one to two years and new subsidised childcare for the under-threes.

A capital support scheme for childcare centres has been more than four times oversubscribed, with providers placing applications seeking more than €30 million from a fund which is just under €7 million.

This fund is used to ease building costs for extra childcare places, extensions and new play facilities .

The surge in demand will likely be used by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to argue for greater investment in the forthcoming budget.

Latest figures show 70,000 parents have signed up their children for subsidised places, introduced last September.

Ms Zappone is understood to be keen to increase investment over successive budgets to extend subsidies to more families.

The Minister, meanwhile, is expected to receive interim findings for the first independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare.

The interim findings will also be used in terms of informing the budget process.

‘Early-years strategy’

Ms Zappone and her officials are examining new longer-term options on the future of childcare in this country as part of a comprehensive “early-years strategy”, due to be launched in the autumn.

Ms Zappone said: “We have reached a key moment if Ireland is to have truly accessible affordable quality childcare.

“While investment in the past three years is up 80 per cent to €485 million this year, we are still significantly short of the European average and Irish families are still struggling to meet the cost of childcare.

“The huge demand for capital grant supports shows that this is a dynamic sector with providers ready to expand and build on existing services to families. The investment in capital will address the issue of accessibility and ensure we have top-class facilities.”

The majority of applications received from creches, pre-schools and childcare services are for new buildings and extensions.

When the grants are announced, it is expected these will account for the vast majority of successful bids.

Overall, some 1,945 applications were received. Applications are being reviewed and an announcement is expected by the end of May.

Ms Zappone said she successfully argued that childcare would be a priority in Project Ireland 2040 and it was time to start putting in place the funding to make that a reality.