Half of the country’s childcare providers have still not provided vital documents to authorities which are needed if they are to reopen in the new year.
Tusla, the child and family agency, has set a deadline of December 12th for childcare providers to “re-register” with the agency.
To do this, childcare providers must submit “essential” documents to include Garda vetting records, safety statements, confirmation of insurance cover, references and signed declarations.
While Tusla has extended a deadline for fire safety and planning documentation until June 2020, providers must still provide these other documents in time for December 12th or face the prospect of closing in the new year.
A spokeswoman for Tusla said about half of providers have applied for their registration so far.
“We expect to continue to receive applications. However, as with any sector, there will always be a number of providers/businesses who will experience challenges with particular aspects of regulatory processes,” the spokeswoman said.
Fianna Fáil’s spokeswoman on childcare Anne Rabbitte TD welcomed the deferral of fire safety regulations.
However, she said nearly 560 crèches were struggling to meet these new standards which, she said, were very onerous.
Seas Suas, a representative group for independent childcare providers, warned that many smaller childcare operators are under huge pressure at this time of year to provide "reams of paperwork" in time for the mid-December deadline.
"This is the busiest time of year and comes at a time when the new national childcare scheme is being introduced. They are very worried that they will not meet the deadline," said its chairwoman Regina Bushell.
Tusla said the statutory regulations have been in place since 2016 and its job as regulator is to implement them to ensure children are as safe as possible and providers are in compliance with the regulations.
It says it has been working with and supporting providers over the past 18 months, and actively engaging with the sector around the upcoming deadlines.
Speaking about the process, Brian Lee, Tusla's director of quality assurance, said: "We encourage service providers to submit the essential documents prior to December 12th to ensure they can continue to operate as normal in the New Year and where they are having challenges to submit the other documents by the relaxed deadline of June 30th 2020."
He said Tusla always endeavoured to be “reasonable” in its approach and to act with fairness to the sector, but its primary concern is the safety of children.
“Our aim is for service providers to be registered by the deadline, whilst also ensuring that due attention is been given to the key requirements to keep children as safe as possible. We have been working with and supporting providers over the past 18 months and recently issued a correspondence to providers to further clarify the requirements,” he said.
Tusla has set up a dedicated portal to assist providers. A call back support system was also set up to assist providers with submitting the relevant materials.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Children also defended the regulations and said funding is being provided to help childcare providers with any costs.
She said the department operated a capital grant scheme in 2019 to assist not for profit childcare services with fire safety costs and was considering running this again next year.
The department also runs other capital schemes to assist for-profit and not-for-profit services with building additional and higher quality capacity, she added.
Overall, she said the number of services in the country continues to rise, with numbers opening outstripping those closing.
“Capacity in the sector has doubled over the last five years, mostly due, it is believed,to increased Government investment,” she added.