Parents of newborns to get seven weeks’ paid leave each by 2021

Extension of supports to all paid childminders among plans in First 5 strategy

Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Children Katherine Zappine and Minister for Children Simon Harris,  and friends at the launch of First 5, a new strategy for babies, young children and their families. Photograph: Maxwells

Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Children Katherine Zappine and Minister for Children Simon Harris, and friends at the launch of First 5, a new strategy for babies, young children and their families. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Parents of new babies will be able to take up to 14 weeks of paid leave to care for their child in its first year by 2021, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised.

The measure for fathers and mothers builds on the two weeks of paid parental leave announced in Budget 2019 - which takes effect from next year - and is additional to existing entitlements such as maternity benefit.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, when presenting the Budget last month, said he hoped to extend the parental benefit “over time” but Mr Varadkar said this morning it would be achieved within three years.

The measure is a central plank of First 5, a new Government strategy for babies, young children and their families unveiled today.

The 10-year plan, which promises a broader range of options for parents working and caring, a new model of parenting support and a dedicated child health workforce, was launched by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in the Department of Children’s new headquarters on Baggot Street in Dublin.

Research has consistently shown that interventions designed to improve the health, welfare and learning of a child work best the earlier they are delivered in its life.

A new parenting unit is to be established in the Department to make available a “continuum” of services, ranging from universal to targets, including parenting programmes, according to Ms Zappone.

A move to a graduate-led workforce for early learning and care, and the extension of supports to all paid childminders and school-age childcare services, will also form part of the plan, she said.

Additional investment would continue to reduce the out of pocket cost of pre-school care to parents as well as compensating providers so they can deliver services on a sustainable and high-quality basis, she said.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said additional funding will be provided for a hot school meals pilot programme to start next year. The pilot will apply to 7,200 children but if successful the scheme would be extended more widely in future years and put on a permanent basis.

Mr Harris said he plans to develop a dedicated child health workforce, focused initially in areas of high population density and disadvantage.

The Taoiseach said there could be no better investment by the Government than in the early years of a child’s life.

“The Government wants to make life easier for families, while also providing children with the best possible start. The first five years of a child’s life only happen once, but the impact of their experiences during this period can last a lifetime,” Mr Varadkar said

“This is the first strategy of its kind in Ireland, setting out a road map for change and development over the coming decade. Building on the many positive developments for young children in recent years, including family leave, subsidised Early Learning and Care, free GP care and a new Children’s Hospital, First 5 will significantly enhance early childhood in Ireland.”