Subsidy scheme for childcare needs up-to-date systems

Early Childhood Ireland says more childminders need to be brought into the scheme

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Kyle Kearney (8) from Ballyfermot, Darius O’Reilly (4) from Clontarf, Finn O’Connor (4) from Smithfield and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone at the launch of the national awareness campaign ahead of extra childcare supports starting next month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Kyle Kearney (8) from Ballyfermot, Darius O’Reilly (4) from Clontarf, Finn O’Connor (4) from Smithfield and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone at the launch of the national awareness campaign ahead of extra childcare supports starting next month. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Government’s scheme for subsidising childcare must be supported by up-to-date systems to allow easier access for parents, an industry group has warned.

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents childcare providers, also said further work needed to be undertaken by the Department of Children to bring more childminders into the scheme, which begins next month.

The scheme, announced in last year’s Budget, sees universal subsidies of up to €1,040 per year being made available for each child aged between six months and three years.

The maximum universal payment works out at €20 per week for a child in full-time childcare, classified as at least five hours of childcare per day with a registered childcare provider. It reduces pro rata for less time.

In addition, targeted subsidies of up to €7,500 per annum per child will be delivered to those families in most need.

The original intention of the scheme was that everyone who used a registered childcare provider would receive the universal payment, while those on lower incomes would get higher subsidies, which could be calculated by an IT system that involved the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection.

However, the new system has been delayed and will not be ready until September 2018 at the earliest. There are also data protection issues because parents would have to provide their PPS numbers.

The universal payments will still be allocated from next month but lower income recipients will be determined by those in receipt of social welfare payments such as the community childcare scheme and the training and employment scheme.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, chairman of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, said the new IT system was a “hurdle we have to get over” but said it would take some time to roll out such a complex scheme.

Information campaign

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone yesterday launched an information campaign to encourage parents to apply for the scheme ahead of September. The details of the scheme can be accessed at affordablechildcare.ie.

Teresa Heeney of Early Childhood Ireland said the intention was probably to encourage parents to ensure that their childcare providers were registered, which would allow for the subsidies to be paid.

Ms Heeney anticipated that most parents would avail of the scheme but said work must continue on developing the new IT system, as well as on expanding the scheme to childminders.

She said that only about 200 childminders, as opposed to childcare facilities, were currently registered with Tusla, the child and family agency, which allows them to participate in the scheme.

Speaking at the launch of the information campaign yesterday, Ms Zappone said she hoped to increase the funding for the universal payment and the subsidies for lower income families in the October budget.

Mr Varadkar said helping families with childcare costs was a key element of his aim to create what he described as a “republic of opportunity”, the phrase used when assuming the position of Taoiseach.