Homeless families to get 25 hours of free childcare each week
Scheme announced by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to begin next month
The scheme will apply to children under five and will see the State make a direct payment of €110 per week per child to childcare providers. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Children living in emergency accommodation are to be offered 25 hours a week of free childcare, the Minister For Children Katherine Zappone announced on Thursday .
The scheme will begin next month in Dublin, where the vast majority of homeless children are accommodated , and will cost €8.25 million next year.
Areas outside Dublin will later be added to the scheme, which will be administered by the homeless charity Focus Ireland and local childcare committees.
The scheme will apply to children under five and will see the State make a direct payment of €110 per week per child to childcare providers. No further payments from parents will be permitted.
Ms Zappone said the initiative would target “a particularly vulnerable group of children who need additional supports given their situation”.
“The provision of up to 25 hours of free childcare a week to include a daily meal will lift a huge burden from families,” she said.
The scheme is also designed to help those transitioning from homelessness to permanent accommodation, Ms Zappone said.
Officials from the Department of Children have been told to start identifying families who qualify and inform them of the new entitlement.
National director of services at Focus Ireland Catherine Maher, said “early childhood supports are important for most families, but they are particularly important for children struggling with the fact that their families are currently homeless”.
Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, said the scheme “ will go some way in improving conditions for children in Dublin who are experiencing homelessness, but should not be viewed as a permanent solution.”
The Government needed to continue efforts to fulfil commitment that hotels will only be used as emergency accommodation in “limited circumstances”. “They were not suitable for normal family living,” he said.
Early Childhood Ireland said that the initiative was “commendable”.
“The childcare sector will not be, and never has been, found lacking in compassion for children who don’t have a place they can call home where they can sleep, eat, play and relax comfortably and safely” said chief executive Teresa Heeney.