Childcare Support Bill will set out rules for childcare funding decisions
Zappone says legislation will be important in raising standards of care
Katherine Zappone: she said the Department of Children and the scheme administrator would “have adequate powers to ensure that public funds are being used efficiently, and to take action where public funds are misused”
Childcare funding schemes in Ireland will have full legal standing for the first time through the launch of the Childcare Support Bill.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who introduced the legislation in the Dáil, said it underpinned the affordable childcare scheme through which the Government provides a financial subvention to parents and guardians for childcare.
A universal scheme was introduced last September for all children under three years of age, which the Minister said increased childcare subsidies by up to 50 per cent and benefitted more than 66,000 children and their families.
Ms Zappone acknowledged European Commission figures which showed that in 2015 childcare costs for lone parents in Ireland were the highest in the EU and the second highest for couples. The affordable childcare scheme will bring childcare costs at 33rd out of 49 countries in the OECD in 2015, down to 11th place, “close to the OECD average”.
Ms Zappone said the legislation would establish clear eligibility, rules and procedures, such as an appeals process, for childcare funding decisions.
The Minister also said the Department of Children and the scheme administrator would “have adequate powers to ensure that public funds are being used efficiently, and to take action where public funds are misused”.
The Bill also introduces a streamlined IT system which would move away from reliance on social welfare payments and medical cards as the only means of assessing financial need for childcare.
Ms Zappone said the legislation would be important for “raising quality standards in childcare”, which was necessary to improve outcomes for children.
She added that while the primary focus of the Affordable Childcare Scheme was affordability, the approach used in the scheme “reflects the international evidence that supply-side funding gives the government greater leverage to improve standards than demand-side approaches such as tax credits”.
Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on children Anne Rabbitte welcomed the introduction of the Bill, which she said they had been waiting for since it was announced in Budget 2016.
She said many parents had shown goodwill towards the legislation but others, “particularly stay-at-home parents, feel aggrieved because the proposed scheme does not consider their needs”.
“Grandparents and childminders also believe the scheme does not take them into consideration. While it is appreciated that the legislation addresses one element of childcare, it does not cater for certain groups that provide childcare.”
Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell said the Bill “represents a huge step forward in building a truly world class childcare system”.
She noted the Minister would say that as she did not directly employ the staff she could not dictate wages. “However, her department subsidises childcare and sets conditions and standards that must be met.”
Ms Mitchell said “we must seriously focus, therefore, on pay and conditions in the sector over the coming years”.
“They cannot be an afterthought. If we want qualified staff and people who love working with children and have a real interest in educating our youngest minds, then we must pay them decent wages.”