Childcare €75m funding plan aims to keep fees unchanged for parents

Providers to get one-off reopening grant and capital grant and fee subsidies

A funding package of €75m is going to be made available for childcare providers to help them open at the end of June. Photograph: iStock

A funding package of €75m is going to be made available for childcare providers to help them open at the end of June. Photograph: iStock

 

Childcare providers will not charge higher fees than they did before the Covid-19 crisis under a €75 million childcare package unveiled by the Government.

The new funding model contains four elements: one-off reopening grants from a fund of €18 million for centre-based providers opening later this month and in August; a once-off capital grant of €14.2 million; the continuation of the Revenue-operated temporary wage subsidy scheme until the end of August; and the availability of universal and targeted subsidies for parents.

The plans, however, have been described as “short-sighted” and a “major disappointment”.

The four measures as provided for in the plan will run from June 29th to August 23rd.

A condition of the additional funding is that providers must keep fees at pre-Covid-19 rates.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she hopes 1,800 childcare services will be in a position to operate this summer.

Under the first element of the plan – from a fund of €18 million in once-off reopening grants – providers can use this funding for additional staffing costs such as help with drop-off and pick-up times or extra cleaning staff to ensure hygiene standards are met. The grant can also be used to provide staff training on guidelines for reopening and to provide additional learning resources, books and toys for each “play pod”. To reduce the potential for coronavirus infection children will be kept together in small groups with the same carer throughout the day in play pods.

The amount granted to each provider will be based on the number of children on department schemes before Covid-19.

Services that open on June 29th or within a week of that date and that stay open until late August will receive higher grants than those reopening in August or September.

The Cabinet approved the plans late on Tuesday night.

The second element of the plan involves a once-off capital grant from a fund of €14.2 million. All registered centre-based services reopening between June 29th and the beginning of September can avail of this. The grant can be used to buy outdoor play equipment including outdoor shade and shelter to make playing outside easier; additional toilet facilities; room dividers for play pods; or screens in reception areas.

Childcare providers with fewer than 11 children will receive €1,000; providers with 12-40 children, €2,500; providers with 41-100 children, €4,000, while those with more than 100 children will receive €6,000.

There will also be reopening grants worth €375,000 for childminders, amounting to €500 for each childminder.

Reaction

Seas Suas, the association of independent early learning and care providers, said that while the support package is “useful” it falls short of what is needed.

“The response to this childcare crisis continues to be short-sighted, confusing and lacking in detail. The package, while useful, falls short.

“The average creche cares for approximately 40 children. For the period of this funding package, occupancy levels will fall to as low as 10 children with only one in four returning. With demand down and costs significantly up for at least six months, this funding will quickly run out.

“The extension of the [Covid-19] wage subsidy makes a difference but like the package overall, it has a hard stop of the end of August. The crisis in childcare is not about reopening, it’s about staying open.”

The group estimated that support of €130 million over six months to the end of this year is required.

SIPTU said that the scheme failed to address the major issues in the sector.

Head of organising Darragh O’Connor said that “for months, families have been struggling to balance work and look after children. The funding announced today should see vital childcare services reopen on the 29th June.

“However, even before Covid-19, the sector was in the middle of a low-pay and staffing crisis. A majority of educators [in childcare settings] earn below the [hourly] living wage of €12.30, resulting in an average staff turnover rate of 40 per cent in full day services”.

SIPTU said under the scheme workers would be guaranteed up to 85 per cent of their “already low wages”.

“This vital service cannot be delivered on poverty pay and conditions.”

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said the measures represented a “major disappointment”.

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