No welfare cuts planned for funding free pre-school year, says Quinn
Extending scheme would benefit up to 65,000 children each year
Barnardo’s chief executive Fergus Finlay said: “We have anxieties over the way the first year of the scheme is being rolled out. It needs a curriculum, well- trained staff and proper management if it’s going to deliver better outcomes for children and families.”
No formal welfare cuts have been proposed in relation to paying for an extra year of free pre-school for children, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn insisted yesterday.
He was speaking after he and other Government Ministers put their weight behind extending the universal pre-school scheme, which benefits 65,000 children.
Mr Quinn’s suggestion that child benefit savings could pay for the move has sparked fresh controversy over long-standing plans to reform child welfare supports.
“First of all, it is a debate,” he said. “There are no decisions or proposals on the table. We spend €2 billion in any year on child benefit and I raised the question, would it benefit children better if they got a second year of free pre-school? . . .
“The benefits of a second year for young kids, particularly those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds or families that are not as clued-in to supports for education,” he added, “those benefits live with the child for the rest of their life.”
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said she welcomed the increased focus. “The current climate of fiscal constraint should not deter us from having this important debate given the increasing body of evidence highlighting the economic and societal returns on investments in early intervention.”
Children’s charity Barnardos said while it “passionately supported” pre-school services, it warned that a much greater focus was needed on developing quality services before expanding the scheme.
Chief executive Fergus Finlay said: “We have anxieties over the way the first year of the scheme is being rolled out. It needs a curriculum, well- trained staff and proper management if it’s going to deliver better outcomes for children and families.”
He also criticised groups and politicians who were solely focusing on how to pay for a second year of free pre-school rather than looking at longer-term returns of investing in the area.
Start Strong, an advocacy group for early years childcare, also said the focus of any plan must be on improving standards. It said current evidence suggested that standards were variable, with many failing to meet even minimum standards.