I asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to address the difficulties for community child care in view of the fact that community employment workers are no longer considered eligible in the ratio of staff to children and there are implications regarding closures of some services and reduction in hours in areas of disadvantage in which these services are vital.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to address the difficulties for community child care in view of the fact that community employment workers are no longer considered eligible in the ratio of staff to children and there are implications regarding closures of some services and reduction in hours in areas of disadvantage in which these services are vital. [17856/17]
Deputy Katherine Zappone: Community child care facilities are important partners in the delivery of affordable, accessible and high-quality child care. The majority of community child care services are operating well and have been able to manage issues they face within the structures available, including by availing of support from county and city child care committees, Pobal and my Department. Nevertheless, I have implemented a number of substantial measures in the past year to assist these services.
Most recently, I announced a substantial increase and expansion of the community child care subvention programme from September 2017, which will provide significant additional funding to families and services. In addition, strand 2 of the 2017 early years capital programme, which closed for application on Friday, 5 May, made €500,000 available in grants of up to €20,000 to community services which are seeking to make building improvements or undertake maintenance or refurbishment. These applications are being assessed and I anticipate recommendations on funding in the coming weeks. I have also taken steps to provide payment to community services for non-contact time for the first time. This will be available during the summer. A total of €14.5 million is available across community and private services.
The Deputies will be aware of the challenges faced by a small number of community services which have been facilitating the training of community employment participants. Deputy Eugene Murphy raised this issue in an earlier question. I made €1 million in funding available to services that identified as having difficulties in this regard. The funding will ensure regulatory changes do not hinder service delivery or the availability of child care places. I will also consider how this funding can best be deployed in 2018 to address the most urgent challenges facing child care services.
In the longer term, the independent review of the cost of quality child care will also assist in addressing these issues. My priority is to ensure we provide access to high quality and affordable child care.
I appreciate the Deputy’s figures and would be happy to show them to my Department so that they can be fed into our analysis. The Department, Pobal and county and city child care committees are working intensely with these community services and engaging directly with any that is impacted negatively by the change in ratios. Moneys are being made available in 2017 to ensure the sustainability of services. We will consider how to continue doing so for 2018. In addition, it is anticipated that significant income streams for those services and others will increase thanks to the increase in money for the targeted child care scheme, which will begin this year.
We have asked every service that believes it has to close because of the change in ratios as regards community employment workers to engage with us directly. We are hiring financial analysts to work with these services, examine their costs and business models and find individual ways to prevent them from having to close.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: There is a disconnect between the figures cited by the Minister and the reality on the ground for community child care, certainly in my constituency. In the audio-visual, AV, room yesterday afternoon, I chaired a meeting with some providers from Cork, Dublin Central and Ronanstown as well as a group that provided community care in a number of other areas in Dublin. They all said the same thing, that being, they were dealing with children with acute special needs who came from dysfunctional families, children from new communities who did not have English as their first language and children from families with addiction issues.
No one disagrees with the need for high-quality training, but the issue with the community employment changes is that providers do not have the staff to continue some of their services. What is being cut the most are their baby hours. We know the importance of early intervention. Could there be a grandfather clause in respect of community employment workers until they have received training and can be kept on and is there a need to consider a DEIS-type status for community child care providers that work with the most vulnerable marginalised communities?
Deputy Katherine Zappone: I want to be perfectly clear. I understand what the Deputies are saying and I understand the concerns and realities facing community child care. I have been identifying a number of actions, which the Department and county and city child care committees have taken. They are engaging. These actions are not enough, though, and we are considering additional actions. I have identified some. I understand what the issues are and have engaged on them.
Deputy Rabbitte stated that many services are about to close, but my understanding from my Department, which has been engaging with various services, is that many of them are doing okay. This is based on my evidence. If the Deputies know of services that they want the Department to start engaging with, they should please let me know.
I have direct engagement with many groups in Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan’s constituency. Last week, they suggested the notion of a DEIS model for early years education and care. It is an innovative idea and we are discussing it, but it is more of a medium-term solution. I understand from where it is coming. From my Department’s perspective, our money for child care is for child care. In disadvantaged communities, additional and special needs are being met by these community facilities without being given resources by the Department that gives money for child care. They are to be commended on that. This provides us with the data on which new models can be developed.
If the Deputies are aware of crèches or community services that are not being engaged with regarding their sustainability issues, let me know.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: We must accept that we are not discussing a level playing field and that there are areas of greater need. Two of those who spoke at yesterday’s meeting – one is from my constituency – discussed the anti-social behaviour and criminality that these young children see every day.
In fact, there was a murder outside a particular creche some months ago – that is the reality.
The staff are working very hard. They made the point yesterday that there is so much research already, both domestic and international, that everybody knows what has to be done. However, with the funding issue, some stated they are being asked to come up with a sustainability plan but the only plan they can come up with is to cut services in order to be able to keep some part of their service going. It is important that four members of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs were present yesterday. It would be important that these people come before the committee and that something is prepared for the Minister as soon as possible.
Deputy Katherine Zappone: First, it is good to hear all of these passionate arguments in respect of the issues under discussion. That helps me in my job in regard to this issue, so I thank Deputies for that. Second, if I heard Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan correctly, she suggested that the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs may take this up as an issue and bring some suggestions or recommendations to me. I think that is a great suggestion and it would again provide some assistance.
I have outlined the actions that are currently being taken. I hear from the Deputies’ perspective that this is not sufficient, which I acknowledge. I would also like to see more done and I accept that it is difficult to wait for the money. My understanding is that they are working as quickly as possible in terms of getting that drawn down. I will give the Deputies a commitment to find out exactly when that is, just to be precise about that. That is all I will say for now. Some actions have been taken, although they are not sufficient from the Deputies’ perspective. Perhaps some more analysis needs to be done and, clearly, more resources are needed, which I accept.
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