Saturday 3 December 2016

New subsidy for casual childminders is part of a wider Government push for state-sponsored care of families

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Of course, granny (or any other minder) can benefit from the new childcare subsidy in principle. But that is only if she wishes to make herself known to Tusla, and earn up to €15,000 per annum by minding up to three children in her own home. Stock Image: GETTY
Of course, granny (or any other minder) can benefit from the new childcare subsidy in principle. But that is only if she wishes to make herself known to Tusla, and earn up to €15,000 per annum by minding up to three children in her own home. Stock Image: GETTY

Last year the dads became hands-on with the introduction of paid paternity leave. This year they'll have to put their kids in crèche to avail of the new subsidies in the Budget.

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Just 27pc of children are minded in such formal facilities however, with a further 31pc looked after by childminders (both the properly registered and 'friend of a friend' kind).

The package announced in Budget 2017 means that only families who avail of Tusla-registered childcare can benefit.

This omits the 42pc of families who prefer granny, or other family members, minding their kids.

It ignores the many parents who believe having their children minded by someone they already know and love within their family circle, is best. They get nothing.

Neither does the stay-at-home mum or dad who believes their own direct care is best for baby. They will remain discriminated against for the purpose of this subsidy.

That's despite the fact that they took the hard and expensive decision to give up work in order for one of them to stay at home full time and bring up our future taxpayers themselves.

It seems to be a concerted movement toward State-sponsored institutional care for children - not unlike the push toward getting our elderly into nursing homes - instead of being minded at home, with proper home care supports in place.

Of course, granny (or any other minder) can benefit from the new childcare subsidy in principle. But that is only if she wishes to make herself known to Tusla, and earn up to €15,000 per annum by minding up to three children in her own home. This was the measure introduced some years ago to get childminding out from under the parapet.

But it flunked, and despite the generous relief available, it was seen by many minders as too much regulation, form filling and oversight.

Mums and dads, it seems, continue to be happy to be complicit in these under-the-counter arrangements, even if it means leaving their kids with an unregistered, possibly even uninsured and non-garda vetted, neighbour or friend.

Word of mouth goes a long way, and for many parents, especially those working part-time, what they really needed in this Budget was help with the after-school care. They have to get to work in the morning and pay someone to collect, mind, feed and do homework with their youngsters. That didn't happen.

Their situation won't have been helped by this Budget except for those parents who now decide that they'd prefer to avail of more formal care and if they do so in large numbers, it will put huge pressure on places in crèches.

It also means that the hundreds (or thousands, who knows?) of women (and it is overwhelmingly women) minding other people's children on a casual basis, will either have to step up to the plate and undergo the tiresome but worthy registration process - including liaising with the local childcare committee of the council and paying PRSI on earnings.

Or they could continue as they are, not telling anyone and collecting the cash without declaring it at the end of the week.

So what seems like a great idea - and it was welcomed by groups including the National Women's Council of Ireland - is in fact the cheapest possible option.

However, Michael Noonan was in a bit of a bind. If he had gone down the traditional route of giving tax relief to working parents paying exorbitant crèche fees - and they can be the equivalent of a second mortgage to many families - then it would simply have served to hike childcare costs. Crèches and childminders would be tempted to bring their charges back to 'par'.

This way - paying a direct subvention, as is done with the Early Childhood Care and Education allowance - could mean a fee reduction.

Other welcome measures for children included the extension of the medical card to all children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance.

This is generally paid to families who have children under 16 with special needs, and they will certainly welcome the move.

The parents of all the other under 12s will not - since the Government was unable to agree a deal with GPs to offer the promised free visits for all of them in time for the Budget; or indeed, any time soon.

There was extra money given in the Budget for top-line policy issues such as child protection, social workers and special care facilities for young people, along with extra support to Tusla to move along on-hold legislation and research in the areas of adoption and the Children First strategy.

The Irish Youth Justice service gets an extra €1m to help fund Oberstown Children's Detention Centre along with €3m in capital funding. The ECCE year, which has been immensely popular with parents, gets an additional €86m in funding.

All in all, the Budget was family friendly . . . ish.

Irish Independent

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