Saturday 22 October 2016

Zappone may relax criteria so more childminders can qualify for subsidy

Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30

Not for turning: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Not for turning: Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

The criteria for formally registering as a childminder may be lowered in order for them to qualify for the new State subsidy.

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Over 4,500 childcare facilities are currently registered with the child and family agency Tusla but just 125 of these are childminders.

Only families who used a registered childcare provider will be able to avail of the new subsidy announced by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone in the Budget.

However, the Irish Independent has learned that her officials may review the registration process in order to try get more childminders on board.

Currently a childminder who looks after as few as three children has to meet the same strict criteria as a commercial crèche or care centre.

A source said the rules set "a very high bar" for childminders and officials are now looking for a "middle ground".

Childminding Ireland, the national body for childminders, is to deliver a report to Ms Zappone in the second quarter of 2017 with recommendations.

They are to suggest ways of ensuring a quality service that can be supported with State money, while still allowing parents to use a childminder.

"We will act as quickly as we can," said a source, suggesting that changes to the scheme could see significantly larger numbers of childminders brought under its remit in 2018.

It has also emerged that legislation underpinning the new subsidy will force care centres to publish their prices.

Concern has been raised that the subsidy, worth up €8,000-a-year for some families, will result in service providers pushing up rates.

Along with being formally registered with Tusla, one of the requirements to qualify for the payment will be to make your prices openly available for parents.

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Sean O'Rourke' programme yesterday, Ms Zappone said she would extend the scheme in future budgets but her priority "clearly has been to support children in families who are living in poverty or at the risk of poverty".

She described the scheme, which has both a targeted and universal element, as "a radical new path" for childcare.

Asked about the issue of stay-at-home parents who won't gain any benefit from the scheme, she said there were other measures in the Budget to help them, including the addition of another €100 to the home carer tax credit, bringing it to €1,100 next year.

She also reiterated a commitment to move towards giving parents a full year of paid paternity leave after a child is born.

Among the other issues raised about the scheme is the lack of supply in some areas but the minister said her officials would work to ensure demand is met.

"I think at the moment there are a number of places available throughout the country.

"We are also committed to increasing capacity," she said.

Ms Zappone added: "I want as many childminders to participate in the new scheme as possible."

Irish Independent

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