Thursday 26 April 2018

All children to get two years' free preschool as creches enjoy rate rise

Preschool

Katherine Zappone
Katherine Zappone
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

All children will be entitled to two years' preschool from next September, with creches and early years providers receiving a 7pc increase in their capitation rates towards their costs.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said that the measure builds on last year's development, which extended the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme from 38 weeks, to an average of 61 weeks for children, depending on their dates of birth and age starting school.

"But now we are increasing this entitlement to 76 weeks, which is a significant achievement, which will benefit thousands of children," said the minister.

"One of the things I wanted to do was a measure that would really support the childcare provider in terms of attracting and retaining staff," she said.

Bernie McNulty, Assistant Secretary General with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, said that it was believed that the capacity is there within the system to deal with the new measure - it is believed that around 20,000 toddlers will get almost four extra months in free preschool.

"We looked at the numbers in detail with the Central Statistics Office and the Department of Education. So we are satisfied there is capacity In the system and we will continue to monitor that just as we did last year," said Ms McNulty.

The standard capitation for providers which was €64.50 per child per week is being increased next year to €69. A higher capitation level, where the staff have higher qualifications will increase from €75 to €80.25.

Figures show that there will be 114,000 children in the scheme at any one time in September 2018.

All children aged from two years and eight months are entitled to avail of the ECCE scheme.

Ms Zappone announced extra funding overall of €73m for children, youth servcies and families.

"The independent review of childcare costs is already under way. It will start delivering recommendations in the spring, and that will inform our approach and our policies," she said.

She was speaking a press conference outlining how the €1.38bn allocated for her Department will be spent.

Meanwhile, the Children's Rights Alliance, said there were "a number of areas where children have not benefited enough".

Chief Executive Tanya Ward however said that the body welcomed the announcement of an extension of eligibility for the extended free preschool year.

"This means that all children will receive a full two years of pre-school benefiting up to 20,000 children. Right now, some children who have not yet turned three by September cannot start the scheme until January or April of the following year."

Seas Suas, the representative body for independent early education and childcare providers, said it welcomed the decision to invest an additional €20m in early education and childcare services, but expressed disappointment that the Budget has failed to set out a long-term investment plan.

Childcare at a glance

  • All children will be entitled to a full two years of the ECCE scheme or “free preschool” as it has become known.
  • This closes a loophole that had prevented some children who had not turned three by September from accessing the scheme until January or April of the following year. The scheme is open to children from the age of two years and eight months, and the measure will expand the service to 76 weeks for all qualifying children.
  • There will be continued investment in the childcare affordability measures that came into effect last month. This saw the introduction of a universal, non-means tested subsidy of up to €1,040 per year for children up to the start of the ECCE scheme.
  • Figures released yesterday showed that the affordiablity measures have already in the first six weeks of the schemes opening, benefitted some 45,000 children.  A total of 24,000 of these are registered so far for the universal under-3 scheme. Separately, 21,000 have registered for the targeted schemes.
  • Additional funding annoounced yesterday will see the door remaining open for further children and families to register and benefit from these subsidies throughout 2018.

Irish Independent

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