Saturday 24 August 2019

Homeless children to be given 25 hours of free childcare a week in €8m plan

Youngsters aged under five will also receive free meals

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the scheme would help bring stability to the lives of young children affected by crisis. Photo: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the scheme would help bring stability to the lives of young children affected by crisis. Photo: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Chai Brady

Dublin homeless children under the age of five will receive 25 hours of free childcare per week and a free meal every day under a new Government plan.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone announced the €8.25m scheme yesterday.

Out of the 2,110 children experiencing homelessness, a total of 850 have been identified as eligible for the scheme.

Childcare facilities will be offered €110 a week for each child they accommodate.

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, said that while the roll-out of free childcare was progress it was "not a permanent solution".

He also expressed concern that the plan "excludes children who are homeless outside of Dublin".

"Just because there are fewer children experiencing homelessness outside of Dublin does not mean they suffer any less," he added.

Some charity groups also warned that the plan could put increasing pressure on childcare and education facilities.

Early Childhood Ireland said that €110 for the services "appears low", adding that a tiered system for age groups should be considered given that care for babies was more expensive than for older children.

CEO Teresa Heeney said: "On initial glance, the capitation level appears low at €110 for 25 hours weekly including meals daily.

"What we would expect with an age range from zero to five years old is a tiered approach for such a scheme, which must reflect the different cost of providing services across the age groups in line with the higher ratios of carer to child for babies, versus toddlers, versus four-year-olds."

There are also concerns over whether childcare facilities will be able to cater for the hundreds of new youngsters by next month.

Focus Ireland director of services Catherine Maher admitted that there was "absolutely" going to be more pressure on childcare facilities.

"I think there is going to be more demand on some of the services," she said.

However, Ms Maher said she thought most facilities "will be able to resolve it in some way" and praised the new plan.

The Stay-At-Home Parents Association was more critical and said it was "outrageous" to think formal childcare was a solution to homelessness.

The association said the real issue was the "lack of a safe homes and the severe economic stress that families are under".

The Children's Rights Alliance described the plan as a "stopgap solution" but commended Ms Zappone for her work.

"While this is a welcome stopgap, ultimately, the State must provide secure, affordable accommodation for children and families in their own communities," it said.

Ms Zappone came under fire from stay-at-home mothers after this year's Budget, which saw the introduction of large subsidies for childcare for low-income earners.

The minister said: "In addition to assisting parents, it is my hope that the steps we are taking will bring stability to the lives of the very youngest affected by the crisis.

"We will give them a place where they can play and learn in comfort and security - where they can form friendships and develop."

The scheme will be rolled out in January across Dublin which has 85pc of the homeless children in Ireland. It will subsequently be delivered nationwide.

One homeless mother, Claire, attended the launch in Government Buildings yesterday. She said anything that benefited parents and children living in emergency accommodation was "amazing".

Claire's own children are aged six and 12, which means they cannot benefit from the initiative.

Irish Independent

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