Childcare changes will make Ireland a more equal country for generations to come
Thousands of three-year-olds across the country are beginning free childcare. Each morning they are joining other children for play, education and growth.
The estimated 18,000 toddlers who just become eligible are the second intake since the service was extended last September.
There are now an unprecedented 89,000 children in the free scheme - that is a major achievement.
The savings for families are significant and are €4,000 on average per child.
For too long our services have suffered from under-investment which has led to spiralling costs placing services beyond the reach of families in poverty and those at risk of poverty.
As Minister, I am determined to reverse this.
The first step came in Budget 2017 when a 35pc increase in funding was secured. It is allowing us to develop plans with ambitious targets and goals.
My officials are busy at work to ensure that starting in September we will have quality, accessible and affordable services.
Our first target will be to ensure that the cost barriers are lifted once and for all.
If you're the parent of a six-month-old, and if you're on a low income, you'll get financial support for your son or daughter's childcare.
Here's how it will work. You'll find a registered crèche, playgroup or childminder.
After making your choice you will then input your details on a special website. Following that you will be told how much the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will pay for your child's care. Also, how much you'll be asked to pay.
If your household's net income is under €47,500 a year, you'll get financial help. It'll vary according to how much money comes into your house.
We want to give every child the best chance.
Of course, some parents will choose to stay at home with their children and that's encouraged by measures from the Department of Social Protection.
But for parents who need quality childcare, this will be a breakthrough.
At present, as a country we only invest 0.5pc of our GDP into childcare, but the OECD average is 0.8pc. Even with the improvements this year we still fall significantly short.
This is why I will be telling my Government colleagues that we need more in Budget 2018 and in 2019 and beyond.
We have an opportunity now to bring about changes which will deliver for generations to come.
By changing childcare we are making Ireland a more equal place. A fairer place. A place of choice and opportunity.