Speech - Mr Brendan Smith , T.D., Minister for Children on the Official Launch of Barnardos publication A Parent’s Guide to Pre-School Regulations
Thursday 27 September 2007
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentleman
I am very pleased to be here with you today for the official launch of this very timely publication A Parent’s Guide to Pre-School Regulations. I would like to thank Mr Fergus Finlay, Chief Executive of Barnardos for his kind invitation.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend Barnardos on the excellent support and information network which they have already established throughout the country, through their on-going liaison with relevant stakeholders including childcare services, City/County Childcare Committees other National Voluntary Childcare Organisations, local Partnerships, the Health Service Executive and other statutory agencies.
I would like also to acknowledge and congratulate your organisation for its many years of dedicated and fruitful work in the field of caring for children, especially the most vulnerable, both in terms of advocacy and in terms of direct interventions through the many services you deliver. There is no doubt that the lives of many families and children have been improved through your vision, hard work and determination. By focusing on vulnerable families and children whose well being is under threat you have provided the opportunity for many of those children to reach their true potential. This is a major achievement on your part and something of which you should be very proud. Barnardos’ vision of “making Ireland the best place in the world to be a child” is one which we all aspire to.
I know that Barnardos supported the establishment of the office of the Minister for Children and I am pleased that I have been given the opportunity as Minister to represent young people’s interests at the Cabinet table. I am honoured to have the opportunity to develop and deliver policies and programmes which will help to ensure the well-being of our children.
Before talking about this publication, I would like to talk to you briefly about the background to the revised Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006 which, as you all know, came into effect on Monday 3rd September. I understand that you will be receiving a presentation later this evening from the Pre-School Inspection team regarding the impact on the new regulations for providers.
Pre School Regulations were introduced initially in 1996, to implement the requirements of the Child Care Act 1991. The various pre-school services were brought into a regulatory system and required to comply with certain standards. A review process of the regulations began in 2001. The implementation of these new Regulations is a key component in the overall implementation of the related commitments contained in ‘Towards 2016 – Ten Year Framework Social Partnership Agreement 2006-2015’. As well as the publication of the new Regulations these commitments include the training of pre-school staff to ensure uniformity of inspection across the HSE, the establishment of improved administrative systems to facilitate a national standardised inspection service and ensuring that standardised inspection reports are publicly available.
The revised Regulations were drawn up by a Review Group led by the Department of Health and Children and included representatives of other relevant Government Departments, the Health Service Executive, the National Voluntary Childcare organisations and the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education. A wider consultative process was also undertaken and informed the Review.
The changes contained in these Regulations will, I believe, be beneficial to both the children using the childcare services and the providers of those services. For example the provision regarding Child Development, which will require the service provider to ensure that each child’s learning, development and well being is facilitated within the daily life of the service, is to be welcomed.
Included in the new Regulations is a requirement that all staff, students and volunteers in the service will be appropriately vetted. New procedures are in place to facilitate this; three childcare organisations, one of which is Barnardos, have been designated as the appropriate bodies through which childcare services can apply for Garda Vetting for their staff. Garda vetting, is of course only one aspect of appropriate vetting – references from previous employers carefully validated by prospective employers are also an essential safeguard in this process.
These new Regulations are accompanied by an enhanced Explanatory Guide which assists in interpreting the regulations and offers guidance and good practice in relation to areas covered by the Regulations. Both of the documents are available to download from the OMC website.
The publication being launched here today complements the work of the OMC and the HSE and is presented in a very accessible format. It outlines clearly the aims of the Regulations and the role of the various agencies in their implementation. Concise information on the specific areas covered by the Regulations is also provided in a way that is easily read and understood by the reader. This publication will be a valuable source in providing information to parents and will be major benefit to them when evaluating the available options for childcare.
One of the main objectives of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme and the National Childcare Investment Programme is to improve the quality of childcare in Ireland. It is recognised generally that quality play experience is and important element of a quality childcare programme. Barnardos recognises the importance of good play opportunities in the provision of quality childcare and I am pleased to see that this publication makes suggestions to practitioners on how to best use play opportunities to enhance the child’s learning environment.
The section headed ‘How to Identify Quality Childcare’ and the checklists provided in this publication are useful tools which will enable parents seeking childcare to make an informed assessment of the quality of the service being offered to them.
I would like to congratulate Marie Willoughby who compiled the publication and all those in Barnados involved in its production,
I would like to say that organisations such as Barnardos are invaluable in providing information and are very much appreciated both by the Government and, I’m sure, by parents and providers also.
This brings me to the implementation of the new National Childcare Investment Programme (NCIP) 2006 – 2010. The new Programme became effective in January 2006 and is continuing to build on the successes of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP). Unlike the EOCP it is entirely Exchequer funded and the Government has committed €575 million to the Programme over the next 5 years.
We have set ourselves ambitious targets under this Programme including the creation of 50,000 additional childcare places, including 5,000 after school places and 10,000 pre-school places aimed at 3 to 4 year olds; improving the quality of early childhood care and education services including part-time, full day care, school age childcare and childminding; supporting families and breaking the cycle of disadvantage; and supporting a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of childcare which is centred on the needs of the child.
The Government is fully committed to ensuring that we meet all the targets and objectives set, in a way which takes account of the needs for pre-school childcare, school age childcare and for wrap around services that meet the specific needs of parents and their children.
The Childcare Programmes have a combined budget of over €1 billion, and are projected to create over 90,000 childcare places, with over 35,000 of the new places already in place. These places are provided either through community based/not for profit childcare groups or by private providers. Of the total funding committed in the period from the start of the EOCP to end May 2007, over €440 million has been allocated to childcare facilities and some €80 million to Quality Improvement.
A New Childcare Subvention Scheme 2008-2010 under the NCIP has also been recently announced. The Scheme will operate from January 2008 and community childcare services will receive subsidies to enable them to provide reduced childcare fees to parents who are in receipt of social security and social assistance payments or are engaged in education, training or work experience programmes whereby an underlying entitlement to such a payment is established.
This supports a key objective of the NCIP to support families to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage by targeting resources where they are needed most. The new Scheme will improve our capacity to target resources to services with high numbers of disadvantaged parents. It also carries forward commitments agreed in the new Programme for Government.
Funding amounting to €153 million is being allocated to the new scheme over the next 3 years, an increase in 2008 of 16% over the 2007 funding allocation for the Staffing Grants scheme under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme. In addition, transitional arrangements have been put in place to facilitate existing EOCP grant recipients to adjust their fee structures during 2008. I will also be ensuring that the operation of the new scheme is monitored closely to ensure the best outcomes for childcare services targeting disadvantaged parents and their children.
To facilitate a smooth transition to the new scheme a series of regional information seminars for existing staffing grant beneficiaries has commenced. Full details of the new Scheme and the streamlined procedures for applications from existing staffing grant beneficiaries will be outlined at these seminars.
A National Childcare Training Strategy is currently being developed in order to co-ordinate the provision of quality training to meet the growing needs of the childcare sector and to deliver on the targets set for additional childcare places under the NCIP.
A target of 17,000 childcare training places has been set under the National Childcare Training Strategy 2006 – 2010 and the Department of Education and Science, through my Office, is in the process of developing this Strategy. An inter-Departmental Advisory Group has been established and will be supported by a number of representative sub-groups from across the sector. It is expected that this Group will report its findings later this year.
Finally, I would like to return to the matter at hand. The publication which I am now launching is a further example of the commitment of Barnardos to supporting the development of quality childcare in this country and I would like again to thank all those who contributed to its production. I am sure it will prove to a major benefit to parents and childcare providers in the future.
I thank you all for your kind attention.