Launch of a publication "Supporting Employers Supporting Childcare" commissioned by the four Dublin County Childcare Committees - Minister for Children, Mr. Brian Lenihan, T.D.
City Hall - 31 October 2006, 11.00 a.m.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you very much for your warm welcome.
First of all, I would like to thank the Chairpersons and the Co-ordinators of the 4 Dublin City and County Childcare Committees for inviting me here today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to launch this new publication entitled “Supporting Employers Supporting Childcare”, which is aimed at helping employers understand what they can do, to assist their staff in finding appropriate childcare solutions, irrespective of their company size.
This report was commissioned by the four Dublin area Childcare Committees and funding of €29,000 was approved for the development of the project, under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP) 2000 – 2006 Collaborative Initiative "Partnerships for Quality Childcare". It always gives me great pleasure to see the benefits of Government funding at first hand and to learn of the positive impact it is having.
As childcare continues to be an issue of affordability and availability and whilst the Government is spending large sums of money on childcare, the 4 Dublin City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) recognised the need for more action by all the stakeholders including employers, to advance the provision of childcare facilities and support services. To date a total of almost €8 million has been allocated to the 4 Dublin Childcare Committees under the Childcare Programmes.
At the outset, I would like to congratulate the co-ordinators of the 4 Committees on their work:
- Ms. Nuala Nic Giobuin from Dublin City;
- Ms. Michelle Butler from Fingal;
- Ms. Julia Hackett from South Dublin; and
- Ms. Michelle Relihan from Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.
It is increasingly important for employers to examine how effectively they are managing their staff and how to devise working practices better suited to the work/life balance employees want, which will in turn improve staff retention in their organisations. I understand that, in an effort to encourage a better work-life balance, the 4 CCCs have been working together over a number of years, to create an environment in which employers can play a greater role in supporting their employees' childcare needs.
To assist in increasing the involvement of employers, this up-to-date Report outlining options available to employers was developed, following research conducted by means of report reviews, websites and interviews.
I have no doubt that this Report will help employers to understand how they can assist staff in finding appropriate childcare solutions. It outlines a wide range of measures which can be taken by employers, to support parents in meeting their childcare and work responsibilities.
Of course there are significant advantages to an employer who embraces childcare support measures. For example, the employer’s image and reputation is enhanced and the employer will be seen as “the employer of choice” by existing and prospective employees. This means that the employer then has a wider pool to draw from, for recruitment purposes.
Such employers will generally have the edge over other employers in attracting applicants and in retaining staff and will also find it easier to attract staff with specialist skills.
Employees in companies supportive of childcare responsibilities are likely to be more flexible, motivated, absent from work less and committed to the organisation. From the employee’s perspective, measures to help improve work/life balance can speed up the process of returning to work after maternity leave; and employees with childcare responsibilities can continue to work and at the same time be good parents.
This Report outlines a variety of options open to employers. The most feasible option is likely to be flexible work arrangements such as part time working, flexi-time, job sharing, teleworking, term time, career breaks and sabbaticals.
Provision of information is another feasible option for most employers and can include information on all aspects of maternity, from pregnancy through to finding suitable childminders. 33 City/County Childcare Committees were set up to develop childcare locally under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme and all employers can avail of information and advice, through establishing links with them. Information can also be made available through the intranet, publications, newsletters, notice boards and seminars.
The provision of childcare facilities by the employer is an other approach, although this is more likely to be relevant to larger organisations. Grant aid of up to €100,000 for one site and €500,000 for multiple sites, is available under the Government Childcare Programmes, as well as tax incentives, to encourage employers to get involved in the provision of childcare facilities.
When employers have agreed on the flexible work options they are making available to their employees, it is very important that they prepare a written policy statement so that employees know where they stand. The policy statement should spell out what is available, and to whom, as well as the procedures is to be followed.
I note that the Report also contains other very valuable information on employment legislation. Employers need to be aware of and follow the relevant legislation and procedures when they are implementing their work policies.
Some of the Case Studies presented in the Report should offer valuable information to other organisations as they develop their work/life balance policies and will also assist in the transfer of good practices across their organisations.
I would like to turn now to the Government Childcare Programmes. The new National Childcare Investment Programme 2006 – 2010 became effective in January 2006 and is building on the success of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP) 2000 - 2006. Unlike the EOCP, the new Programme is entirely Exchequer funded and the Government has committed €575 million to the Programme over the next 5 years.
Most of you will know that the Childcare Directorate Division of the Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform had been developing the supply of childcare places since 1997, under the EOCP. The EOCP was created to meet the childcare needs of parents in employment, education and training and was the key instrument for supporting the development of childcare throughout the country, until December 2005. The new Programme will adopt a more flexible approach and is not tied into the labour market as was the EOCP.
As Minister for Children, in addition to the new Childcare Investment Programmes, my responsibilities now span the issues of child welfare and protection, early year’s education, youth justice and the National Children’s Strategy 2000 – 2010. I believe the housing together of all of these issues in one vision of care, protection and provision for children, will empower me to make real change and progress on these vital issues.
Since the announcement of Budget 2006 in December 2005, responsibility for the EOCP has been transferred to my Office in the Department of Health & Children. The EOCP will run in parallel with the New Childcare Investment Programme 2006 – 2010, until all the EOCP commitments have been honoured.
In my capacity as Minister for Children, I now represent the interests of children and young people at the Cabinet table. I think you will agree that this clearly demonstrates the Government's commitment to childcare and gives an unprecedented opportunity to develop and deliver policies and programmes which will help to ensure the well being of our children.
The demand for childcare has changed over the past number of years, with the vast improvements in Ireland's economic infrastructure and the welcome increase in women's participation in the labour force. With the numbers of parents now availing of work, training and educational opportunities, the need for childcare services throughout this country is very evident. For a considerable length of time the demand to create new services to meet local needs has been very high throughout the country.
The new National Childcare Investment Programme aims to provide a proactive response to the development of quality childcare supports and services which are grounded in an understanding of local needs. It is building on the existing EOCP Programme and incorporates a number of key objectives 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. Meeting these targets will require careful planning and incremental development.
The new Childcare Strategy also includes an important provision for a new Training Strategy, for childcare workers and sets an ambitious target of an estimated 17,000 additional places for childcare training by the end of 2010. Childcare training is, I believe, one of the critical cross-cutting issues in terms of delivering the new National Childcare Investment Programme 2006 - 2010. To this end, increased funding for training is being allocated between now and 2010 to ensure an adequate supply of qualified childcare workers.
Work has already commenced on the development of this new Training Strategy. A strategic approach is being adopted by the Office of the Minister for Children to developing training and standards for childcare workers, with direct linkages to FÁS, the VECs, the National Voluntary Childcare Organisations, and the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education (CECDE). This will require careful planning and incremental development over the next 5 years as well as close co-operation between the training agencies and providers and direct linkages with the Department of Education and Science.
Another part of the childcare package announced in Budget 2006 which many of you will be aware of, is the new Early Childcare Supplement of €1,000 per annum for all children less than 6 years of age. The payment is a direct, non-taxable payment of €250 per quarter year, in respect of each eligible child and is intended to help parents with their childcare needs. The first payment was made in August, the second payment was made in October and will be followed by a further payment in December. Payments will be made quarterly thereafter.
Child Benefit was also increased in the Budget by €8.40 per month for each of the first two children, to €150 per month; and by €7.70 per month for the third and subsequent children, to €185 per month. Taken together, these two payments give a family with two children under the age of six a total of 5,600 euros per annum.
Another very significant step in the development of quality childcare is the new Child Care Regulations, which I would particularly like to draw your attention to. On 9 October last, I announced the new Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006, which will come into operation on 2nd January 2007. For your information they are available on the websites of the Office of the Minister for Children and the Department of Health and Children (www.omc.gov.ie and www.dohc.ie ).
These Regulations revoke the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 1996 and (Amendment) Regulations 1997. The implementation of the Regulations is a key element of the childcare commitments contained in “Towards 2016 – Ten Year Framework Social Partnership Agreement 2006-2015”. Other commitments in Towards 2016 include:
- training of pre-school staff to ensure uniformity of inspection across the HSE;
- establishing improved administrative systems to facilitate a national standardised inspection service; and
- ensuring that standardised inspection reports are publicly available.
In this context, a very important piece of work lead by the Health Service Executive is underway and that is the “Pre-School Standardisation Project 2006”. This project is aimed at "providing the public with access to information about their local pre-school services, by standardising how information is collected and how it is reported".
As the situation is at the present, complaints procedures, inspection tools and reporting mechanisms used by Pre-School Inspectors can vary considerably, due to the lack of a standard operational system for these inspections. Every pre-school service notified to the HSE should have an inspection carried out that is reported on in a standard way. I am informed that this project is at an advanced stage and is due to be completed by the end of 2006.
In another complimentary initiative to the Regulations, my Office will shortly publish a set of National Guidelines for Childminders, which have been developed by the National Childcare Coordinating Committee in conjunction with the OMC. These Guidelines will provide information to Childminders on how they may be affected by the revised Pre-School Regulations. In the case of Childminders outside the scope of the Regulations, the Guidelines will provide information and advice on the benefits of the voluntary notification system operated by the City and County Childcare Committees.
As you see from all of these measures, the Government is taking a serious and long-term approach to childcare based on the continued development of sound policies and substantial programmes of investment to ensure the future welfare of our children and to assist their parents in their daily lives. No one can doubt that the Government is giving Childcare the priority it deserves.
It now gives me great pleasure to officially launch this new publication entitled “Supporting Employers Supporting Childcare”, which, I am sure, will provide invaluable assistance for both employers and employees.
Thank you all for your attention.