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Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Update on Affordable Childcare

Opening remarks by Dr Katherine Zappone TD

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

 

12th July 2017
 
I am very pleased to meet with the Committee this morning to provide an update on the measures, which are being put in place to make childcare more affordable for families from September and to outline the progress that has been made since we last met on 8 February in developing the Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS).

In particular, I would like to update you on some of the issues raised by the Committee in Pre-Legislative Scrutiny.

Update on measures to make childcare more affordable
On 11 April, I announced a range of measures, which will make childcare more affordable for families from September.

Deputies will be aware that these measures include:

§    universal subsidies, of up to €1,040 per annum per child, which will be available for all children aged between 6 and 36 months; and

§    targeted subsidies, of up to €7,500 per annum per child, which will be delivered to those families who need it most.

It is these targeted subsidies that will open up jobs, training and education for parents who want to lift their families out of poverty.
As a result of these measures, up to 70,000 children will benefit from extra childcare support this September – this will be an important moment.

This is the first big practical step to changing one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world into one of the best.

By addressing the affordability issue we will ease the burden on many parents for whom childcare costs have become a second rent or mortgage.

This first big step to changing Irish childcare forever is now just eight weeks away.

To ensure uptake by families and by childcare providers, a public information campaign has been underway since mid-May:
§    Information packs were sent to all 4,400 registered childcare providers;
§    Information events, attended by more than 1,000 childcare providers, were held at eight locations throughout the country;
§    A dedicated website was launched (www.affordablechildcare.ie) receiving over 170,000 page views to date;
§    A digital campaign on social media and on websites popular with parents has been shared tens of thousands of times; and
§    A national and local radio advertising campaign took place in June.

I also secured a budget of €3.5m to support childcare providers who sign up to the schemes and, in particular, to recognise their non-contact time responsibilities.

The value of this payment will be equivalent to 7 days of the total value of registrations under CCS and TEC schemes. This is in addition to the €14.5m non-contact payment secured in Budget 2017.

Contracting with childcare providers is now underway and registrations of children for these subsidies will go live from 21 August.

Update on Affordable Childcare Scheme
Significant progress continues to be made on the development of the ACS. A Project Board, chaired by my Department, meets every three weeks to oversee this development.

Legislation
Work on the drafting of legislation is currently in progress. Legal advice has been sought on a number of issues and several policy issues – including issues raised by the Committee at Pre-Legislative Scrutiny – have received further consideration.

For example, we are re-examining how the ACS budget cap can be implemented and are in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This follows legal advice on the issue.

We are also engaging with Tusla to reach agreement on the threshold that will be applied to Tusla referrals to ACS.

We have given much consideration to the range of issues raised by the Committee on the Income Assessment Model, such as the treatment of Family Income Supplement (FIS), rental income and housing costs.

We have also sought the views of officials with significant experience of means-testing (i.e. from Departments of Education and Skills and Social Protection, Health Services Executive) who have reviewed the Income Assessment Model.

I can assure the Committee that I will continue to give these matters careful consideration and I will revert to the Committee with our conclusions. At the request of my Department, the Department of Social Protection is currently carrying out analysis of potential disincentive effects created by the interaction of ACS and FIS, and will make recommendations to my Department shortly on whether FIS should be made deductible from the ACS income-assessment.

We will await the advice of the Department of Social Protection before making any decision on the issue.

The Committee also asked that I prioritise review of eligibility conditions for childminders, provided minimum standards are met.

Just as with centre-based care, quality assurance of childminders must be an absolute prerequisite for participation in the ACS. My Department has commenced talks with Childminding Ireland in recent months to explore a number of options around how quality can be assured within the childminding sector.

If sufficient alternative standards are not in place, it will remain the case that only Tusla-registered childminders will be able to participate in the ACS. 

It is anticipated that a draft Bill will be brought to Government by end Quarter 3, with a view to enactment in the Autumn.

ICT Approval Process
The Architectural Design for the ICT Platform to support the ACS has been completed.  A request to commence development of this infrastructure to support the ACS was recently approved by the Office of the Government Chief Information Office (OGCIO).

This represents a first milestone in the technical development of the ICT system. The development of this infrastructure will commence in early August.

The main development of the ACS project is subject to the OGCIO peer review process. The peer review group, which was established in early May 2017, are currently reviewing the ACS Business Case.

The next stage of this process is the presentation of the ‘Request for Tender (RFT)’ for the procurement of the ICT Development. To inform the RFT, the Business Requirements for the ACS have already been agreed as has the procurement approach.

Work is now underway to finalise the Functional Requirements Specification. It is anticipated to the RFT will be presented to the peer review group by end Quarter 3.


Other preparatory work
Other preparatory work underway includes the development of an ACS communications strategy; the development of a governance and compliance framework; the development of standard operating procedures; and the development of a data protection strategy.

A recently completed Privacy Impact Assessment on the ACS will be a key input to this strategy. My officials have also held a constructive meeting with the Deputy Data Protection Commissioner to advance this work.

Data sharing arrangements with the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection have also been finalised and plans for data hosting are being agreed with the Department of Social Protection.

Launch Planning 
Major consideration is also being given for the phase when the ACS is developed and tested and ready for launch. It is important to note that the operational launch of the ACS will require a time period for applications to be submitted, and processed, before opening up to registrations with childcare providers and parents receiving their subsidies.

This is due to the fact that the launch is expected to bring in over 100,000 applications (some of which may be ineligible for an ACS subsidy) that require to be processed equitably before parents can begin to register their children with childcare providers.

While it is hoped a large proportion of applications will go through the automated system, some will require some level of case management due to family circumstances, and quality assurance.

Planning for the launch of the ACS is underway and initial indications suggest that a period of 12-16 weeks will be required for the application period before registrations can begin (and subsidies provided). Once the initial launch period is completed, applications will be processed on a ‘rolling basis’.

Timeline
With the above factors in mind, the Project Board has advised me that they are not in a position, at this point in time, to guarantee a timeline for delivery of the ACS. The RFT stage of the peer review process represents, to some extent, the biggest milestone with the ICT Development, and as such drives the beginning of the timeline for the full project delivery.

The Project Board will continue to meet every three weeks to progress the ACS development as efficiently and effectively as possible.

I will be very happy to answer questions, and I welcome colleagues from my Department who will join me in responding to specific queries.

Ends//

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