Wednesday, 24 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
82. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children his role in the provision of pre-school and child-minding services; his budget in 2000 for this purpose; the extent of responsibility which he is taking for the provision of these services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14581/00]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Ms Hanafin): My role in this area relates to the implementation of the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996, which give effect to the provisions of Part VII of the Child Care Act, 1991. The regulations provide for notification to and inspection by health boards of pre-school services. The regulations apply to pre-schools, playgroups, day nurseries, cre±ches, child minders looking after more than three children and other similar services which cater for children under six years of age.
The purpose of the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations, 1996, is to build on the existing good standards in our pre-school services and gradually improve standards throughout the sector to secure the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children and to promote the development of children attending pre-school services.
Health boards provide financial supports to certain pre-school services which cater for children who are regarded as being at-risk or disadvantaged. This function is in keeping with the boards' overall responsibilities under the Child Care Act, 1991, in regard to the promotion of the  welfare of children and the provision of family support services. Funding of approximately £3.9 million, capital and revenue, was provided by the health boards towards these services in 1999 and approximately 8,000 places were funded. An additional £1.75 million is being provided in 2000 for this purpose.
The Deputy will be aware that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was allocated £250 million to develop child care provision over the next seven years under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. This funding will facilitate the childcare measures which were announced in budget 2000. The main objective of the new measures is to increase the number of childcare facilities and child care places and also to improve the quality of services available.
The implementation of the child care measures is being facilitated by the establishment of an interdepartmental policy committee on child care, a national co-ordinating child care committee and county child care committees. My Department is participating on the interdepartmental policy committee on child care and on the national co-ordinating child care committee. The health boards are participating on the national co-ordinating child care committee and the county child care committees will be led by the relevant health boards. These committees will liaise locally and nationally on child care.
An additional £1.4 million has been made available to my Department this year to strengthen both the pre-school advisory and the inspection role of the health boards. This will facilitate health boards with the planned increase in the number of child care places.
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