Adjournment Debate - Child Care Services.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 602 No. 5

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Mr. M. Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  I am delighted to be able to raise this issue. Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond is a voluntary group that applied for community based capital funding to put in place this community based project in Ballydesmond, a small village on the Cork-Kerry border servicing the community on both sides of the border. It applied for staffing funding, which was made available. I congratulate the people behind the directors and the board of Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond for the excellent work they do. Their voluntary work and commitment has ensured this facility has been built and is up and running. I spoke to them on a number of occasions about the paperwork they must complete to comply with health board and Area Development Management Limited regulations. They do excellent work on behalf of the Tír na nÓg project in Ballydesmond. Capital funding was allocated a few years ago, the building is in place and it is up and running.

An initial staffing grant was given over a three-year period to ensure the viability of the project. It does not meet budgetary demands to maintain services. The Department, the county child care committee and ADM need to examine seriously the staffing grants made available to these community-based child care projects.

This is not just about Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond but all other community-based child care projects that have been funded for building and staffing. The initial idea was that they would be viable after three years but the Department must examine this and increase and maintain funding. I know funding has been put in place until 2007 but many of these projects are [1356]concerned about their future. Projects that have been up and running for some time are losing valuable trained staff because they are concerned about their future in community-based child care projects. The groups want to ensure they keep their expertly trained staff.

I want the Minister of State to outline to the House on behalf of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform what is the view of the Department on continued financial support for the staffing of Tír na nÓg in Ballydesmond in County Cork to ensure this project is viable in the future. Many agencies such as the child care county committees and ADM are dealing with child care projects and there are many layers of bureaucracy. We need the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure the financial support for staffing in Tír na nÓg is continued.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan): Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  I thank Deputy Moynihan for raising this issue. As he knows my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has responsibility for this area but could not join us this evening and has asked me to update the Deputy on the issue of child care.

The programme for Government and the progress of the equal opportunities child care programme are confirmation of the Government’s commitment to developing child care services to support the child care needs of the parents of Ireland with a particular emphasis on those who may be in employment or education or training to prepare for employment. The equal opportunities child care programme has an equal opportunities and a social inclusion perspective and aims to increase the supply of centre-based child care places by 55% or 31,000 additional places by the end of the programme. Current forecasts of impact suggest that it will ultimately create at least 36,000 places, more than 24,600 of which have been achieved.

The first meeting of the expert working group on child care established under Partnership 2000 was held within a month of the Government changeover in 1997 and all the evidence shows that child care has been high on our agenda since that time. The Government has consistently moved promptly, purposefully and proactively to facilitate the development of a top quality child care service throughout the country to support parents, the economy and social inclusion through labour market participation.

Since this Government came into office for the second time, it has further increased the funding provision for the development of child care by more than €60 million. This includes part of the additional capital provision of €90 million made available by the Minister for Finance in the 2005 budget over the period 2005 to 2009 to develop child care infrastructure and brings the allocation for the present programme to €449 million.

On the project in question, in December 2002, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform approved €1 million in capital grant [1357]assistance to this community-based not-for-profit group at Ballydesmond, County Cork, to construct and equip a new purpose-built full-day child care facility for children ranging in ages from three months to 15 years. This excellent service offers child care with 57 full time and 20 part time places.

This service in Ballydesmond is one of many child care services throughout Cork city and county which have benefited from grant assistance under the equal opportunities child care programme. To date, the Minister has approved funding of more than €33 million for child care services in Cork city and county which supports the creation of 3,500 new child care places across the county of Cork.

Since the 2005 budget was announced in December 2004, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has announced a record allocation of €67 million in capital funding for community-based not-for-profit groups, in two tranches, one in December 2004 and another on 4 March 2005. The availability of the additional capital funding enables the Minister to make further capital grant assistance available to groups which address significant child care service gaps and where the project proposal represents good value for money.

The Deputy may be aware that the Minister also approved €235,000 over three years to this group as a contribution towards the staffing costs of the project. This phase of funding for the Ballydesmond group will support it until the end of June 2006 and the Minister has already advised the House that following a detailed review of the staffing grants under the equal opportunities child care programme, he has recently extended the terms of staffing grants to qualifying groups to the end of December 2007.

The extension of staffing funding is conditional upon the services continuing to meet the objectives of the equal opportunities child care programme and the service targets set down within their contracts. Staffing grant assistance provided under the equal opportunities child care programme is intended to enable those services which benefit from such support to implement a differential fee structure which would make child care available at reduced cost for the less advantaged members of the client community. Many child care services, particularly in very disadvantaged areas, are likely to offer services to a client group that is unable to meet the economic fee structure and these services will therefore require ongoing staffing grant support to ensure that they can continue to support the child care needs of their disadvantaged client group. This is particularly important in assisting families to break the cycle of disadvantage.

More than 775 community-based not-for-profit projects, such as the one in Ballydesmond, receive ongoing staffing grant assistance and more than €30 million of EU and Exchequer funding goes towards this measure each year. It is only fair to emphasise that the equal opportunities child care programme has been central to the recent development of child care in Ireland [1358]which will continue to flourish under the careful stewardship of this Government.

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