Thursday, 7 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
A long-standing, successful community child care crèche has operated at the Mountview Family Resource Centre, Whitechapel, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15. The Government has said repeatedly child care is a priority and providing child care opportunities for low income families and parents is a critical part of the programme for Government. Nonetheless, this crèche, which has provided a valuable service for the past ten years, will close its doors at the end of June. We have listened to endless lectures from the Government about how child care facilities, particularly for low income or unemployed parents, are absolutely critical to allowing them to continue at work or to return to education and training.
I fear the threatened closure of this crèche will be the first of many, as funding cuts bite and confusion reigns about Government policy in this area. I am informed by the management committee that the changes put in place by the Government last July in funding and staffing such crèches has made the Mountview crèche financially unviable. I am advised by the committee that the changes in the funding structure and the new subvention scheme have greatly reduced the income of the crèche and, despite strenuous efforts, the committee has been unable to secure future funding for the crèche. It has exhausted every available avenue in its efforts to secure the future of the crèche, including engaging with the enterprise officer of the Blanchardstown area partnership, drawing up a new business plan, which resulted in a substantial increase in fees to endeavour to meet crèche costs, reducing unnecessary expenses for food from the account, reducing staff numbers by one in 2008 and exploring collaborations with other organisations to save the crèche.
I call on the Minister of State, who has specific responsibility for this area, to bring the parties together to see if a rescue of this important facility can be effected. In particular, the Minister for Finance announced the early childhood subsidy would be replaced by a new scheme providing for a new preschool year in early childhood care and education. If the details could be made available, perhaps the initiative could help to save the crèche or some of its activities and make the balance of its other activities viable. The Minister of State must bring all the parties involved in such community crèches, the county child care committees, the partnerships and sponsors and funders of such community facilities together, otherwise the closure of the Mountview centre will become the first of many.
It is ironic that the letter to parents advising the closure of the facility is on notepaper headed, “National Development Plan — Your Plan, Your Future”. All the funding was apparently provided for but now it is not. Lone parents and members of low income families who have taken up some work, in particular, will experience a double whammy. Their early childhood subsidy is being withdrawn by the Minister for Finance while, at the same time, crèche fees are increasing. The early start initiative, which the Labour Party introduced in Government in 1994, has never been expanded. It is the only full State scheme providing early childhood education. Billions of euro have been poured into various initiatives under the national development plans and into the decentralisation programme, yet money is being withdrawn from child care services.
I would like a serious response because while this crèche is important to the community in Mountview and the surrounding area, it will be the first of many closures the Government and the Minister of State’s Department will initiate.
Deputy Barry Andrews: I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006, EOCP, which was co-funded under the European Social Fund, ESF, targeted support was provided through the EOCP staffing support grant scheme. Community-based not-for-profit child care providers with a strong focus on disadvantage were awarded grant aid towards their staffing costs to allow them to operate reduced fees to disadvantaged parents. Funding under this scheme was originally awarded for a limited period during which services were expected to move towards sustainability. This funding was subsequently continued to the end of 2007, where it was considered necessary to enable services to remain accessible to disadvantaged parents. This continuation funding was subject to the condition that tiered fee structures were implemented by the services in question. However, in approximately half these services, it appears this was not the case.
Under the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010, the community child care subvention scheme continues to support community-based not-for-profit child care providers. Funding amounting to €158.2 million is expected to be allocated to the scheme between 2008 and 2010, a significant increase on the €37 million allocation in 2007 for the support scheme under the EOCP. While many services are in receipt of substantially increased levels of support funding under the CCSS, all services have been guaranteed funding of not less than 85% of the level of support they received under the EOCP in 2009, and not less than 75% in 2010.
Funding levels under the CCSS are calculated following the child care services making an annual return of parental declarations, which allows the level of disadvantage being catered for by the individual services to be established. The service in question has been notified by the child care directorate of my office that its funding level in 2009 totals €52,132, which consists of a subvention based on parental returns of €37,440 and a top up of €14,692, to bring the funding up to 85% of the annual funding level which previously pertained under the EOCP. The group had applied for capital funding of €720,000 under the NCIP to construct an extension to the facility and renovate and equip two existing rooms. It was notified recently that the programme’s 2009 capital allocation had been finalised and the capital commitments made under the NCIP is sufficient to fully utilise the programme’s funding in both 2009 and 2010 and that, therefore, that it was not possible to approve its grant application at this time.
I understand the group has notified Pobal, which administers the CCSS on behalf of the child care directorate, that the facility is due to close on Friday, 26 June 2009. A Fingal county child care committee development worker has spoken with the group and has informed Pobal that the main reason for the closure is the family resource centre is moving out of the building to new premises but is not bringing the child care element with it. Pobal’s understanding is that the family resource centre was covering the general overheads of the building, which the child care service will now have to cover to stay in operation.
Deputy Barry Andrews: However, the group feels this will push fees up, making the service too expensive for local parents. Certainly, on the basis of projected 2009 costs the group provided to Pobal, its unit cost per place would be €260, despite having no rental costs, which would potentially make them the most costly service in the scheme. To date, the group has received 50% of its 2009 CCSS approval amount to bring it up to its proposed closing date.
Fingal county child care committee has agreed to go back to the group to discuss the new options it may have under a combination of the new free preschool year in early childhood care and education, ECCE, which will be administered under the auspices of my office and the CCSS. It is my hope the additional support that may be available to the group under the ECCE scheme will help it become sustainable. The child care directorate of my office will give consideration to any proposals that may be put forward to assist this service to remain in operation.
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