herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Childminders may be allowed to qualify for new subsidy in 2018

Children’s minister Katherine Zappone is considering changes to the new childcare subsidy in the Budget
Children’s minister Katherine Zappone is considering changes to the new childcare subsidy in the Budget

The Government is considering changing the criteria for registering as a childminder to allow more to qualify for the State subsidy.

Under new plans unveiled this week by Children's minister Katherine Zappone to assist parents, a targeted subsidy will be means-tested and paid in respect of children aged between six months and 15 years.

The highest figure - €8,000 a year - will be available to parents on lowest incomes whose child is in up to 40 hours of childcare each week. It will be paid directly to the childcare provider, which must be registered with Tusla.

The universal childcare payment and subsidised childcare had been touted as one of the centre pieces of Budget 2016.

Over 4,500 childcare facilities are currently registered with the child and family agency but just 125 of these are childminders. Only families who used a registered childcare provider will be able to avail of the new subsidy.

However, the Herald has learned her officials may review the registration process in order to try get more childminders on board.

Currently, a childminder who looks after as few as three children has to meet the same strict criteria as a commercial creche or care centre.

A source said the rules set "a very high bar" for childminders and officials are now looking for a "middle ground".

Childminding Ireland, the national body for childminders, is to deliver a report to Ms Zappone in the second quarter of 2017 with recommendations.

They are to suggest ways of ensuring a quality service that can be supported with State money, while still allowing parents to use a childminder.

"We will act as quickly as we can," said a source, suggesting that changes to the scheme could see significantly larger numbers of childminders brought under its remit in 2018.

prices

It has also emerged that legislation underpinning the new subsidy will force care centres to publish their prices.

Concern has been raised that the subsidy will result in service providers pushing up rates.

Along with being formally registered with Tusla, one of the requirements to qualify for the payment will be to make your prices openly available for parents.

Speaking on RTE's Sean O'Rourke programme yesterday, Ms Zappone said she would extend the scheme in future budgets but her priority "clearly has been to support children in families who are living in poverty or at the risk of poverty".

She described the scheme, which has both a targeted and universal element, as "a radical new path" for childcare.

Asked about the issue of stay-at-home parents who won't make any benefit, she said there were other measures in the Budget to help, including the addition of another €100 to the home carer tax credit, bringing it to €1,100 next year.

She also reiterated a commitment to move towards extending paid parental leave after a child is born. Among the other issues raised about the scheme is the lack of supply in some areas but the minister said her officials would work to ensure demand is met.

Full detail of the Affordable Childcare Scheme will be brought to Cabinet for approval in the next two week.

However, the online portal through which parents can apply for the subsidy will be not up and running until the middle of next year.

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