Plan needed to cope with extra demand for pre-school places
Childcare providers say that a robust plan must be put in place to cope with increased demand for pre-school services.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin announced that the Government was extending the amount of time parents can avail of the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme in the Budget.
"From now on, children will be eligible for free childcare from three years of age, up until they are five-and-a half, or until they start primary school," he said.
Mr Howlin also announced over €15m in new funding to facilitate the full participation of children with disabilities in the scheme.
He also said that child benefit will go up by €5 to €140 per month per child.
The Government will also legislate for statutory paternity leave of two weeks, which will be introduced as part of its childcare plans.
This change will take effect from next Sepember, he told the Dail.
Teresa Heeney, the CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, the representative group for 3,500 childcare professional members said that the Budget showed a very significant increase in investment in the sector, and therefore it is good for families, and "you would have to welcome that," she told the Herald.
She said that what is needed now is a "robust plan" to ensure that there are sufficient staff and sufficient places in place.
"There is no comprehensive overview of available capacity at the moment," Ms Heeny said.
The body said that the investment in the free pre-school scheme with the restoration of previous cuts bringing the capitation rate back up to €64.50 per child per week was welcome, but said "it is the bare minimum" to deliver this scheme.
The group were also disappointed that the funding for the scheme has not been extended to allow services to operate on a 48-week basis.
Meanwhile, Barnardos said that significant investment in childcare and a focus on supporting families was welcome.
Fergus Finlay, Barnardos CEO, said that by putting investment in children and families front and centre, Budget 2016 marks an important financial and symbolic step forward after years of austerity which has disproportionately affected children.
"Extra investment to extend childcare services, including an earlier start date for joining the free pre-school year, paid paternity leave and an extension to certain childcare schemes is welcome and will come as a relief to tens of thousands of Irish families," Mr Finlay said.
"However, Ireland lags far behind other countries in investment in this sector," he added.