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Ó Caoláin calls for “urgent review” of new childcare funding scheme

10 October, 2007

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called on the Minister of State for Children Brendan Smith to suspend the introduction of a new scheme for funding community childcare. He pointed out that if implemented in its present form the new scheme will lead to the closure of many community crèches.

Deputy Ó Caoláin stated:

"Having spoken to many community childcare providers, I foresee huge problems with the new scheme, resulting in the closure of many facilities. I know that these concerns are echoed throughout the State.

"Minister of State Brendan Smith and his Department are failing to recognise the very negative impact of the far-reaching changes to funding now being put in place. These concerns are being raised widely by the community childcare providers who will be required to work the new scheme.

"There is huge concern in the community childcare sector that, far from assisting the disadvantaged to gain better access to childcare, the new scheme will actually close facilities in disadvantaged areas.

"The new scheme requires community childcare operators to work a tiered fee system according to the income of service users. Services will receive subventions to enable reduced fees to be charged to disadvantaged parents. But these parents must be in receipt of social welfare payments.

"Many of the families using community childcare facilities are on low incomes but do not receive social welfare payments now to be a requirement to qualify for the new subvention scheme. Without a sufficient number of welfare recipients on their books community crèches will be forced to close altogether or raise the fees for those not qualifying for the subvention. Thus low income families (and many more in already stretched circumstances) could be actually forced to pay more. This makes a nonsense of the claim that the new scheme will be better for the disadvantaged.

"There are very genuine fears that the new scheme will also lead to division between welfare recipients and other service users. Community-based childcare workers will be asked to process social welfare information about friends and neighbours. The new scheme will require a lot more administration and bureaucracy which small community-run facilities will find very difficult.

"The facilities under threat are community-based and community-run. Many people give time voluntarily to sustain them. In many cases EOCP staffing grants are insufficient to cover all staffing needs which are supplemented by voluntary effort. It would be shameful if an ill-thought-out scheme undermined the voluntary childcare infrastructure which has been built from the ground up in recent years.

"One of the strongest points made to me is that the supposed consultation exercise before this scheme was commenced was no such thing and that people have not been listened to. This must be put right.

"I have today written to Minister of State for Children Brendan Smith urging him to suspend the introduction of the scheme, pending an urgent review in full consultation with people in the community and voluntary childcare sector." CRÍOCH

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