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DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. Katherine Zappone)

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. Katherine Zappone) by Deputy Kathleen Funchion for WRITTEN ANSWER on 17/01/2017

* To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures in place for the potential fall back from the implementation of new guidelines for creches which will cause huge difficulties towards the staffing of services and which will commence as of 1 January 2017, when the new guidelines are proposed to come into effect; if her attention has been drawn to the crisis in the early years sector in which providers are facing being unable to hire new staff with the required level of qualifications in January 2017; the system being put in place to assist these providers whose employees are either currently upskilling, therefore, unable to continue with full time work at their creches or that have not yet commenced the upskilling process; and if she will make any exceptions for those that have been working with particular services for many years, in order for their experience count towards the new qualification requirements..

Kathleen Funchion T.D.

REPLY. Under the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 all childcare staff working directly with children in early years services registering with Tusla on or after 30th June 2016 must hold a major award in early childhood care and education at level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), or a qualification deemed by the Minister to be equivalent, or an exemption from the qualification requirement.

It was originally intended that the minimum qualification requirement for early years staff would come into effect from September 2015. In the autumn of 2014, the childcare sector was advised that an exemption from the qualification requirement would be available for those staff who intended to retire from the sector within the next few years, and who did not wish to engage in a course of study leading to the required minimum qualification.

In addition to this cohort, there are a number of childcare staff who, because of the absence until late 2015 of an official list of approved qualifications for the early years sector, thought they already held the required qualifications and only found out that they did not when my Department published the reference list of qualifications for staff working in the early years sector on 25th September 2015. A number of such staff applied to my Department for recognition of their qualifications and any person’s qualification found not to meet the requirements of the Regulations could have availed of the exemption.

However. applications for exemption were only permitted up to the date of commencement of the Regulations (30th June 2016). The exemption from the qualifications requirement for the purpose of the Regulations will expire on 1st September 2021.

My Department is aware of the issues faced by the childcare sector in sourcing suitably qualified persons and is currently working on initiatives to address this issue in order to ensure that there is a sufficient number of people available to work in the sector.

One of those initiatives, the Learner Fund, was introduced in 2014 in order to provide support for existing childcare staff to achieve the minimum NFQ level 5 qualification requirement in the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. This Fund has also been expanded to support existing pre-school leaders to up-skill to NFQ Level 6, given that it is now the minimum requirement for pre-school leaders delivering the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme to have a NFQ level 6 qualification.

Funding of €1.5m will be available in 2017 to continue to Level 6 support in the context of the expansion of the ECCE programme. In addition, my Department also hopes to extend the Learner Fund to support childcare staff to achieve higher level qualifications in childcare, i.e. NFQ Level 7 and Level 8. In this regard, my Department intends to commence work as soon as possible on the development of an approved panel of Level 7 and Level 8 training providers, and a new Learner Fund application process.

I have recently made funding available to provide a bursary to childcare staff who have undertaken higher level courses at their own expense. My Department hopes to focus now on higher level childcare qualifications, and providing some support to staff who have undertaken such courses of study on their own initiative is the first step in this process.

Finally, my Department will continue to monitor the situation with regard to staffing in the childcare sector. However, in the meantime I would urge childcare providers to continue to engage on the matter with their local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC).

QUESTION NOS: 1697 & 1675

DÁIL QUESTIONS addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. Katherine Zappone) by Deputies for WRITTEN ANSWER on 17/01/2017

* To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to address the length of time it takes early years services to get Garda clearance for hiring new staff; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that it often has little to do with the actual process and is in fact more to do with a backlog; and if her department is researching any new options that will relieve this backlog and speed up the process in order that services are not left with a shortage of staff which in turn affects the sustainability of the whole service and the children in it..

- Kathleen Funchion

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 17th January, 2017.

* To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the fact that Garda vetting of early childhood practitioners can take more than ten weeks; if consideration will be given to centralising the vetting process in one organisation in order to speed up the process; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Clare Daly

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 17th January, 2017.

REPLY. I am aware that there have been difficulties in relation to obtaining vetting disclosures for staff. I have provided additional funding to both Early Childhood Ireland and Barnardos to assist the clearance of the backlog of vetting applications that built up during the changeover from paper to e-vetting. In addition, officials from my Department will be meeting with both organisations in the next few weeks to discuss the administration of vetting applications, with the objective of endeavouring to ensure that the process works as efficiently as possible in the interest of early years services and the children attending those services.