National Childcare Scheme is excluding the most vulnerable children in our country
16 June 2021
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
Yesterday evening, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock co-hosted a meeting with early years services from right across the country, along with Labour spokesperson on Children Senator Ivana Bacik. Speaking after the meeting, Senator Sherlock said:
“The Minister for Children needs to sit up and listen: the reality is that the new National Childcare Scheme is excluding some of the most vulnerable children in the country from care. There is also a widely held concern that the Government’s review of the NCS is merely looking at the administration of the scheme and not the design of who it covers and excludes.
“There is a real depth of frustration from early years providers and workers on this issue, and a strong sense that the Department of Children does not respect nor understand the scale of the challenges facing their services and the disadvantaged families they support.
“This is particularly reflected in the Department’s current attitude towards after school services for children whose parents do not or cannot work. The Department has said that the developmental needs of these children are ‘generally met through school participation’ – an extraordinary claim that totally ignores the importance of after school support for the educational, emotional and developmental needs of children who live in a wide range of challenging circumstances.
“This attitude is also shown in the insistence that parents be in work, training or education before their children can fully access the scheme. There is a complete failure here to comprehend that, for many parents, the certainty of affordable childcare has to come first if they are to build up the skill and confidence to access employment.
“We now have a situation where some services are being forced to support children without payment, because they have been made ineligible for full support due to their family’s situation. Other services spoke about having to provide the same service but with significantly less funding. They are seriously worried that, when the EWSS payment is withdrawn, they may have to make even deeper spending cuts that will hurt these children first and foremost.
“Service providers have also told me of the vast administrative hurdles in registering for the NCS, particularly where parents have poor literacy, a disability, or lack of internet access.
“There is a great irony here that a system set up to give families autonomy and dignity is now having the opposite effect as not every family have decent digital skills, access to devices and a working knowledge of English necessary to engage with the NCS. Instead, service providers are finding themselves having to complete the application process for parents with no additional support to do so.
“Overall, the Department’s approach to the National Childcare Scheme means that the needs and interests of the child are coming last.”
Senator Sherlock went on to set out the steps Government must urgently take:
“In the first instance, we need the immediate introduction of a new pillar of the National Childcare Scheme to ensure no disadvantaged child is excluded from early years support.
“In the longer term, we need to see the introduction of a new DEIS status for early years and afterschool services, as set out in the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Young Children in 2018, with assurances it can cover children facing as many forms of disadvantage as possible.”