Childminders will be subject to garda checks, home inspections, and minimum standards of care under fresh reforms to be announced for the unregulated sector.
Attempts to regulate the childminding sector will be unveiled later this month amid concern that only 120 carers out of tens of thousands are registered to look after children in minders’ own homes.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone wants to set standards for home childminders, introduce a subsidy for parents, and to have minders registered under one system.
Reforms will include plans for garda vetting of minders, inspection of homes, minimum standards, and financial supports for users.
Subsidies for parents are expected to mirror levels under the general childcare scheme, amounting to €900 a year.
Only 120 minders are registered with Tusla, the child and family agency. The move comes after the public outrage over a recent RTÉ investigation which uncovered the rough handling of infants and poor standards of care in crèches.
Public consultation on the plan will be announced at the end of this month and will form part of the Government’s overall 10-year national childcare scheme. While there is no definitive figure on the numbers of childminders, a report for the department last year said that according to CSO estimates, there were 35,000 childminders.
Childminders will be incentivised to sign up to the reformed system whereby users access a database of service providers. The plan will only cover minders who care for children in their own home.
Ms Zappone wants the plan to act as a blueprint for wider regulation of childminding services, which will eventually include training and support for those professionals.
It is also intended that, with reform and minimum standards, the number of childminders could grow.
While Ms Zappone’s officials say regulation will be “proportionate and appropriate” to the home setting in which the childminders live and work, those in the sector are worried.
It is intended that subsidies will only be paid for children attending a Tusla-registered childcare provider. Minders are concerned that they will be left to operate on the black market unless they have the resources to ensure their property and services comply with stringent Tusla rules.
These standards mirror those in a crèche, even though a minder may live on their own and operate their care service from home.
Childminding Ireland criticised inspections, saying there is a one-size-fits-all approach mirroring crèches and that it fails to acknowledge the uniqueness of care for a child in the home.
Childminding Ireland also said that while a minder may not be recognised with Tusla, many people offering services in their homes are registered with city and county authorities.
These childminders may also be fully trained former crèche workers who are first-aid trained, have other certificates, and are not just operating in the black market.
Fianna Fáil’s child and youth affairs spokeswoman, Anne Rabbitte, wants supports for minders training up or who are trying to comply with new standards.
She said that if childminders fail to reach standards under regulation, parents will face huge costs putting their children into crèches.
The Irish Examiner understands that, ahead of budget negotiations, Ms Zappone will announce a package of investments for childcare.
This will include more money for inspections, for professional training, further resources to pull funds from service providers who do not meet minimum standards, and more supports for parents.
The Independent minister said earlier this year an extra €50m will be needed for Budget 2020 to plug a black hole in the new national childcare scheme.
Parents can apply online for this in October and first payments will issue in November.