Childminders face garda vetting, fresh training and home inspections - but will be helped with grants, upskilling and subsidies - under plans to regulate the sector.
Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, has announced draft plans but also insists that the Government does not want to scare away minders with proposals.
Less than 100 minders are currently registered with Tusla but there are at least 19,000 minders in Ireland caring for infants or children in their own homes. Some estimates suggest there are 35,0000 childminders.
Ms Zappone confirmed that subsidies paid by the State for minders will be at the same level under the national childcare scheme, which could amount to almost €1,000 a year. Under the plan, childminders will need to be garda-approved, to sign up for specific courses and could also be asked to ensure their homes comply with basic standards. Ms Zappone said grants could help them do this, while they could also train in courses while still minding children.
Initially between 5,000 and 10,000 minders are expected to sign up to regulation, while it is phased in over the next two to three years, explained the minister. She said: “Childminding is of huge importance to children, to parents, to our economy, and to our society. However, it has not received the support it deserves in our public funding or our system of regulation. This is going to be a huge change, it is a very big reform."
Liz Butler, of Childminding Ireland, said members are cautiously welcoming the move as the department is in "a listening mode" with the consultation on the sector.
There were some concerns around how regulation may impact on tax requirements and standards for homes, but minders have sought regulation for many years, she told the Irish Examiner.
While the minister insists that the State wants to support minders at the same time as ensuring there is quality care, those caring for children have other concerns.
Minder Rosaleen O'Connor, from north Dublin, told the minister and department officials that the current €15,000 tax-free threshold is “unrealistic” for those in the sector. Furthermore, expenses paid by minders in their homes should be considered and the limits on the number of children who can be cared for should be lifted.
Some of these changes would help childminders earn a “decent wage” and help “pay a mortgage”, she told Ms Zappone at the launch.
The move follows reports from a working group. This found that minders are also concerned about a lack of training and any recognition of their working standards.
Department of Children principal officer, Toby Woulfe, said the plan is to provide child protection training as well as first aid and "quality minding" skills, under the action plan.
However, it will be worked out exactly what requirements or skills minders must have to be registered with Tusla. Furthermore, the long-term plan is that parents will be able to more easily find minders through staffed local childminding networks.
The new regulations will not apply to au-pairs or nannies but guidelines for these types of carers will be produced, the minister confirmed.
Mr Toby also confirmed that an estimated 5,000 childminders are expected to sign up in the early years, resulting in an extra €26m in department costs.