Proposed early years scheme described as 'groundbreaking' by Children's Minister

Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins

Parents could get up to seven weeks of paid parental leave while, furthermore, hot meals will be provided to children in disadvantaged schools as part of a new early childhood strategy.

They are among the proposed actions in a 10-year plan aimed at a doubling of investment in the Early Learning and Care (ELC) system.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone described the 'First 5' strategy as "groundbreaking" as it involves a whole of Government approach, with the Departments of Health, Justice and Social Protection all getting involved.

The plan includes:

  • The development of a new parental leave scheme.
  • A move towards a graduate-led professional workforce in early learning and care.
  • The extension of regulation and supports to all paid childminders and childcare services.
  • More funding for a hot meals pilot programme.
  • Measures to promote positive health through a dedicated child health workforce.

Ms Zappone said: "One of the things I am really excited about is that we have agreed to put in place a dedicated child health workforce. It means that whether it's doctors, nurses or speech and language therapists that they are scheduled and reserved, not just for kids, but for adults as well."

Another pilot scheme will see family and early learning centres put under the same roof as health and well-being supports for children.

Ms Zappone added that the Government have already started a pilot of providing baby boxes to parents.

"If you have a new baby, if you are in that setting where it is being piloted, you will get a box with baby clothes, books to help you understand what the first year is about, toys, as well as a book bag, a reading initiative where you are going to get books for your child at every point.

She said she was also setting up a group to develop a new public funding model for early years care.

Welcoming the plan, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance commenting today said: “The earliest years of life are incredibly precious so we are pleased that ‘First 5’ is an ambitious, 10-year, whole-of-Government approach that affirms that babies and children are everybody’s business.

"Up to now, we haven’t had a high-level plan for young children even though we know that investing in children early works. For far too long, the rights of young children have been ignored and we pay the price for that every day. With this Strategy, we now have a clear acknowledgement that early childhood matters and supporting parents matter," Ms Ward said.

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