Minister for Children Katherine Zappone says that her primary motivating factor in introducing the free childcare scheme was to rectify “decades” of a lack of investment in childcare.
Recent figures indicate that, in the early-years sector, toddlers aged one to three years accounted for only 16% last year - down from 20% in 2015-16. The majority of the 179,000 children enrolled in childcare facilities nationwide were pre-schoolers.
Ms Zappone told RTÉ radio’s News at One that she has great empathy for parents who want to return to work but cannot do so because of a lack of childcare.
There has been an increase of 117% in the sector with a doubling of children accessing the free preschool place scheme, she said.
The Under 3s sector remains a problem, she admitted because of the ratio of crèche staff required.
“We knew this problem would emerge, that’s why I have taken action.”
The Minister said that €4m has been allocated to provide 10% more places for Under 3s. “We’re going to give higher subsidies for babies. There will be greater incentives to providers to focus on Under 3s.”
“There have been decades of under-investment, I never said it would be easy. We did spot the trend and we are making changes, I appreciate that it’s not soon enough for some women.”
Ms Zappone said that when her officials notice a lack of capacity in a geographic area they do what they can to support services in the area.
She also said that it is hoped more childminders will “ease into official status” and be regulated so parents can then avail of subsidies.
“I am committed to affordability and quality and safety in child care services.”
The Minister also said that she would continue to work with employers. “We need them to continue to raise their voices so there is greater investment in the sector.”