More than two out of every five childcare services being funded by the State were found to be majorly non-compliant with requirements, a report has found.
It said the risk rating for early years schemes which provide free and subsidised childcare across the country is “firmly in the red”.
It warns Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone that serious compliance issues are likely to continue for several years as legacy issues are dealt with.
Fifteen “high-risk” cases were discovered where there were major concerns over financial controls including the possibility of fraud.
Overcharging parents, absent or inadequate attendance records, claiming for more children than were attending, and failing to meet staff ratio requirements were also among the failings discovered during compliance reviews last year.
Over the course of 10 months, 2,862 service providers — all in receipt of funding from the State — were looked at. Of those, 1,234 were found to be majorly non-compliant; another 663 had minor non-compliance; and 965 were found to be compliant.
In 403 centres, record keeping of attendance was found to be either inadequate or absent meaning it was not possible to ensure money was being paid out correctly.
In 69 cases, parents were being overcharged. Another 281 centres had not enrolled enough children to justify the money they were receiving; while at 236 centres, some of the staff did not meet qualification requirements.
There were 50 instances where there was a “significant discrepancy” between the numbers of children being claimed for and how many were attending.
Other cases involved charging for hours that were ineligible, having no records available for inspection, and children not attending an appropriate amount of hours.
The report, a redacted version of which was obtained under Freedom of Information, was submitted to Ms Zappone in February. A cover letter from the Department’s assistant secretary-general, Bernie McNally, gave a frank assessment of the various early years schemes, saying it could be years before all problems with them are dealt with.
“As you know, we have been working intensively on measures to improve longstanding legacy issues relating to governance, compliance and financial accountability,” said the letter.
Ms McNally said risks are being reduced and that the new affordable childcare scheme will make it easier to ensure compliance nationwide. The review covers six different named childcare programmes which cater for more than 150,000 children and last year cost around €416m. The best known and biggest of them is the early childhood care and education scheme, which provides free pre-school years for young kids.
In a statement, the Department of Children said they acknowledged that there are compliance issues with schemes that they fund.
“The introduction of a compliance framework to manage instances of major non-compliance in a consistent manner is a significant improvement,” it said.
“Additionally, the department has contracted the company Crowe to assist in the development of financial templates and training tools to assist childcare providers with financial and governance reporting and related tasks.”
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