Providers warn against weekly payment in pre-school scheme

CHILDREN will lose out if the Government insists on its free year of pre-school education being based on a weekly payment, service providers have warned.

The National Association of Private Childcare Providers (NPCP) claims the state would bear no extra cost if it operated the scheme, due to begin in January, on the basis of payments for each day a child attends.

The scheme announced in last April’s budget will provide parents with the option of having a year of free early education before they begin primary school.

The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (OMCYA) Barry Andrews will pay the cost to childcare pro-viders, at a rate of €64.50 per week, in return for three hours a day of pre-schooling, five days a week and 38 weeks a year.

But the NPCP said this amount was not enough to cover the costs of quality childcare, meaning many providers will not take part and may have to close.

The introduction of the service will bring an end to payment to parents of the annual €1,000 Early Childcare Supplement, which was already halved in May. The OMCYA estimates that 42,000, or around 90%, of the country’s pre-school services have applied to take part and that around 100,000 places should be available for children born between February 2, 2005 and June 30, 2006, when the scheme begins operating in January.

But NPCP chairperson, Sha-ron Smyth, said there has been little or no take-up of the scheme by parents because of a serious lack of information.

She said one provider with five centres in the country’s south has had just three enquiries from parents since mid-September.

“Insisting on a five-day service, even with limited exceptions, will remove parental choice. Many parents do not want to send their children to pre-school five days a week for a variety of reasons,” Ms Smyth said.

The association is proposing a daily subsidised model like that used in Britain, claiming it would secure the state subsidy for the benefit of all parents and their children and also allow service providers to charge a viable fee. The OMCYA said claims the payments will not cover providers’ costs are not borne out by fees charged in the pre-school sector, where average fees for a three-hour place are below the proposed €64.50 rate.

It said the number of places being offered far exceeds the 70,000 children who are likely to qualify for places in January.

It said a daily childcare subsidy would mean the pre-school year would not be free as, in addition to receiving Government funding, pre-schools could also charge fees to parents.

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