The Scheme was designed in response to a request from the Department of Health and the HSE to put emergency childcare in place for essential health workers. In developing a scheme that satisfies public health requirements, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs worked closely with public health officials and colleagues across Government, and took on board feedback from the sector in relation to the operation of such a scheme.
A variety of reasons have been put forward for the low sign-up rate. These include availability of insurance cover, concerns about possible virus transmission, difficulties in meeting employer responsibilities in relation to breaks and rest periods, and concerns about a lack of protection for staff working alone. The Department was always conscious of the fact that the 27,000 workforce consisted predominantly of women, many of whom had their own parental and caring responsibilities and some of whom had underlying health conditions. However, it had hoped that sufficient numbers would come forward to enable the scheme to operate.
The scheme that was announced involved childcare practitioners working on an outreach basis in the homes of health workers, with childcare providers and their staff being paid for the service. The funding allowed for payment of an average wage of €15 per hour for childcare practitioners, in addition to associated employer costs, as well as a management overhead to provide for supervision and support. Guidance, developed in collaboration with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in the HSE, was made available to providers on how to meet public health advice.
The Minister noted that the challenge of introducing childcare provision at this time is a difficult one given the important public health restrictions in place. While the home based approach met public health requirements, the provision of this type of model raised other difficulties, and the sector were concerned generally about potential health impacts amidst continued strict social distancing rules.
It was a temporary response in an emergency situation which required participants to operate outside of their normal environments.
The Minister acknowledged the efforts both within her own Department and externally to get the scheme up and running. She had sincerely hoped that it would be possible to deliver such a scheme successfully and so ease some of the burden on our frontline health workers. Unfortunately this has not proved to be the case.
The Minister noted that her Department remains strongly focused on developing solutions to the significant challenges of a phased reopening of early learning and childcare facilities for 29 June in line with the Government’s Roadmap on Reopening Society and Business.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will continue to work with Government colleagues, public health officials and the childcare sector, and to this end the Minister had very constructive engagement this afternoon (13 May) with a number of representatives of providers and staff.