Further details of childcare support package discussed at Education Committee meeting

On Wednesday 6 May, the Education Committee met to discuss the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the childcare sector, and posed questions to officials from the Department of Education and Department of Health on the Covid-19 childcare support package.

Impact on the sector

Representatives from Early Years, the Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA) and Northern Ireland Day Care Owners (NIDCO) highlighted the devastating impact on the childcare sector of having to close to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable children due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is likely that some settings will not be in a position to re-open, and the broader sustainability of the sector is at risk.

While welcoming the support package that has been announced, the roll out has been slow, with providers still unable to apply for funds. They also flagged a number of issues in relation to details of the support package, and which had been raised with the Committee at an informal briefing delivered on Monday 4 May by Employers For Childcare, NIDCO, the Childcare Employers Forum, NICMA, PlayBoard and Early Years including:

  • Communication with the sector
  • The delay since the initial announcement that funding would be made available
  • Amount of funding and importance of future sustainability of settings
  • Ensuring application processes are streamlined and efficient.

Highly dedicated and valued childcare workers

The Committee Chair, Chris Lyttle MLA, gave the Committee’s thanks to all the highly dedicated and valued childcare workers across Northern Ireland at this time, and this was a message reiterated by Committee Members across the session who agreed on the importance of childcare both to children and families, and to the economy as a whole. Members referred to conversations with parents who are struggling to access the care they need, and with childcare providers who have felt the sector has not been sufficiently recognised.

Update from Departments of Health and Education

Further to the details published on Friday 1 May, officials from the Departments of Education and Health gave a useful further update on the support scheme, incorporating feedback from the sector:

  • It is anticipated that application forms will begin to be issued to providers from Thursday 7 May
  • In a change to the previous position, the requirement for childminders to have provided care for a minimum of 20 days per place will be amended
  • Will keep the current key worker definition used to determine eligibility to access childcare under review, with a potential to extend it in line with the broader Department of Education definition used to determine eligibility to attend a school setting
  • The intention is that funding will flow as efficiently as possible into settings.

Applications for funding

We will provide a further update once the funding application process is available. It is essential that the application process opens as soon as possible, and is streamlined and efficient to enable much needed funds to flow into the sector.

Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service is here to help if you have any queries specific to the new Bespoke Approved Home Childcare Scheme which is a core part of the Covid-19 childcare support package.

To contact Employers For Childcare’s Family Benefits Advice Service in relation to the Approved Home Childcarer scheme, or for any other queries relating to childcare or financial support, call 028 9267 8200 or email hello@employersforchildcare.org