Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman T.D., has this week held a very positive first meeting with representatives of the Early Years Sector.. The virtual meeting took place on 15 July and enabled the Minister to meet with representatives of 17 stakeholder groups, including representatives of parents, academics, childcare staff and service providers.

The Minister said:

“I was delighted to have an opportunity to meet the key stakeholders in the Early Years sector on 15 July. I want to thank the representatives for the welcome they gave me, and for sharing their views on the future of the early learning and childcare sector. I was struck by the huge commitment shown by all stakeholders to the well-being and happiness of children. A number of service providers shared their very positive experiences of welcoming children back to childcare in recent days, and it was wonderful to hear how well children are settling back in.

I am aware of the challenges the sector has faced due to Covid 19. The closure of early learning and childcare services for three and half months has had a huge impact on children, parents, childcare providers and their staff, and on the economy and society as a whole. My Department has provided financial and other supports to the childcare sector throughout the Covid crisis, and we will continue to support the sector as services reopen.

I am happy to be able to report that since childcare services were permitted to reopen on 29 June, 80% of services which are usually open during the summer months have already reopened. It is important to correct incorrect information that is circulating. I am confident, having heard first hand from provider representative groups, that the vast majority of services are reopening.”

That said, I fully appreciate the ongoing support they require due to lower parental demand and higher costs associated with their strong adherence to public health guidelines.

ECCE services to reopen on 24 August

Minister O’Gorman also confirmed that the free pre-school scheme, ECCE, would reopen on 24 August. The ECCE scheme provides free pre-school services to all children, from the age of 2 years and 8 months for two years. ECCE services usually run for 38 weeks of the year, mirroring the primary school term from late August to the end of the next June.

ECCE provides 3 hours of early learning a day, for five days a week. ECCE services are provided by private childcare operators who are contracted by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to provide the early learning service. ECCE services are completely free for parents, with the Department fully funding the scheme.

The Minister said:

“I am delighted to announce that the ECCE scheme will reopen from 24 August, for the 2020/21 year. ECCE provides a great opportunity for pre-school-age children to engage in enjoyable, play-based early learning activities. The resumption of ECCE services from the end of August is an important step on the road to recovering from the Covid-19 shutdown.”

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