Galway Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton has labelled Tuesday’s Budget as ‘progressive’ and has welcomed its focus on childcare provision.
Senator Naughton recently held a public meeting in Galway, to discuss the difficulties parents were facing in paying for childcare. Reports have shown that creches cost a minimum of €600 a month in the county and significantly more in Galway city.
The public representative is claiming that many of the issues of concern raised were addressed in the Budget. “The childcare package announced represents the first steps in addressing the cost, quality, and supply of childcare services. The total increase in childcare funding in this Budget is €85 million. This is an increase of one third and is a significant indicator of the Government’s seriousness in addressing people’s difficulties in the area.’’
An extension of the free preschool year is also to be provided. The current allocation of 38 weeks per child is being further extended by an average of 23 weeks.
The introduction of the free preschool year has been enormously successful with 94 per cent of all qualifying- age preschool children participating. This pre-school year provides important opportunities to support children’s early learning and development, mainly as a result of the requirement for practitioners to use Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework developed by NCCA.
The extension of the free year will mean that every preschool child, from the age of three, will now have access to preschool education until s/he enters primary education. Senator Naughton estimated that this extension will result in a saving for parents of €85 per child per week. “This will mean that rather than the 67,000 children now eligible for the free preschool programme, 127,000 will now be able to participate. It is a very welcome development and will increase current investment in free preschool education by €47 million in 2016.”
It will also be possible for children to enrol in preschool at three different times during the year, September, January, and April, rather than just in September as at present. This means that all children will be eligible for preschool shortly after they reach the age of three.
Senator Naughton says there is a critical need to have accessible preschool for children with special needs. “In that light, the Government has announced that Budget 2016 will provide an additional €15 million for the provision of continuing professional development for childcare staff, grants for equipment, appliances and minor alterations; as well as therapeutic intervention.’’
In addition to the childcare measures, two weeks of paternity benefit will be provided, while child benefit is to rise by €5 per child.