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Much-delayed IT system to see Affordable Childcare Scheme launch pushed back to 2019 - at least

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has declined to provide an estimate as to when the ACS, originally slated for September 2017, will be able to officially launch.

shutterstock_566391307 (1) Source: Shutterstock/Oksana Kuzmina

THE GOVERNMENT’S SIGNATURE Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) is set to be delayed into next year due to issues surrounding the introduction of a comprehensive IT system.

The scheme was initially slated for full roll-out in September of last year.

Recently, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone wrote to childcare providers and told them that the system in question will not be ready for September 2018.

“Whilst the launch date for the full Affordable Childcare Scheme is not confirmed as yet I felt it was important to flag to childcare services at this early juncture that it will not be launching in time for September 2018,” she said, prior to an appearance before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee in late January.

The IT system in question has proven to be something of a thorn in the side of the department, with Zappone acknowledging as early as February 2017 that the initial rollout date of September 2017 could not be met.

The actual system itself has not yet gone to tender. It was initially hoped to launch the system via a framework provider, before an intervention by the Chief State Solicitor’s office determined it should be put out to bid.

Data protection

Issues regarding data protection are thought to be the chief stumbling block for the comprehensive system, which would see individuals uploading their own documentation to a dedicated computer-database.

Screenshot 2018-02-11 at 14.26.21 Minister for Children Katherine Zappone Source: Rollingnews.ie

In May, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect, putting a far greater onus on businesses (and, in theory, the government) to fall in line with best practice regarding the private citizens’ data they hold and utilise.

“Our various consultative groups and forums have strongly advised us that we should not introduce the scheme until such time as the necessary IT system is fully functioning and thoroughly tested,” said Zappone.

To this end we are steadfast in our commitment to delivering a world-class, robust system that will be user-friendly for parents and childcare providers alike.

The Affordable Childcare Scheme has undergone a number of name changes in recent times – mainly due to the issues with coming up with the IT system – until that system goes live, the scheme itself cannot officially launch.

Fundamentally, the ACS saw a series of targeted, means-tested payments for children up to the age of 15 (together with a universal childcare subsidy of €20 per week) come into play from September 2017 in order to bring down the exorbitant price of childcare in Ireland.

The Department for Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) was in receipt of €18 million in additional funding on foot of last October’s budget with regard to implementation of the scheme.

At present, most of the initiatives have gone live – however they are being processed via the channels that see the current Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme administered.

The department told TheJournal.ie that uptake of the new initiative has been “a huge success”.

“The families of 66,000 children are benefitting, well in line with government forecasts. There has been no delay in the delivery of these supports,” a spokesperson said.

When will it happen?

No response was given to a request as to what the most likely implementation date of the ACS is.

“Their heads have been wrecked with this,” Marian Quinn, chairperson of the Association of Childcare Professionals, told TheJournal.ie. “A request-for-tender document had to be drawn up for it and so they haven’t been able to roll it out fully.”

They are doing the targeted element, it’s just a lot more inefficient.

While many families have benefitted from the new measures introduced, not everyone has been able to, with suggestions that between 7,000 and 9,000 people have been unable to access the ACS measures in their current guise.

“It’s a nuisance and has just increased the amount of stuff that hard-pushed providers have already had to take on,” says Quinn.

It’s a frustration for all concerned. They just want to get it over the line.

Read: Varadkar on changing abortion stance: ‘Things aren’t as black and white as they appear in your 20s’

Read: ‘Laughable’, ‘a joke’, ‘cynical’, ‘opportunistic’ – Zappone brought to task by parents over childcare fees crisis

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