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Childcare services to remain open but only for vulnerable groups and children of essential workers

The measures will remain in place until at least the end of January.

File photo of children at nursery.
File photo of children at nursery.
Image: Shutterstock/Oksana Kuzmina

Updated Jan 6th 2021, 5:35 PM

CHILDCARE SERVICES WILL remain open but only for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers, until at least the end of January, the Taoiseach has confirmed.

Cabinet has also agreed that a household of an essential worker, without an existing childcare arrangement, can form a bubble with another household for the purpose of providing childcare.

Childcare providers have sought clarity from the government on who exactly is an essential worker as many people fall into this category.

The Department of Children previously said it would provide guidance to services on how to prioritise demand for places. Over the weekend, it did provide some guidance to providers, but there was little detail on how to manage the prioritisation.

The guidance document states that services are being asked to provide childcare for the children of essential workers and vulnerable children.

The government has listed the following 18 groups as essential services (under Level 5 of the Covid-19 plan):

  • Agriculture, horticulture, forestry, fishing, animal welfare and related services
  • Manufacturing
  • Supply, repair and installation of machinery and equipment
  • Electricity, gas, water, sewage and waste management
  • Construction and development
  • Wholesale and retail trade
  • Transport, storage and communications
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Information and communications (including journalists)
  • Financial and legal activities
  • Professional, scientific and technical activities
  • Rental and leasing activities
  • Administrative and support activities (such as payroll and payment services; recruitment; data processing and security)
  • Public administration, emergency services and defence
  • Human health and social work activities
  • Education
  • Community and voluntary services
  • Diplomatic missions and consular affairs

Obviously these groups are broad and include a huge number of people. However, not all workers in these categories are considered essential workers. ‘Retail trade’, for example, is confined to ‘essential retail outlets’ such as supermarkets.

‘Vulnerable children’ include those who are sponsored under the National Childcare Scheme and those funded under legacy schemes who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage or child welfare issues as well as children with additional needs who may benefit from immediate re-engagement.

The guidance also states that parents should keep their children at home if they do not fall within these categories to ensure there are places for those who need them most.

Funding issues

Childhood Services Ireland, the Ibec group representing the Irish childcare sector, has welcomed the decision but raised concerns about funding.

Commenting on the announcement, Childhood Services Ireland Director, Darragh Whelan, said: “The safety of our children and staff is our top priority, so we welcome the government’s decision to allow childcare services to remain open for frontline and essential workers and vulnerable children.”

However, Whelan said the move will leave a major funding gap for providers.

“Childcare providers are being asked to remain open with hugely reduced occupancy, but they won’t be able to do this long term unless funding is available for them to do so.

“It is also crucial that all current funding schemes remain in place, including the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) schemes.”

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe today announced that the current rates of subsidy provided by the EWSS will remain in place until 31 March, as will PUP rates.

“The government have agreed that additional public health restrictions will be in place for the coming weeks – but it is important that employers have the option of retaining their staff so that they may respond and recover quickly when these temporary restrictions are lifted,” Donohoe said.

He added that nearly €4.5 billion worth of payments have been made via wage subsidies “to sustain businesses and help people to manage financially in the midst of these very challenging times”.

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At a press briefing this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin also announced that schools are set to stay closed but Leaving Cert students will attend three days a week. Schools will remain closed until at least the end of the month.

Non-essential construction projects are also set to shut down from Friday evening until the end the month. Construction deemed “essential” includes health projects, schools, social housing and certain other projects.

The new restrictions come as the country grapples with a third wave of the virus.

Yesterday, over 5,000 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed. This morning, the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 reached 921, eclipsing the peak of 881 recorded in April 2020.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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