Dáil Éireann - Volume 342 - 17 May, 1983

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Pre-School Day Care.

8. Mrs. Lemass asked the Minister for Health if he intends to allocate moneys to provide pre-school day care facilities [1243] as promised by the Minister for Education in January 1982; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. B. Desmond: I am replying to this question instead of my colleague the Minister for Education to whom it was originally directed because day care support from public funds towards the financing of pre-school day care facilities usually comes from health resources.

Grants to assist the development and operation of such centres may be paid by health boards who have the discretion to decide what particular centres to assist and the extent of the assistance. In general the policy is to support those day care centres which are aimed mainly at assisting families from deprived areas. My predecessor in the previous Coalition Government, Deputy Eileen Desmond, made an additional £400,000 available for this purpose. This enabled health boards to increase the number of centres which they could assist financially. The effectiveness of this measure is reflected in the fact that by the end of 1982 the number of day care centres assisted by health boards had increased from 89 in 1980 to 180 and the number of children catered for in those centres increased from over 2,600 to almost 5,000. The objective for 1983 is that health boards will be endeavouring to maintain their involvement at the 1982 level.

Mrs. Lemass: Does the Minister remember that prior to the 1982 election the Coalition Government promised £1 million for day care centres? Do they now intend to honour that commitment? They had it as a firm promise in subsequent election campaigns. Are the Minister and his Coalition Government prepared to put that £1 million now into the pre-school centres as they promised at that time?

Mr. B. Desmond: Discussions have taken place recently with the Pre-School Play Group Association and, generally speaking, satisfaction has been expressed about the provisions. I would stress that in 1981 £400,000 was provided, in 1982 [1244] the amount was £800,000 and in 1983 I am maintaining support at that level; despite cutbacks and so on we are maintaining the overall funding. I only wish we had more money to spend in that area, but that is the situation. As far as election promises are concerned, we are all now reminded of the realities of the situation.

Mr. Lenihan: That is a new one.

Mr. De Rossa: Is the money which the Department are giving for pre-school care being channelled through the Pre-School Play Group Association or are other bodies to get money also? Are the Department providing any facilities themselves other than through voluntary groups?

Mr. B. Desmond: It is predominantly channelled through the health boards who make substantial grants up to 65 per cent of running costs — and even more in some very deprived cases — towards the running costs of the centres. The grants usually include an amount towards the provision of accommodation, but it is overwhelmingly through the health boards with some subvention directly to the association on a sponsorship basis. Parents' subscriptions and fund-raising activities account for additional moneys. It is far more than £800,000.

Dr. O'Hanlon: Are there any statutory regulations governing the control of day care centres?

Mr. B. Desmond: I regret that there are no statutory regulations at present for day care facilities. The question of regulating these services and particularly governing their standards will be provided in the new Children Bill and the legislation will provide for the registration of those centres and the setting down of minimum standards for the operation of day care centres and play groups.

Dr. O'Hanlon: When does the Minister expect to circulate the Children Bill?

Mr. B. Desmond: It should be circulated by mid-summer and it is certainly [1245] hoped to have the Bill through in the autumn session.