Rural children ‘will be the losers under new childcare funding’

Parents of children in rural areas will be the real losers under new childcare funding arrangements, according to Cllr. Michael McGreal, who warned this week that community childcare providers in Castlerea, Ballinlough and Cloonfad don’t know if they will be able to take in children next September.   Cllr. McGreal recently received a letter from Frank Murphy, Local Health Office Manager with the HSE in Roscommon. The letter acknowledged ‘the new system may work better in urban low income areas where it is likely that all children will qualify.’ The Fine Gael councillor said that the letter ‘more or less lets the cat out of the bag on what happened. I have a letter from Éamon Ó Cuív and he says we are putting more money into pre-school and for every loser, there will be a winner. What that letter (from Frank Murphy) is saying is that in rural Ireland there will be more losers than winners. The winners will be in the big urban areas.’ The letter from Frank Murphy states: ‘The concerns raised refer to a new funding arrangement for all pre-school providers, which is per capita, and means tested. This funding arrangement replaces the current staffing grants that were funded under the OECD programme. Only those on medical cards and Family Income Support will qualify. ‘This will prove very problematic for community groups such as those mentioned by Cllr. McGreal, as they will have insufficient numbers to attract enough income and the fact that the grant is a mere 26 euro per week per child. The new system may work better in urban low-income areas where it is likely that all children will qualify. ‘The new arrangement was made without any local consultation and providers are understandably upset, as some will find it extremely difficult if not impossible to continue under these new funding arrangements. There is a concern that the new funding arrangements could undermine a lot of development that has taken place over the last 10/15 years. As a result, a deputation representing the pre-school providers in Roscommon recently met the minister for children to outline their concerns in detail. ‘The HSE have provided very small running cost grants mainly towards equipment but would not have the resource capacity to meet the likely deficits unless substantial funding is provided in ’08.’ Responding, Cllr. McGreal said, ‘This highlights the shambolic nature of this action in relation to pre-school children as with many other areas under the care of the Minister for Health and Children.’ He also posed the question, ‘If the Minister for Health and Children can write back and say she is not taking any involvement in these issues and Brendan Drumm is looking after hospitals, what does the Minister for Health and Children do every day? What is she paid a couple of hundred thousand euro to do?’