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Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 26th May 2009.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 2:30 pm, 26th May 2009

1. asked the Minister of Education what action has been taken, to date, by her Department to clarify departmental responsibility for school-age childcare.  (AQO 2771/09)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Tá roinnt Ranna freagrach as cúram leanaí i dTuaisceart na hÉireann. Childcare is a responsibility shared between a number of Departments in the North of Ireland.

Access to good, affordable childcare is an important element in achieving a range of Government objectives, including helping parents to move into work, training or education or to increase their working hours if they wish. It also plays an important role in extending choice for women, and high-quality provision can have a positive impact on children’s educational and health outcomes. The needs of children and parents and the range of services are dependent on the age of children and the appropriateness and quality of care, and go beyond school-aged childcare alone.

In recognition of the cross-cutting nature of childcare, my Department has contributed to a working group led by officials in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) as part of the subgroup on poverty, which is one of the six key priority themes identified by the ministerial subcommittee on children and young people. That working group has prepared a paper scoping out the issues and needs for childcare and is examining future options for the provision of childcare. The paper will be discussed by the relevant Departments on 18 June, following the meeting of the Executive.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I do not think that anyone would disagree with the importance that is put on childcare generally. However, the issue of school-age childcare is particular in that there has been a dispute rumbling between the Departments of Health and Education as to who is responsible. I am seeking an assurance that the Department of Education is proactively seeking a solution. As the Minister said, it is critical to lifting families out of poverty.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I absolutely agree that high-quality childcare is important. It is a shared policy between three Departments: the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL)and the Department of Education. OFMDFM is leading a working group on the matter, and there will be a meeting on 18 June.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome what the Minister has said. Does she expect to see a new childcare strategy for the North on the back of that working group?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Beidh ionadaithe ón Roinn Sláinte, Seirbhísí Sóisialta agus Sábháilteachta Poiblí, ón Roinn Fostaíochta agus Foghlama, ón Roinn Fiontair, Trádála agus Infheistíochta, ón Roinn Talmhaíochta agus Forbartha Tuaithe, ón Roinn Forbartha Sóisialta, ó Oifig Thuaisceart na hÉireann, mar aon le hionadaithe ón Roinn Oideachais ag freastal ar chruinniú ar 18 Meitheamh leis an bpáipéar ar chúram leanaí a phlé.

DHSSPS, DEL, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the Department for Social Development (DSD) and the NIO, along with the Department of Education, have been invited to attend a meeting on 18 June to discuss the paper on childcare emerging from work under the auspices of the subgroup on child poverty. That meeting will assist Departments in shaping their next steps.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

When the Minister is considering all of those issues for childcare and a review of the overlapping issues, will she give us an indication of when she expects to report on the workforce review in schools, which she gave a commitment to do in 2007 to the classroom assistants, who play a valuable role in the care of our children?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Today, the focus is on the childcare strategy. There will be a meeting on 18 June at which we will bring forward proposals.