Minister Katherine Zappone has said that from 18 May the Department of Children will oversee the provision of childcare in the homes of 5,000 essential healthcare workers.

She told the Dáil that registered childcare services are being invited to take part in the scheme and that participation will be voluntary. 

The minister said the majority of the cost would be paid by the State but there would be a small parental contribution required of €90 per family per week. 

She said this would provide essential healthcare workers with 45 hours of childcare a week.

It is recommended that childcare workers volunteering for the scheme are paid on average €15 per hour, Ms Zappone added.

She said the State would also cover employer PRSI, leave accrual and administrative overheads to providers. 

The minister said the scheme would cost an estimated €4.7 million per week.

The minister said eligible health workers are advised to contact a Pobal parents' support centre over the coming days to request the service.

She said the scheme would run initially for a period of four weeks; there will be a review after two weeks and again at the end of the four weeks.

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Labour TD Seán Sherlock asked the minister if there had been an assessment of the demand from health workers for childcare in their home. 

He also asked what protocols will be put in place to ensure the safety of childcare workers going into the home, and if there was garda vetting in operation to protect volunteers.

Responding, Minister Zappone said that the HSE did an audit to get a sense of the demand and 8,000 families was indicated. 

She said there needs to be incentives for childcare workers to take part in the scheme, and she said she hoped it would be attractive if the wage was good and there was a good number of hours. 

She also said insurance would be extended with the worker going into the home.

Mr Sherlock also said it is vitally important that the legislation is amended to make sure people returning from maternity leave are eligible to apply for the Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Ms Zappone said she thinks childcare should be free.

She was responding to People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny who said childcare for all workers should be free. 

RISE and socialist TD Paul Murphy also said there should be free provision of childcare as a public service.

He said now was the time to say goodbye to a privatised healthcare service. 

This evening Fórsa said it was seeking details of the proposed childcare arrangements for essential health staff.

The union said it had so far received no information about the proposed arrangements.

Fórsa, which represents over 30,000 health workers, said it had repeatedly asked the Government either to make direct childcare provision available to essential staff, or to meet the additional costs incurred by individuals who have been making their own childcare arrangements since schools and crèches closed.

The union added that the minister's offer of provision for 5,000 health staff fell short of the HSE's own assessment that at least 7,000 of its staff needed immediate support.

Fórsa also said it wanted to know what measures would be put in place if the department's "voluntary" scheme failed to deliver the necessary provision.

'Inevitable' childcare services won't reopen at full capacity

Separately, Minister Zappone said that it is inevitable that childcare services will not open at full capacity.

She said fewer children attending childcare services will increase the cost of childcare for these children. 

The minister said parents will be unable to pay the increase and she said she would be making the case for the need for State subsidies.

She said it is her hope that significant additional investment would be provided to the sector as it reopens.