The Childcare Partnerships were first established in April 2000 as a result of the Northern Ireland Childcare Strategy, “Children First” (1999). Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) had lead responsibility for the delivery of this strategy. It was recognised that successful implementation of the strategy would depend on a range of professionals and agencies working together.
This led to the establishment of four Childcare Partnerships with representation from statutory, voluntary, community and independent sectors. In addition a close working relationship was developed with the Preschool Education Advisory Group in each Education Authority area to ensure consistency of approach and development. The Childcare Partnerships also took responsibility for the development of Sure Start Projects in the respective areas.
A series of measures were established to help implement the strategy. These measures were intended to:
- improve the quality of childcare;
- increase access at local level;
- provide better information for parents about the availability of childcare;
- make childcare more affordable.
Policy responsible for ‘Early Years’ including the Childcare Partnerships transferred from DHSSPS to Department of Education (DE) in November 2006. The four former legacy Health and Social Care Boards continue to provide a lead to the Childcare Partnerships with arrangements and budgets confirmed on an annual basis.
As of April 2011 there has been a re-alignment of function and funding with the responsibility of Sure Start remaining with DE and responsibility for Childcare Partnerships and childminding/childcare transferring back to DHSSPS. There are now five Childcare Partnerships situated in each of the five Health and Social Care Trust areas:
The work of the Partnership includes the management of a range of early years and childcare programmes including Sure Start, DE Capital and the Early Years Development Fund. Each Partnership facilitates specific support across the following areas:
- Training and development;
- Strategic funding decisions;
- Communication, policy and information;
- Sure Start.
Childcare Partnerships continue to play a key role in the development of high quality services for children aged 0-14 years.