Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has officially launched a new Rural Childcare Programme during a visit to Eskra Childcare Centre in Co. Tyrone.Praising the work of the childcare centre, the Minister said: “Every child has the right to be cared for in a stimulating and safe environment and the childcare facilities offered here in Eskra are exemplary. The centre provides a complete day-care service for working parents and it is a wonderful example of a rural childcare facility that strives to meet the needs of families in the local community. I would like to congratulate the staff for demonstrating great imagination and creativity in providing such excellent facilities.”The Minister continued: “Ensuring families have access to affordable, high quality child care for their children helps increase opportunities for the entire family. It means that children benefit from a quality early learning environment and it helps parents balance the demands of work and family.”“It leads to increased choice for parents from rural communities, especially for rural women who are traditionally restricted as a result of family responsibilities. It helps children integrate and develop at an early age and also helps alleviate poverty in rural areas by enabling parents to avail of employment opportunities. Childcare also plays an important role in contributing to the economic and social development of rural areas.”Colette McCaffrey, Eskra Childcare Centre Manager said: “We as childcare providers are delighted that the barriers experienced by rural communities and the value for childcare, have been recognised by the stakeholder group. We hope that the programme being launched today will go some way in tacking these issues “During the visit, the Minister announced that, in response to recommendations from both the recently developed DARD Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Framework and the Rural Childcare Stakeholders report, the Department is launching a new innovative Rural Childcare Programme.The overall objective of this programme is to improve childcare provision in rural areas. It aims to provide solutions that address the distinct challenges faced by rural areas in relation to the delivery of and access to rural childcare services.Applications to the Rural Childcare Programme are currently sought for pilot or demonstration projects run by community organisations or NI wide representative organisations that address the priority areas of access, early years integration, quality, sustainability and affordability in a rural context.The Rural Childcare Programme is administered from the Rural Development Division, 21 Hospital Road, Omagh, County Tyrone. Application packs are available from today and can be obtained by contacting RDD Omagh, tel 028 8224 7727 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for receipt of completed applications is 5.00pm on 30 June 2009.