6,000 new childcare places created
Up to 6,000 new childcare places have been created by Stormont ministers - a £15 million investment that is set to generate 750 jobs in the sector.
The commitment forms part of the Executive's Bright Start initiative to promote affordable and integrated childcare.
As well as the 6,000 new places for school-age children, the investment aims to support 1,000 existing places.
Rural communities and areas considered to be disadvantaged are set to benefit most from the scheme, which will provide the support through grants to childcare providers.
Stormont junior ministers Jennifer McCann and Jonathan Bell announced the plans at a playgroup in Carryduff primary school.
Ms McCann said there were currently 19 school-age children for every registered school-age childcare place available.
"This presents a range of challenges for parents and childcare providers," she added.
"The decision to create up to 6,000 new places and support existing places was informed by our consultation exercise on childcare services. All of the places funded under this grant scheme will target the needs of disadvantaged families, the rural community or be based on the school estate.
"Affordable, accessible, quality childcare services enable parents to work and to train for work improving a family's living standards and life chances. Good childcare services are an investment in both the present and the future."
Mr Bell added: "The Executive is determined to improve the lives of all parents and children in Northern Ireland, indeed, improving our economy is the top priority in our Programme for Government.
"We are resolute in removing barriers to employment. Lack of access to good, affordable childcare can prevent those who want to work take up employment opportunities. With this grant scheme, we will help remove those barriers. We will create several thousand new and affordable school age childcare places.
"We will create school-age childcare services where there are currently none, or where there are currently not enough. This will provide a significant boost to our economy, giving parents assistance to take up work and directly creating about 750 new jobs in the childcare sector."