Sinn Féin sees childcare as a public service for both children and parents. When it works, a State’s childcare system can be a huge employer; help with the health and mental development of our smallest children; facilitate parents, especially women, to access the workforce; and be a positive component of economic growth.
This government, like the last, has paid lip-service to the area of childcare. Under its watch, the average cost of childcare in Ireland ranges between €800 and €1,100 per month for a single child, depending on location.
Those who can avail of it, do so at crippling costs and those who can’t are forced to remove themselves from the labour market altogether, or rely on one income to sustain the family.
For employees in the system, childcare work is low-paid with little recognition of the skills involved or the dedication required. Rather than providing its maximum potential for employment, the sector faces a mass exodus as other areas of the economy recover and offer more in wages than the minimum.
We know that quality, reliable and affordable childcare has many benefits.
For the family, it ensures children are enabled to develop to the best of their abilities, socially, academically and creatively – and that any potential learning or developmental issues can be identified early.
For wider society and the economy, it allows parents, especially women, to return to the labour force and steer clear of potential poverty traps; it sets children on the path to educational attainment; and it provides employment to the many valuable workers in the childcare sector.
So, given we know all this, it begs the question:
Why is the State, under Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil policies, failing so badly at childcare?
In setting out our early childcare policy, Sinn Féin is approaching the issue with two main aims:
These dual aims will address a number of policy priorities such as aligning children’s overall learning and development with tackling disadvantage, helping to reduce child poverty, improving gender equality alongside promoting employment and growing the economy.
We aim to enhance the quality of early education and childcare services to provide positive experiences and promote opportunities for children to develop. This should build upon existing provision across a range of services such as the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme and the Community Childcare Subvention programme (CCS). This will also require developing the skills base of the workforce in early education and childcare to ensure services are responsive to parents’ needs, be they parents of children with disabilities, ethnic minority parents, urban or rural dwellers.
When it comes to childcare and development, there is currently an overwhelming bias in favour of policies of late intervention - when social and learning problems are well established. Knee-jerk and reactive policies are both expensive and often less effective. There is growing scientific, neurological and economic knowledge which validates the Sinn Féin view that investment in the early years of a child’s life leads to greater economic, social and emotional benefits later on, at both an individual as well as societal level. The OECD, with its ‘Starting Strong ll Early Childhood Education and Care Reviews’, recommends a systematic and integrated approach to policy development and implementation, it calls for a clear policy vision for children from 0-8, and a co-ordinated policy framework at centralised and decentralised levels.
There has been little real investment in childcare. Public spending lags behind other OECD countries. Successive governments have made piecemeal efforts to tackle astronomical childcare costs, but during the recession, happily slashed payments for children such as Child Benefit. Budget 2016 saw the Government pressured into addressing some of the concerns Sinn Féin and others have outlined over the years – but the approach is again fragmented and undertaken without full consultation with parents and the industry.
Essentially, we require a cultural shift which will result in incremental percentage increases in Government spending to enable a re-balancing of resources towards a child’s early years and early interventions, in order to deliver better outcomes while providing value for money.
In this document, we outline some of the measures we believe are needed to begin addressing the childcare crisis in a more holistic way. This policy is just one aspect of our wider agenda to facilitate quality care for children and their development. It cannot be read in isolation, but must also be considered in tandem with our proposals around improving the education sector and eradicating child poverty – the rates of which in Ireland are exceptionally high.
Where we have identified costs in this document, we are including them in our five-year costed manifesto proposals for the 2016 general election. This manifesto will commit to spending within the fiscal space identified for 2017-2021, and at any point where we would exceed the fiscal space, we outline the taxation measures we would introduce to pay for our proposals. Our overall approach to the economy and public finances in the next five years, however, is to invest in public services over tax cuts for high earners, because we believe this kind of investment benefits everybody equally and provides the most return.
Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil go leor buntáistí ag baint le cúram leanaí d’ardchaighdeán atá intaofa agus ar phraghas réasúnta bheith ann.
Cinntíonn sé don teaghlach go mbíonn na leanaí in ann barr feabhais ina gcuid scileanna a fhorbairt go sóisialta, go hacadúil agus go cruthaitheach - agus gur féidir ceisteanna ar bith foghlama nó forbartha a d’fhéadfadh bheith ann a aithint go luath.
Maidir leis an tsochaí agus an geilleagar ina n-iomláine is amhlaidhg go dtugann sé deis do thuismitheoirí, agus do mhná ach go háirithe, pilleadh ar obair agus fanacht ar shiúl ó chruachás bochtaineachta a d’fhéadfadh bheith ann; cuireann sé leanaí ar an mbealach chun gnóthachtála san oideachas; agus soláthraíonn sé fostaíocht do chuid mhór oibrithe luachmhara san earnáil chúraim leanaí.
As siocair go bhfuil sé seo uile ar eolas againn, mar sin, ardaíonn sé an cheist:
Cén fáth a bhfuil ag teip chomh mór sin ar an Stát, faoi bheartais Fhine Gael, Fhianna Fáil agus Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, maidir le cúram leanaí?
Agus muid ag leagan amach ár mbeartais i leith cúraim leanaí luath-óige, tá Sinn Féin ag tabhairt faoin gceist agus dhá aidhm faoi leith aige:
Rachaidh na haidhmeanna seo i ngleic le roinnt tosaíochtaí beartas ar nós foghlaim agus forbairt fhoriomlán na leanaí bheith ag teacht le míbhuntáiste a réiteach, bochtaineacht leanaí a laghdú, comhionannas inscne a fheabhsú agus fostaíocht a chur chun cinn agus an geilleagar a fhás.
Tá sé mar aidhm againn caighdeán an luath-oideachais agus seirbhísí cúraim leanaí a fheabhsú ionas go mbeidh eispéireas dearfach ann agus go mbeidh deiseanna forbartha ann do leanaí. Ba chóir gcuirfeadh sé seo leis an soláthar reatha thar réimse seirbhísí ar nós an chláir um Chúram agus Oideachas na Luath-óige (ECCE) agus clár An Fhóirdheontais Chúraim Leanaí sa Phobal (CCS). Chun an méid seo a chur i gcrích beidh sé riachtanach bonn scileanna na n-oibrithe in earnáil na luath-óige agus an chúraim leanaí a fhorbairt lena chinntiú go mbíonn seirbhísí ag freagairt do riachtanais tuismitheoirí, bíodh tuismitheoirí leanaí míchumasacha iad, tuismitheoirí leanaí de mhionlach eitneach iad, nó tuismitheoirí a chónaíonn faoin tuath nó i gceantar uirbeach iad.
Maidir le cúram agus forbairt leanaí, tá claonadh ollmhór i leith bheartais na hidirghabhála déanaí - nuair a bhíonn deacrachtaí sóisialta agus foghlama neadaithe. Tá beartais frithghníomhacha agus neamhairdiúla costasach agus is minic nach mbíonn siad chomh éifeachtach sin. Tá eolas eolaíoch, néareolaíoch agus geilleagrach atá ag fás agus a dheimhníonn dearcadh Shinn Féin go gcruthaíonn infheistíocht i luathbhlianta leanaí buntáistí níos fearr geilleagracha, sóisialta agus mothúchánacha níos moille ar aghaidh, ar leibhéal an duine agus ar leibhéal na sochaí. Molann an Eagraíocht um Chomhar agus Fhorbairt Eacnamaíochta (ECFE) ‘Athbhreithnithe Ag Tosú go Luath II ar Chúram agus ar Oideachas Leanaí Luath-Óige’, go mbíonn cur chuige comhtháite agus córasach ann maidir le forbairt agus cur i bhfeidhm polasaí, agus éilíonn sé fís shoiléir bheartais le hagaidh leanaí ó 0-8 agus creat beartais comhordaithe ar leibhéal lárnaithe agus dílárnaithe.
Is beag an infheistíocht cheart atá déanta i gcúram leanaí. Tá caiteachas poiblí ar gcúl i gcomparáid le tíortha eile ECFE. Tá iarrachtaí déanta píosa ar phíosa ag rialtais i ndiaidh a chéile dul i ngleic le costais ollmhóra chúraim leanaí, ach le linn an chúlaithe eacnamaíochta, bhí an rialtas breá toilteanach íocaíochtaí le haghaidh leanaí ar nós Sochar Linbh a ghearradh.
I mBuiséad 2016 cuireadh brú ar an Rialtas dul i ngleic le cuid den ábhar imní atá léirithe ag Sinn Féin agus eile thar na blianta - ach tá an cur chuige arís ina phíosaí agus tugadh faoi gan dul i gcomhairle le tuismitheoirí ná leis an tionscal.
Go bunúsach, is éard atá uainn ná claochú cultúrtha a chruthóidh méaduithe incriminteacha ar chaiteachas an Rialtais ionas go ndéanfar acmhainní a athchothromú i dtreo idirghabhálacha i luathbhlianta leanaí, le go mbeidh toradh níos fearr agus luach ar airgead ann.
Sa cháipéis seo, tá cuid de na bearta a chreidimid atá ag teastáil le tosú ag dul i ngleic ar bhealach níos iomláine leis an ngéarchéim i gcúram leanaí. Níl sa bheartas seo ach gné amháin denár gclár iomlán chun cúram d’ardchaighdeán a éascú dár leanaí agus dá bhforbairt. Ní féidir é a léamh ina aonair, ní mór amharc air i gcomhar lenár gcuid moltaí chun an earnáil oideachais a fheabhsú agus chun deireadh a chur le bochtaineacht leanaí - agus tá na rátaí in Éirinn a bhaineann leis an-ard.
San áit ina bhfuil na costais aitheanta againn sa cháipéis seo, tá siad curtha san áireamh againn inár gcuid moltaí forógra, moltaí atá costáilte le haghaidh cúig bliana le haghaidh olltoghchán 2016. San fhorógra, beidh tiomantas ann do chaiteachas laistigh den spás fioscach atá aiteanta do 2017-2021, agus i gcás ina mbeimis ag dúil le dul thar an spás fioscach, léirímid bearta cánachais a thabharfaimis isteach le híoc as ár gcuid moltaí. Is é an cur chuige foriomlán atá againn, áfach, don gheilleagar agus don chaiteachas poiblí sna cúig bliana atá amach romhainn, áfach, ná infheistíocht a dhéanamh i seirbhísí poiblí in áit ciorruithe cánach dóibh siúd atá ag saothrú tuarastail mhóir, as siocair go gcreidimid go mbeidh an cineál seo infheistíochta le leas gach duine agus go soláthraíonn sé an toradh is fearr.
Feidhmiú céimneach Síolta agus Aistear a chur i bhfeidhm láithreach trí Choistí Contae Cúraim Leanaí (CCCanna). Costas Iomlán i mbliain 1: €5 milliún
Meicníochtaí a thabhairt isteach chun maoiniú a bhaint ar shiúl muna gcomhlíontar le caighdeáin.
The United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Its implementation is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Childcare Policies should be developed with regard to the principles and provisions of the UNCRC and in particular to its general comment no.7 “Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood”
For women in particular, childcare can be an essential service. Equality Commission research has identified the availability of affordable and appropriate childcare as a contributor to mothers participation in labour market, thus contributing to greater gender equality. Without affordable childcare, the world of work is closed to many women. That is not just a loss to the women themselves. It is also a loss to our wider society.
According to the Autumn 2015 CSO figures there were approximately 77,000 women seeking either full-time or part- time employment in the state. There were 464,000 women who list their occupation as ‘home duties’. By comparison, approximately 10,000 men list their occupation as ‘home duties’. Some of this could be addressed by creating flexible work practices for women but the availability/affordability of childcare plays a significant role.
To provide affordable, accessible, quality and inclusive childcare that focuses on the early mental and physical development of the child and contributes in the short and longer-term to a vibrant, healthier society and economy.
Childcare should be regarded as a public service for both children and parents. We must address the issues in the sector with the same care that we address similar issues in other levels of education.
We propose a model that is publicly subsidised, of high quality and universally accessible. This model should be combined with a system of paid leave, specifically in the first year of life, which supports both mothers and fathers. We also believe the State should encourage employers to recognise the value of flexible working hours.
Childcare can be delivered by the community, public or private sectors; but presently, the sector is primarily market driven. Consequently, quality and affordability are largely left to the market. Although there may appear to be many options available, these options are not properly funded and they lack cohesion and co-ordination. A new early-years model, which builds on the State’s legacy of community provision and child minding, is achievable if childcare is treated as a public service and receives investment accordingly.
Early-years investment will also lay the foundations for long-term economic and social progress. The National Economic and Social Forum estimates that for every euro we invest in childcare, we can expect a net gain between four and seven euro from higher income levels. High quality early-care is good for children, good for society and good for the economy. Substantial investment in the sector makes economic sense.
Prior to the year 2000, there was very little investment in childcare in the 26 Counties. Between 2000 and 2010, the State, in partnership with the EU, invested €425 million in creating childcare places across the 26 Counties. From the years 2006 through 2010 the National Childcare Investment Programme (NCIP) became the State’s official vehicle for investment in the sector.
The Government spent in the region of €260 million in 2015 on early-years and school- age care and education services. The bulk of this money funded three programmes for approximately 100,000 children. These three programmes are: the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, the Community Childcare Subvention programme (CCS), and the Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) programme. The remaining €14 million is directed towards funding all city and county childcare committees, the national voluntary childcare organisations, and a range of quality development and training initiatives such as the Learner Fund, Better Start Quality Development Service, childminder development grants, and toddler group grants.
In Budget 2016, the Minister for Finance announced up to €1.5 billion in tax cuts and public spending - split 50:50 between the two. Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have all signalled that in future years, they will continue to pursue tax cuts for higher earners over public investment. Sinn Féin believes that, after 8 years of austerity, public finances should be primarily earmarked for investment in much decimated public services, including allowing for a quality subsidised early-years and after-school care system.
In January 2015, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs established the Inter- Departmental Group, which was tasked with assessing policies and future options for improving the affordability, quality and supply of services in the early-years, school-age care and education sectors in Ireland. This group comprises officials from the Department of Children & Youth Affairs, Social Protection, Education & Skills, Justice and Equality, Jobs Enterprise and Innovation, Public Expenditure & Reform, Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach. In July 2015, the group launched its report – Future investment in childcare in Ireland – with recommendations which included the following headline items:
Stakeholders welcomed the report but emphasised that it lacked clear timelines for its recommendations.
In June 2015, the Minister went on to establish a further Inter-Departmental Group to agree a model that would support access to the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme for children with a disability. This group comprised officials from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills, Department of Health, with representatives from Early Years Inspectorate, the National Disability Authority (NDA), and Better Start Initiative represented via the Quality Development Service and Dublin City Childcare Committee. In November 2015, the group launched their report – Supporting Access to the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme for Children with a Disability - with recommendations which included the following headline items:
Ireland’s childcare costs are considered the most expensive in the EU and are second only to the USA worldwide.
OECD figures show that the fees paid by a low-income, dual-earner family in Ireland with two young children, consume at least 35% of the family’s net income. For a lone-parent family on the average wage, the fees amount to 40% of income, in contrast to just 10-13% across the EU. In turn, many parents who would otherwise seek employment are kept out of the workforce – and the level of child poverty rises.
Price caps guarantee a maximum cost for all families and are a common feature across Europe. 50% of childcare providers in Norway are private, yet providers are legally restricted from charging parents any more than €293 per month. As recommended by stakeholders, an introduction of price caps could happen simultaneously to an increase in capitation payments to the service providers directly for each child – the capitation payments reflecting the cost of caring for that child so that the parent’s fee or subsidy is not carrying the whole cost.
The Free Pre-School Year programme (ECCE) and the Training and Employment Childcare programme (TEC), consisting of Childcare Education and Training Support (CETS), After- School Child Care (ASCC), and Community Employment Childcare (CEC), have set caps on fees that services may charge parents. Apart from these two programmes (the ECCE and TEC), there are no caps on fees for parents in this state.
As recommended by Start Strong, if the price cap for parents was fixed at €4.50 per hour, a 40-hour week could be price capped for parents at €180 per week.
Under the current ECCE programme, childcare services can charge parents optional extras for activities such as specialised music/dance sessions/outings/food and extra hours. These ‘optional’ extras can amount to an extra €10/12 per week. The capitation grant should cover the cost of standard daily care and appropriate programme-based activities. Optional extras should only be for service provision outside of the ECCE session. Capitation rates and suggested increases are explored in detail in the chapter on ‘quality’.
The Community Childcare Subvention Programme (CCS) is a support programme for community-based childcare services to provide quality childcare services at a reduced rate to parents. It is a programme which enables Community Childcare Services to give parents in receipt of certain social welfare payments (the majority of which are covered under the CCS Programme), Family Income Supplement, and holders of medical cards and GP visit cards, reduction in their childcare fees. Participation in the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) programme has been restricted to community/not-for-profit childcare services however changes announced in Budget 2016 mean private childcare providers in areas of need can apply to participate in the programme, though we have yet to see how far this measure will go.
School Age Childcare refers to a range of organised age-appropriate structured programmes, clubs and activities for school-age children and young people (4-13) which take place within supervised environments during the times that they are not in school.
School Age Childcare Services occur in a variety of different ways:
Currently School Age Childcare is subsidised through several of the Government childcare programmes.
The Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) Programme supports disadvantaged parents and provides support for parents in low paid employment and training or education by enabling qualifying parents to avail of reduced school age childcare costs.
Under the Training and Employment Childcare (TEC) Programmes, school age childcare is supported under a number of strands. Childcare Education and Training Support Programme (CETS) support parents on eligible training courses and eligible categories of parents returning to work, by providing subsidised childcare places. This programme contributes €45 per week for an afterschool place with maximum fee payable by parents of €5 per week per child; and €80 per week for afterschool with pickup service, maximum fee payable by parents €15 per week per child.
CE Childcare (CEC) Programme supports parents taking part in a CE scheme. This programme provides afterschool care for children up to 13 years of age. The programme contributes €40 per week for an after-school place. The programme also provides a full day care rate of €80 per week, for a maximum of 10 weeks, to cater for school holiday periods. In all cases, the maximum fee payable by parents is €15 per week per child.
The After-School Childcare (ASCC) programme provides after-school care for primary school children of eligible parents for a period of 52 weeks. Eligibility for the programme is determined by the Department of Social Protection. The programme contributes €40 per week for an after-school place or €80 per week in situations where the childcare service provides a pick-up service that collects the child from school. The programme also provides a full day care rate of €105 per week, for a maximum of 10 weeks, to cater for school holiday periods. In all cases, the maximum fee payable by parents is €15 per week per child.
This year only 433 children are availing of the after-school programme with 339 of these children availing of a pick-up service. This number is hugely inadequate and evidently is not providing a much needed solution to the after school care crisis for parents. According the Department, funding will be available to support a similar number of children next year but states that the numbers seeking support under the programme in 2015/2016 will only become evident as the school year progresses.
To date the sector remains self-regulated resulting in varied standards of provision across services.
The system, as outlined above, is confusing and doesn’t offer much to parents who don’t meet the strict eligibility criteria set out.
Despite changes in Budget 2016, the current free pre-school provision or Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) contract continues to operate with many flaws.
Budget 2016 extended the free pre-school year by allowing an earlier age entry point (from 3 years of age) and introducing multiple entry points during the year – January, April or September. Provision on average will increase from 38 weeks to 61 weeks of free care – but this care is still only provided for 3 hours per day. It is, as of yet, still unclear if the ECCE year will run for 48 weeks continuously to ensure parents aren’t left with gap costs and employees without work. We’ve have already committed in this document to ensuring that under SF, the ECCE year will run continuously.
Funding of over €214 million will be provided for the ECCE programme in 2016. Capitation fees are paid to participating services on the basis of this provision.
Sinn Féin proposed in the run-up to Budget 2016 that the ECCE year be increased in length and when its quality was secured, the entry age incrementally lowered. We welcome the extensions made in the budget but are concerned that the multiple entry points in the year may cause difficulties for childcare professionals in the system. Clarification on the enrolment process and how services will manage this is needed.
Evidence suggests that children do better when they spend at least their first year with a parent. Extension of leave arrangements must be considered so that children can be with a parent for the first year of their lives. Research, particularly in relation to brain development, indicates that the first year of a child’s life should be spent with the primary carer.
Since 2007 women have been entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave. That leave is now paid at the standard maternity benefit rate of €230 per week. An additional unpaid 16 weeks is optional. It is important to note that any entitlement to full paid maternity leave is currently subject to contract. There is no obligation on employers to pay above the standard rate, leaving many women in the private sector facing a sheer drop in income during their leave.
Sinn Féin has long-campaign for at least two weeks’ paid paternity leave for fathers when their child is born.
Budget 2016 introduced the 2 weeks of leave but only from September next year. The absence of paid paternity leave to date has been a stain on successive governments parental policy. The new recommendation should be implemented immediately, as proposed in Sinn Féin’s Budget 2016 submission A Fair Recovery.
The imposition of commercial rates on all childcare service providers is a threat to the sustainability of all ECCE services. Until the Valuation Bill 2012 is fully enacted, providers will continue to be at risk of prosecution for not paying the high rates. Providers of the ECCE Programme and Community Subvention Programme providers can be exempt. Private Service Providers cannot. If not tackled, the issue of commercial rates will inevitably result in increased fees for parents.
Public investment must be added to the sector in the form of services rather than tax credits.
A childcare system that uses tax credits does not work. Tax credits do nothing to improve quality or incentivise high quality. According to the OECD, direct subsidies give the state greater “steering control” over quality. Quality of service depends on the impact of an inspection system. Tax credits have little impact on affordability because they tend to drive prices up.
Costs are not the only problem within the childcare system; quality is also an issue. Quality of childcare can vary with parents having no assurance about the standard of service.
The European Commission published a report in March 2015 highlighting concerns around Ireland’s childcare system. Its list of policy recommendations included a general upgrading in the quality of childcare, an improvement in the overall monitoring system, national compliance with minimum standards and regulations, and the up-skilling in qualification levels of staff.
POBAL (2015) reports that only 15% of educators working in the sector in Ireland currently hold a degree at Level 7/8 in early childhood education and care. This is much lower than the EU (2011) recommendation of 60%. It’s also true that training modules for Level 5 and 6 need to incorporate practical experience into their education training.
All further professional development courses should be centred on the frameworks of Síolta and Aistear. Síolta (the national quality framework for early care and education) and Aistear (the national curriculum framework) were published in 2006 and 2009 respectively. They acknowledge the fact that care and education are inseparable and that the first years in a child’s life form the basis for all later learning. They have not been fully rolled out across the state and remain mostly in the pilot only stage.
Public funding must be linked to quality. This would incentivise higher quality by making higher capitation supplements available to graduate-led services. The call for the further ‘professionalisation’ of the early-years workforce will only be met when a system of up- skilling is incorporated into a salary scale reflective of additional training.
Capitation rates are paid by the State to crèches for each child in their care. An increase in capitation payments can both improve quality and ensure a reduction in parental costs. A higher capitation grant is paid where the crèche is led by a level 7 graduate, a reflection of the quality provided in the crèche.
Early Childhood Ireland has called on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) to stall expansion of new operators delivering the ECCE programme until a clear plan has been developed which takes account of a current level of oversupply of childcare places. There are an estimated 31,500 vacant places nationwide. A detailed county analysis is required in light of the ECCE expansion announced in Budget 2016 to ensure adequate provision.
Concern has been expressed by service providers about the entry of primary schools into the ECCE programme. As set out in a recent Department of Education and Science discussion document, primary schools are opening ECCE rooms, many without regard to the existence of other settings in the local area. Inevitably, the issue of unfair competition is raised from a service provider’s perspective. However, we make a point in this document that in areas of disadvantage and need, where private sector services are meeting a childcare demand need, they should be eligible for public subsidies. A balance must be found between allowing existing service providers to viably operate while allowing schools in areas which are in need of additional supports to also take part in the ECCE scheme.
There has been a concern raised that primary schools are offering places to children who have not availed of their free pre-school year - allowing parents to send those children to school at an earlier age in order to increase school numbers. However, at the same time from a parent’s practical perspective, in the absence of affordable childcare, allowing children to enter the school system at earlier age allows a parent to fulfil working hour obligations.
Greater emphasis needs to be placed on supports for governance and sustainability. Community services are reliant on Community Employment schemes for staff within a number of counties. This hinders quality and stretches efficiency in relation to HR, administration, governance, and finance. The governance structure of community services needs to be reviewed with the view to building an alternative structure at local level.
The capacity of some community service management committees is not adequate in relation to the skills-set needed to run a business dealing with annual government funding to the value of €100-200k+. Under-qualified managers often progress through the system, from small play-schools up to managerial level of large full day care services, without the necessary up-skilling. When skilled managers leave a post or are on long term leave, the voluntary management committees are not in a position to run the services, and a service can quickly find itself in difficulty.
Pobal announced the Early Years Capital 2015 programme in April 2015. DCYA secured €7 million for this programme. EYC2015 was open to early-years settings and currently it provides services under Community Childcare Subvention (CCS), Training Education Childcare (TEC), or Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).
EYC2015 only provided grants with a maximum of €500 for ICT equipment to private providers. The purpose of the Early Years Capital 2015 grants was to support community facilities to remain fit-for-purpose, improve quality, and make community services more efficient and sustainable through improving the energy rating of these facilities.
The regulation of childminders needs to be brought within a framework. All paid, non- relative childminders must be brought within the pre-school regulation system - regardless of the number of children they have in their care. For their benefits, they can have access to government programmes and from a parents’ perspective, equity of choice and quality is assured. It was disappointing that childminders are not included in mandatory reporting in the Children First Act (2015) as other sole trader operators (i.e one person preschool) are under their duty within the Preschool Regulations.
In Ireland there are approximately 50,000 children in the care of child minders and 19,000 of those childminders are unregulated. This is a grey area that needs to be examined urgently.
Trends indicate a growing number of migrant women working in childcare unregulated, i.e. an informal workforce providing care in private homes. The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland has also identified an increase in the pattern of exploitation experienced by au pairs. Domestic workers must have proper employment rights and they must be protected.
Employers should be obliged to register as a single employer if an individual is working for them in their private home. Also, there is an onus on the au pair industry recruitment agencies to be aware of and comply with the Employment Agencies Act 1971.
A key weakness in the regulatory system identified by all stakeholders is the fact that under the Child Care Act 1991 anyone may open a childcare service subject to notifying Tusla. The only recourse Tusla has had to deal with unsuitable services has been prosecution. A robust system of registration should be in place to ensure that services cannot open until they meet at least minimum standards. Childcare service providers need to be given all information pertinent to registration with TUSLA, and to costs involved, in a timely fashion. This will allow providers to plan ahead and factor in any additional costs.
At present, the vetting system for those who want to work with children provides a “point- in-time” background check and individuals must undergo screening each time they enter into a new position of employment or voluntary work. The process can take anything from 4 weeks to months to complete, leaving employees unable to take up positions or employers facing non-compliance within preschool regulations.
Garda vetting should be person-centred and not service-centred. A simple procedure could be introduced where a document similar to a driver’s licence or passport would be issued, with a renewable date within a five to eight year period. This process of vetting will provide for ongoing monitoring of an individual’s suitability for child-related work/ volunteering. Any relevant convictions within the renewal period would have to be recorded on the vetting licence/passport with the administering authority informing the employer of the offence and/or withdrawing the vetting. Individuals can also carry their vetting between positions and do not have to undergo repeated screening while their vetting licence is valid. This model is already used internationally.
Childcare Regulations could be amended to accept a copy of the garda vetting from a relevant college until a person centred approach is adopted. In relation to home-based childminders all persons within the home over 18 years should be garda vetted to ensure good child protection practice.
One of the main regulation concerns is the number of childminders and school age childcare services are currently operating outside the inspection process. We acknowledge the plan announced in Budget 2016 to introduce standards and bring the school age childcare services under regulations but a large amount of childminders still remain outside of the regulations.
There has been a long history of no national approach to regulation which has caused serious consequences and difficulties for services and for inspectors. Many areas across the state have had no inspector or an inadequate number of inspectors in recent years. Tusla is moving to a National approach however additional inspectors are still needed. While inspection reports were made available to early years services and parents, they were not intended for publication. According to DCYA, a revision to the existing reporting templates have included attention being given to problematic elements such as:
Following the shocking Prime Time programme in May 2013 a decision was taken to publish inspection reports on line for public viewing. However, it has been emphasised that there are inconsistencies in the process of making these reports public, with a lack of clarity for service providers around the timeline and accessing of reports being uploaded online. The right to reply for childcare services and the publishing of these is necessary to ensure that the public has all relevant information. Consistency is needed should the publication of reports achieve the aim for improving quality of services, transparency for parents and safety of children.
The free pre-school provision has, to date, been universal in name only. Many children with special needs are prevented from availing of the government-subsidised scheme due to the absence of necessary supports. In addition, a child with additional or special needs’ attendance at a pre-school centre often depends on where that child lives. His or her attendance can range from not-at-all, to only a portion of any given day. This provides no continuity for a child even when he or she is able to attend. All children, especially those who are in need of additional care, should be provided with childcare in their own communities.
The Government has promised to phase in a number of supports to enable children with disabilities to fully participate in pre-school care and education. These supports are due to include enhanced continuing professional development for childcare staff to better understand and respond to children’s different needs; grants for equipment, appliances and minor alterations; as well as access to therapeutic intervention.
Current policy states that Traveller children should receive their education, including their pre-school education, “within an integrated provision that welcomes them as equal participants and also respects their culture” (DES, 2006, p.96). Securing equal educational outcomes for the Travelling community remains a challenge. OECD thematic review of early education and care in Ireland (2004) states that “the level of educational achievement of Traveller children is a matter of deep concern. The low enrolment rates of Traveller children in pre-schools and the infant school suggest that most Traveller children are entering primary school already at a great disadvantage…” (OECD, 2004, p. 8), there does not seem to have been much progress since this report to date. There are no national figures of the overall uptake among Traveller children of early years services, nor of their uptake of the universally available free preschool year, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is well below that of the wider population. Pobal Survey (2014) of childcare services highlights a total of 385 (or 15.4% of all services) reported having at least one child from the Travelling Community attending. However, the breakdown of this figure between community-based at 30.5% and private providers 9.1% is highly uneven. Urban facilities are more likely to have a Traveller child accessing their service (20.3%) than are rural services (12.2%). The survey also showed that only 1,467 traveller children were attending childcare services in the country.
Specific needs of immigrant children should not be overlooked in the implementation of the free pre-school year. Norway, like Ireland, puts a strong focus on the importance of language stimulation at an early stage of life. This is expected to be especially beneficial for immigrant children. With respect to the development of the host language, it would be important to take multi-cultural and anti-bias approaches to curriculum development and implementation (OECD REVIEWS OF MIGRANT EDUCATION: IRELAND – OECD 2009)
The OECD also states that it is helpful for immigrant children to be exposed to teachers with immigrant backgrounds, who can learn to teach both language and culture into the overall activities. Based on their own experiences of being an immigrant, such teachers may be more culturally sensitive to the child’s ‘language, social and emotional development, all of which are the prerequisite for successful integration and social cohesion.’
The childcare sector employs approximately 25,000 women. The average pay ranges between €10 and €11 per hour. Workers must often carry out a significant number of hours in preparation and administration that are unpaid. The service provider also works many hours that are not considered. This expectation of free labour is not acceptable and causes burn-out.
In spite of the high cost of childcare to parents in Ireland, educators on whom the quality of care depends are under-valued and under-paid. There is no job security or paid leave. Many are laid-off in the summer months. Most services are unable to pay staff for anything other than ‘core hours’. With such low wages, it is difficult for services to recruit and retain well-qualified staff there is increasing evidence that highly skilled graduates are being lost from the sector.
In order for a quality childcare system to work, the pay and conditions of childcare workers must also be a consideration. Rights and standards for childcare workers should be explored with workers needing professional salaries that provide for CPD, planning and preparation time, and educational attainment.
There is little difference in the salaries payable to educators with a QQI Level 5 qualification and those with a Level 8 honours degree. The rate of pay for an educator is generally €9 per hour (€351/week) to €10 per hour (€380/week) Managers who hold a Level 8 honours degree state that they earn between €12 per hour (€468/week) and €14 per hour (€546/ week) In comparison, the CSO figures for the first quarter Q1 of 2015 show the average weekly wage at €699. 45 and an average hourly rate at €22.25.
Crucially, there is no reward for obtaining a degree in early childhood education and care. With the exception of the ECCE scheme, which as of next year will require a minimum of a Level 6 qualification, there is no incentive for existing educators in the field to up-skill to higher level qualifications.
Too many children have been let down in Ireland by the absence of clear and consistent governance, poor communication and lack of accountability. The fact that we now have a cabinet-level Department of Children and Youth Affairs is an opportunity to drive significantly higher standards for all our children. A decision has to be made to view childcare as a public service rather than expecting the whole sector to work within a business model.
Sinn Féin sees childcare as a public service for both children and parents. When it works, a State’s childcare system can be a huge employer; help with the health and mental development of our smallest children; facilitate parents, especially women, to access the workforce; and be a positive component of economic growth.
Our health system is in a state of crisis. This crisis can be boiled down to two key failings on the part of successive governments: firstly, an extreme depth of fundamental inequality in how patients are treated, differentiated on ability to pay and location; and secondly, the sheer incapacity of the system to deal with even demographic pressures, evidenced particularly in our Emergency Departments and maternity care.
Sinn Féin is committed to the realisation of a world-class system of universal health care, accessed on the basis of need, free at the point of delivery, and funded by progressive taxation for the Irish state. We believe there is no greater good worth striving for.
The coming election will be about who can deliver a fair recovery for all our citizens. At present we have parties that imposed austerity, punished those most in need and are now claiming a one sided and unfair recovery. Sinn Féin offers a republican vision of Ireland, deliverable policies for a fair recovery and a new form of politics. An Irish language version of this document is also available here.