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Childcare provision must be primarily based on the rights of children to best care – Ó Caoláin

26 May, 2009 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Private Members’ Motion on Childcare provision Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“Ba mhaith liom tacú ar son Sinn Féin leis an rún in ainm na dTeachtaí Fhine Gael ar chúram leanaí, sampla eile é den bpraiseach atá déanta ag an Rialtas seo ar pholasaí poiblí fíor-thábhacthach.

“On behalf of the Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála I support this motion in the name of the Fine Gael deputies. It is timely and necessary to highlight the issue of childcare which has received relatively little attention in recent times, nearly lost as it is among the many other public policy disasters perpetrated by this Fianna Fáil/Green Government.

“Having failed to put in place a proper childcare infrastructure during the past decade, the Government announced the Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme. As the motion says the Scheme has not been properly explained, seems ill thought out and certainly appears to be undeliverable by the start of 2010 as promised.

“The announcement of the Scheme accompanied one of the Government’s many savage cuts – the withdrawal of the Early Childcare Supplement, a supplement which was supposed to make up for the very poor State provision of childcare.

“That poor provision was confirmed on 11 December last when UNICEF issued a report which finds that this State comes last in a league table of the 25 OECD countries in terms of provision of early childhood education and care.

“This is a direct result of Government neglect over the past decade. I have no doubt that this will be seen as one of the greatest failures of policy by Fianna Fáil-led governments during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years when they refused to put in place high standard care and early education accessible to all children.

“In the very week the UNICEF Report came out, parents, children and childcare workers demonstrated in Dublin and Cork in protest at the Government’s Community Childcare Subvention Scheme.

“The ill-conceived scheme has created divisions between children from families who receive social welfare payments and those who do not. It is a totally inadequate manner in which to fund community childcare and as a result many crèches are closing. Creches have been burdened with bureaucracy to administer the scheme. The Government has also completely failed to address the disgracefully low pay of childcare workers in the community sector.

“The Dublin Inner City Partnership and the Dublin Inner City Childcare Providers Network last September published a critical study of the effects of the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme, a study that reflects the experience of childcare providers around the country.

“Of the twelve childcare providers studied in this research, seven (58%) saw their funding increase on their average annual grant under the previous scheme, the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme and five saw their funding reduced. Those whose funding was reduced experienced the equivalent of a 4.8% reduction in 2008 from the average annual grant level provided under EOCP.

“The study found that community childcare providers who experienced reductions in funding in 2008 would continue to have their funding reduced to 85% of their 2007 level in 2009 and to 75% in 2010.

“It was found, most critically, that childcare providers no longer have discretionary powers to provide for most needy cases. The implementation of the scheme was found to be cumbersome. Because subvention payments are paid forward based on previous years enrolments projects are now no longer able to plan in a coherent and business like fashion for the following year.

“58% of projects were worried that there will be an impact on quality of services for children and families. To quote directly from the Report:
‘There is a real risk that services will close. Local people in some of the most disadvantaged communities may not be able to afford childcare. Some of the most vulnerable families will be affected, and some families who struggled the hardest to get themselves out of poverty and into employment are very likely to lose their support. Vulnerable children, will lose their valuable access to pre-school education and care. Working parents may see increases in childcare fees ranging from 50% increase to 166% increase over 2007 costs.’

“Finally the report highlighted the low wages and salaries in community childcare in comparison with other similar employments and found that implementation of the Scheme will result in reduction of job security for community childcare workers.

“Given that experience is it any wonder that people are sceptical about the latest announcement from government in relation to childcare? The Community Childcare Subvention Scheme caused huge confusion when first introduced and, clearly, the problems that the Government was warned about did indeed come to pass.

“Now we have this latest addition to the tattered patchwork that is childcare provision in this State. In place of that patchwork we need a new approach based firstly on the rights of children to the best care and secondly on the needs of parents for adequate childcare so that they in turn can avail of their rights to education, training and employment to sustain themselves and their families.

“We in Sinn Féin have set out our vision of how the State should address this vitally important issue of childcare.

We believe the Government should have the following goals and should work to achieve them within a definite timeframe:
· To support the provision of the best care for all children
· to enable all parents to reconcile their childcare needs with participation in the labour force, education and training
· to enable all parents to exercise their choice to care for their children full time up to one year of age
· to enable all parents to access affordable childcare for their children
· to establish universal state provision of pre-school for all children from the age of three to five years
· to establish a universal provision of early childhood care and education based on the best international models.” ENDS

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