Funding cuts force closure of college creches

 

A NUMBER of creches in vocational colleges across the State are closing at the end of the academic year due to cuts in funding from the Department of Children.

Creches in the Vocational Education Colleges in counties Cork, Clare, Limerick and Carlow will close in coming months, while the City of Dublin VEC confirmed it will close its three creches – in Ballyfermot, Cabra and Whitehall – at the end of June, with the loss of 72 childcare places.

The 21 childcare staff – all qualified in childcare – will be redeployed to office duties.

VECs provide further education courses, including Post Leaving Certificate, literacy, numeracy and Further Education and Training Awards Council (Fetac) courses. Their creches provide quality childcare free or very cheap to students who would not otherwise be able to study.

At a protest outside the Ballyfermot college yesterday, about 20 parent students whose children attend the creche, along with teachers and a number of local representatives, said if the creches closed students would be unable to complete their courses.

Formerly funded by the Department of Education on a grant scheme for each creche, responsibility for funding transferred to the Department of Children in 2010 and the model changed to a grant-per-child scheme, paid directly to the creche.

In last year’s budget, the grant was reduced from €170 per child, per week, to €145. This grant is only paid for 43 weeks per year, while the public service creche employees must be paid for 52 weeks of the year.

Of the 30 or so VEC creches in the State, about 10 are in “immediate jeopardy”, said Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association, with “others fighting for survival. We have all this talk from Government, talking about getting people educated and out to work – and here they are putting up barriers to the most marginalised”.

One creche manager whose facility is to close in July said the VEC had been bridging the gap from its finances over the past year, but this was unsustainable.

Maureen Conway, principal at Ballyfermot, said it took two years to get the creche open eight years ago “because we saw the need”.

“To me it was extremely important that we had those supports in place, to enable young single mothers in particular access further education. Without it I don’t see how many are going to be able to complete their courses.”

Orla Ní Bhriain, guidance counsellor at the college, said “there were tears” among lone parents who wish to start studies in September, as they “had invested so much” in preparing for courses.

Open and shut: New building to close with loss of 39 child places

THE WHITEHALL VEC creche was opened by former president Mary McAleese just over a year ago.

Located in a new building, it is to close in two months with the loss of 39 childcare places.

Among those using it is Kalina Obrud, whose two-year-old, Oliver, has been at the creche since last year. She is studying business and computers and had hoped to start a software course next year. The closure was “terrible” she said, and she may not be able to return in the autumn. Her partner, Robert Fanning, said: “It’s all part of austerity Ireland. A brand new building is going to be shut down over a few pounds. They can find the money for the banks but not for young people and their futures.”

Rebeccah King, who has 16-month-old twin boys James and Cillian in the creche, is in her final year of a higher diploma in animation, and has been accepted onto the degree course. “I think it’s just going to be too difficult to do it without the creche . . . I could defer, but only for a year, and then I’d be in the same situation next year. My partner . . . deferred his course for one year, so he can’t again.” KITTY HOLLAND