State funding for community childcare leaves 70% ‘out in the cold’

Government funding must be ring-fenced for private childcare facilities, conference told

The Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald,  with  John Roche from Greystones Co Wicklow. The  way the Minister has  allocated capital funding for childcare facilities has been criticised. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, with John Roche from Greystones Co Wicklow. The way the Minister has allocated capital funding for childcare facilities has been criticised. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 12:20

Government funding must be ring-fenced for private childcare facilities in the same way that community and not-for-profit services are resourced, a conference on early childhood has heard.

Chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland Teresa Heeney criticised the announcement by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald yesterday of a €3 million capital funding scheme, of which €2.5 million will go in grants of up to €50,000 for the repair, maintenance and upgrading of existing community and not-for-profit childcare services.

A further €500,000 will go to parent and toddler groups and to the childminding development grant scheme.

Ms Heeney said the funding announced by the Minister would leave a majority of the early childhood education sector “out in the cold”.

Early Childhood Ireland represents some 3,300 members involved in pre-school, after-school and full day-care provision.

Ms Heeney said “this scheme is unfair and short-sighted, totally ignoring private providers of early childhood care and education in Ireland who make up 70 per cent of the sector”.

Ms Fitzgerald said in her announcement she was “committed to securing the sustainability of community and not-for-profit childcare services, particularly in disadvantaged areas”.

She said that many community facilities were built with State investment but were now over 10 years old and issues such as repair, maintenance and upgrade had to be addressed.

Ms Heeney welcomed “wholeheartedly” the €2.5 million for the community sector but said “private providers face the very same cost challenge when it comes to repair work and they can’t be expected to fund this work when the money simply isn’t there”.

It was a “matter of urgency that a separate strand of funding is immediately ring-fenced to fund similar projects for private providers”.

Ms Heeney warned: “We can’t create a two-tier system where funds are directed at community services only and this Government must reinforce its commitment to all early childhood education providers, many of whom are on the brink of coping financially.”

She said the Minister and the Department of Children “must be reminded that many private facilities were also built with the aid of State investment and the same issues are emerging in terms of repair and upgrade” which had to be addressed to ensure the continuation of quality childcare “and to protect the State’s previous investment”.

A recent consultation process begun by the organisation has found that capitation is insufficient to sustain many services, pay and conditions are insufficient to retain qualified staff and “the way Government schemes are administered just adds to the paperwork, time and stress on childcare professionals”.

Ms Fitzgerald said she hoped to announce details of the next capital funding scheme for the early years’ sector before the end of the year, to start early in 2015.

“I am anxious to ensure that grants for capital funding are available to as many applicants as possible and that this is facilitated by and early announcement of a 2015 scheme,” the Minister said.