HSE cuts funding for childcare training and advice
Decision affects 33 positions in Childminding Advisory Service
Health authorities cut funding for a training and advice service which provided support to thousands of childminders earlier this year, despite recent pledges to increase standards in childcare.
The Childminding Advisory Service – which employed more than 30 staff – was set up a decade ago to provide support to childminders.
Up to 70,000 children are cared for by childminders in the State each day. However, unlike many European countries, much of the sector is not regulated or subject to inspection.
The Health Service Executive has confirmed that funding for childminding advisory officers is no longer in place in most parts of the country since the beginning of this year.
“This is due to pressure on HSE resources and the need to prioritise funding to other areas of front-line services,” it said in a statement.
However, many of those employed in the service say the step means thousands of childminders are without any form of support or advice on how to provide quality childcare.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Sheila Sheridan, who was recently employed as a childminding advisory officer. “The Government says it wants to build up quality childcare services. We were providing expert advice on child development and training to thousands of people minding children in their own homes. Now, that’s all gone.”
Regulations and inspection
While creches and preschools are subjected to regulations and inspections, childminders taking care of up to three preschool children from different families are exempt. Those caring for more than three children come under the same regulations as preschools.
Until recently the HSE directly employed childminding advisory officers or funded these posts through service level agreements with county or city childcare committees .
The service had been providing networking, information, training and support to an estimated 19,000 childminders looking after children in their homes. In a statement, the HSE said these county or city childcare committees were now well established and were in a position to continue to support the childminding sector.
As a result, it said childminders continued to have support, training and advice.
The claim is disputed by former childminding advisory officers who say they have assisted several thousand childminders to complete quality awareness progress or training over recent years.
Ms Sheridan said the officers were involved in advisory visits and training in childcare, child protection and paediatric first aid.
“This was efficient and cost effective and gave value for money. There were 33 advisory officers supporting nearly 4,000 active childminding services. This support is no longer available,” she said.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said despite the efforts of officers, only a relatively small number of childminders had come forward to avail of tax reliefs and training. These moves had been aimed at boosting standards and quality in the sector.
A spokeswoman for the Minister said the issue of regulations, standards, quality assurance, and inspection for childminders are being considered by an expert group which is advising the department on the development of a strategy for early years education.
Concern over the quality of standards in preschool services has heightened following an RTÉ Prime Time film showing the mistreatment of children at three creches.
Yesterday, the Minister said parents will be able to read inspection reports for creches online by July 1st and from September childcare providers will have to register before setting up.