Growing up in Ireland
Growing Up in Ireland is a Government-funded, national study of children that is being conducted over seven years. It involves some 20,000 children in two age groups, nine-year-olds and nine-month-olds. The research is designed to inform and educate the public about aspects of child development - including the involvement of parents and grandparents in childcare. The data collected also provide Government with a reliable basis - particularly at budget time - upon which to take policy decisions on childcare.
One finding from a recent research project showed that mothers on lower incomes returned to work early after the birth of their child, and did so sooner than better-off mothers. Poorer mothers also relied more on relatives for childcare support while their richer and - more likely better-educated - counterparts depended more on creche facilities. This latter group were also in a better position to take unpaid maternity leave, in addition to their statutory 26 weeks paid entitlement. The research highlights just how much parents rely on their extended families, including grandparents, for childcare support: some 42 per cent of those surveyed did. One third of parents employed either non-relatives or childminders, and over a quarter used centre-based facilities, such as creches.
For many parents, creches are no longer affordable. Recent revelations about the standard of care in some of these facilities have highlighted the need both for better regulation of the sector by enforcing agreed staff child ratios, while ensuring that those who work there are qualified to do so. Many non-relative childminders lack formal childcare qualifications, while too often the choice of extended family for childcare duties may be one of financial necessity. The Government is under pressure to reform and reduce the public cost of child benefit - some €2 billion annually. In doing so, it will have to take careful note of what this study, by setting out in detail important facts about aspects of childcare, has highlighted.