As new report published last week found the cost of childcare in Ireland is a major factor in discouraging women from participating in the workforce, Irish Times Abroad asked readers living overseas about the cost and range of childcare options where they live, and what state or workplace supports are available.
From this month, the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme provides two years free pre-school education to children in Ireland, but this usually only covers three hours of care per day, during the school term only.
From an average 50 per cent state supplement on all childcare in Australia, to €1 afterschool care in Belgium, there's a lot Ireland could learn from how things are done elsewhere. Below is a selection of responses we received from readers around the world about the costs and state supports where they live.
Suzanne Hunt, Stockholm: ‘Cost of childcare was one of the biggest factors in our decision to leave’
I left Ireland two years ago when a transfer came up with my job. We moved to Sweden. At that stage our son was four and our daughter was 18 months. The cost of childcare was one of the biggest factors in our decision to leave. We both earned good salaries but after mortgage and crèche fees there wasn't enough. We both worked four-day weeks, as after tax it was cheaper to do that than put our kids in full-time childcare. We used to pay over €1,000 for three days a week, and that included the ECCE supplement.
Now we pay around €180 for two full-time places. We receive €290 in children’s allowance. It is subsidised by the tax you pay. I am really happy with the level of care; the approach is that children need education from an early age. They start at around 18 months due to the generous paternity leave. Teachers are educated like in Irish facilities, but are recognised for the important work they do and are paid as such. Children play outside most of the day no matter what the weather.
The emphasis in early childcare here is on teaching the children to be kind and social, and classes are often mixed from 18 months to six years. They are provided with hot meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. I often hear Swedish colleagues and friends say, “’but we pay high taxes for such services”. But I paid the same tax in Ireland when you factor in USC and PRSI, and I really can’t see in retrospect what I paid tax for in Ireland.
My son is in school now. It’s open from 6.30am to 5.30pm and is completely flexible for drop offs and pick ups. A lot of workplaces offer flexible working, meaning you can choose what time you start and what time you finish, which makes juggling childcare and work much easier. Also, there is a possibility to reduce your hours if you need to spend more time with your children.
It is also protected by law and the government will pay 80 per cent of your salary to stay home with your sick child. Either parent can take that, and we take it in turns. It is even used as a verb here: "Vabbing today". I have just finished three months parental leave, which I never would have taken with how work is structured in Ireland.
I am very grateful having experienced two very different approaches to the young family by a state. The children are the work force of the future, they will subsidise our pensions. Is it not common sense to invest in them for these very reasons?
Aoife W, Belgium: ‘Childcare is generally available and affordable’
Childcare is generally available and affordable in Belgium. Parents pay a handful of euros for either after- or before-school care, which can start at 7am and finish at 6pm. This is particularly helpful on a Wednesday when schools usually close at noon. Many parents negotiate flexible working hours to pick up children early, or take one day off a week. It’s often the mums, working part-time to leave early, or working “four-fifths”, or using parental leave to take a day off a week.
Children start school early, at two and a half years, which is a relief after paying crèche fees of about €600 a month, less for people on low incomes. Belgian maternity leave is pretty short at 15 weeks, and you will see some small babies at crèches if parents can’t afford to live on the stipend of €700 a month that parental leave pays for an extra four months.
Getting a place can be tricky in Brussels; Belgians advised signing up for a crèche place at three months pregnant, well before informing the world. School holidays mean “stages” or holiday camps - plenty of them, ranging in price from about €40 to €300 a week. Brussels being a city of at least two languages, French and Dutch, one favoured option is to stick children into full immersion in the other language. It’s entirely possible for a parent to work all summer and have a child in camp without breaking the bank.
Barbara Canella, Montreal: ‘Most people pay less than €6.60 per child per day’
I am now a grandmother but when I was raising my son 33 years ago we had daycare which opened at 7am and closed at 6pm, Monday through Friday. At that time it was not subsidised but we received children’s allowance from the government and we could recuperate some of the daycare expense on our taxes. Now my grandson goes to a daycare which is registered for government subsidy. Parents pay anything from CAD$7 to $20 (€4.60-13.20) per day, which is income assessed. Most will pay less than $10 (€6.60) per child. Daycares must meet certain standards to be registered.
The province also provides up to two years partially paid parental leave where your job must be held for you. There are some daycares that open 24 hours to facilitate night shifts. The system is not perfect and more facilities are needed, but it facilitates parents returning to the workplace when ready.
Elaine Baker, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: ‘I can afford a child-minder/housekeeper, and to pay her well’
One of the big advantages of living in Tanzania is that I can afford a child-minder/housekeeper, and to pay her well by Tanzania standards. I have a loyal dependable person who will work flexible hours; she even moves in to look after my children full-time when I travel for work, picking my children up from school and bringing them home in (affordable) taxis, etc. This is essential for me, being a single mom where neither the children’s dad nor any of their relatives on either side of the family live in the country. The disadvantage of living abroad is that I don’t have any relatives who could help with childcare.
Seamus Walsh, Melbourne: ‘Our childcare is subsidised 50 per cent by the government’
We are a family of six on the Mornington Peninsula southeast of Melbourne. With our eldest two in school we rely on family daycare. Our four-year-old boy spends two days a week in an in-home daycare close to us, run by a mum we know through our primary school. Our seven-year-old girl spends one afternoon a week at the same daycare. For 34 hours of care per fortnight we pay AUD$377 which is subsidised 50 per cent by the government (subsidies of up to 85 per cent are available under the Child Care Subsidy scheme, depending on the family's income), so we are out of pocket AUD$188 (€116 euro) or about $5.50 per hour. We have previously used au pairs and we might again. For our current needs family daycare presents great value and convenience.
Therese Mac, Belgium: ‘Afterschool care costs €1 per hour’
Brussels is divided into 19 communes and within each there are public crèche places. Parents pay according to their income; high earners pay full rates. School starts at age two and a half. There is a garderie in each school from 7 or 7.30am, which costs €1 an hour. The school day for all children runs until 3.30pm. There is a garderie again for the children of working parents until 6pm. Essentially, childcare costs for full-time working parents of children aged two and a half upwards, are about €40 to €60 a month.
Martin Carey, Vancouver: ‘The main issue is getting a reputable daycare’
In Vancouver, childcare is an area where the government is playing catch up. In Quebec there is a CAD$15 (€9.90) a day childcare supplement, but in British Columbia, the provincial government is just starting to invest in childcare. They recently announced grants for childcare based on the age of the child and family income of CAD$350 per child under three, and CAD$100 for over three for everyone, with further subsidies for low-income families. But with reputable childcare costing at least CAD$1,000, it hasn’t made a whole lot of difference.
Our daycare raised their prices just before the government announced the grant, and as there is a shortage of spaces they just tell parents they can leave if they are not happy. We have managed to get our first boy into a reputable daycare so we just pay the fees. The main issue is getting a reputable daycare and in certain parts of the city you have to register your child when they are born. The provincial government says they are committed to achieving Quebec level fees in the long run, but unfortunately our two boys will be in primary school by then.
Niamh McDermott, Melbourne, Australia: ‘With the subsidy I only pay €24.60 per day’
Australia has a means-tested childcare subsidy in place for pre-school children. I currently work three days a week, and have my 14-month-old daughter in a daycare centre for those days. The centre rate per day is approximately AUD$127 (€78) but with the CCS I only pay $40 (€24.60) per day. If this government subsidy wasn’t available we would be struggling.
Rowena Gray, California: ‘My three-year-old attends daycare on campus’
I’m in my mid-30s, working as a professor at a university in the unfashionable Merced County part of California. My three-year-old attends daycare on campus, so it is very convenient. It is full-time and wasn’t hard to get a place three years ago when we came here. The student-teacher ratio seems a bit high, but all teachers are trained. I never had a child in daycare in Ireland so it’s hard for me to compare, but in the US childcare is also quite expensive. We are a dual-income family with one child so for us it’s not a problem.