Your stories of childcare costs in Ireland: ‘I am living below the poverty line to keep working’

We asked readers about their experiences of childcare. Here’s a selection of responses

Louise Fitzpatrick

Co Dublin

Louise Fitzpatrick will be going back to work after her maternity leave soon and expects to pay €2,000 a month in childcare. That will pay for a nanny “to come to our house four days a week to look after my two children — a three-year-old and a nine-month-old”.

A nanny wasn’t her first choice of childcare, but “I inquired in creches and it was impossible to get a place. None in my area take babies under one, and the wait lists are crazy. It would have cost almost the same anyway as you pay for five days even if you only need them for four”.

A private childminder or nanny offers her flexibility, “but it kills me that we get no tax breaks for this. We have to earn €4,000 to pay the €2,000 plus all their PRSI, and so on. I’m concerned whatever is announced in the budget will relate to creches only — and yet creches are so inflexible, oversubscribed and understaffed in Dublin. They just aren’t an option for many parents.”

Anonymous

Co Cork

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“I am living below the poverty line to keep working. Covid has eliminated my parents’ free childminding help. So with summer looming at €10 per hour minimum for a childminder, I had to get a new job. I now work 11pm at night until midday — on a waking night shift three nights a week. I drop the children [off] to their father to sleep at his house, and he drops them to the private childminder, who works 9am-12.30pm when I collect them.

“It is killing me health-wise, but it saves me €70 a day in childcare fees in the summer months. Last summer and the one before I borrowed from the credit union to go to work because I earned €12.90 per hour for my 9am-5pm job, and paid my childminder €10 per hour. But who cares? Nobody. I live pay-day to pay-day. I often eat my children’s leftovers at dinner in secret to save on food and tell them I’m not hungry, ate earlier or have a sick tummy. In addition to childcare costs I pay crippling rent top-ups on HAP payments.

“I’m 44, and when I was a child my parents worked and struggled with electricity and oil prices as well as buying and affording a house, but their childcare fees were nowhere near as extortionate as mine. The fact that history is repeating itself eats me inside not for me but my children. I am enslaved in poverty and in utter despair. We are not a society when it is every man for himself. We are in a downward spiral destroying every fabric of our society and we are not doing a thing to call a halt to it.”

Louise Finan

Co Roscommon

Louise Finan is paying €90 a week for full-time childcare, which is the lowest of anyone who spoke to The Irish Times. “Our son is starting the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE). Coupled with the childcare subsidy, this will bring our cost to €90 a week for 8am to 6pm, five days a week. We are very happy with this — it was €140 a week for creche in the same provider last year which was also very manageable.”

The reason Finan is paying so much less is down to location. “We’re in Roscommon, and there is a huge difference from Dublin where we were living until May 2021. The cost of childcare and the cost of living were among the reasons for the move. We couldn’t get him a creche place in south county Dublin, so had a childminder for six hours a day for three days per week at a cost of €250. My family helped us out for the fourth day and I took parental leave on the fifth day — meaning I was down €500 month in salary as a result.”

Life has changed completely since the move. “Now, after the tough first year of sickness and bugs, we’re delighted. He loves it — he has his little friends and the creche is in a purpose-built house with loads of outside space where they can grow their own veg. The owner and staff are either friends of my family or neighbours so you feel like it is actually the community doing the raising of the child, and it’s not just about profit. I get the best of both worlds, I’m in Dublin two days a week for work and I love catching up with friends and colleagues, but it’s like a big sigh of relief coming home.”

Lucy Barrett

Co Dublin

“I pay €900 for my daughter’s creche. She is starting ECCE and is in full-time care. The standard fee is €1,200, so I get €300 off with ECCE and the additional NCS (National Childcare Scheme). My partner are I were banking on ECCE making more of a difference, but it barely scratches the surface,” says Lucy Barrett.

“My second daughter will be starting in January, at which point we will be paying a total of €2,000 a month, as the creche recently got rid of the additional 10 per cent off second child discount due to rising costs. Once I go back to work in January, my salary will purely be covering childcare and our mortgage.” Barrett is on a good salary as a merchandiser for Primark, and her partner Yannick is a consultant with Workday. “We both made a good wage and we are still struggling to cover the costs. I would only consider having another child if there was a substantial input from the Government.”

In Belgium, where Yannick is from, “creche is considered just like school, it is subsidised from the state and works out as approximately €300 a month. We are looking at an population, these kids will be paying for our pensions in years to come. I truly believe if there was substantial input from the Government, there would even be a baby boom. All people are looking for is some support.”

Niamh Farrrell

Co Limerick

“We had to put our name down for a creche place when I was just 10 weeks pregnant. We secured a place for when our son turns one, where we have to pay a five-day rate, with no option to do three or four days. I am back to work since my son was six months old so have had to work part-time, rely on Granny-care and use our parental leave to get us to the twelve-month mark,” says Niamh Farrell, who is from Limerick.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the sector is privately managed with potluck as to availability of places depending on where a person lives.”

Farrell points out that she is not blaming creches — she understands the pressures they are under too. “The Government needs to step in and manage early childhood care in the same way it provides primary school education. Extending parental leave is a cheap way for the Government to force parents to provide childcare instead of providing creche spaces, but it’s not affordable for many families.”

Anonymous

Co Dublin

“We pay our childminder €630 euro per week to mind our children (aged three and five) as we are both doctors working full-time. We cannot afford to pay PRSI and a gross salary which would leave her with the €15 euro per hour that she demands so we pay her cash in hand,” says one woman.

“People think we are on a good wage but we are living hand-to-mouth trying to pay the mortgage and the minder.”

She is frustrated that “there is a lot of a talk about reduced creche fees, but not about tax relief for those of us who have to rely on a minder. We have a good minder, but she is talking about negotiating her wage upwards as the cost of living has increased, and we are panicking because things are so tight as it is.”

“Sometimes we wonder if one of us should take a few years off work to mind them and let the other one get ahead in their career. A lot of the time we think about just moving country, to be honest. This might be the year it happens.”

Natalie Forrester

Hungary

Natalie Forrester contributes €30 per month towards the care of her son, Wolfie. Between three and six years of age, children can be looked after between 8am and 4.30pm in a state-run ‘Óvoda’ or Kindergarten. “It’s incredible, they learn, they play in a big playground under oak trees. Wolfie loves Óvoda. We pay just €30 a month for breakfast, lunch and two snacks. I’ll never look back — never mind the affordable housing.”

Muireann O’Connor

Co Dublin

“We are first-time parents to our little son Louis. He’s eight months old right now and I was due back to work this week, but we decided a further two months of parental leave was best for our little family,” says Muireann O’Connor. “We have a wonderful childminder lined up costing €50 per day, which is roughly €1,000 per month. Along with our high mortgage, this is the equivalent of one of our full wages per month. We feel we can’t afford to have another child if we stay in Dublin. Neither of us have family here. It’s hard.”

Méabh

Co Dublin

“The creche fees for my two children aged three and two come to €2,200,” says Méabh, a doctor who preferred not to give her last name.

“This means that the first €50,000 I earn goes on childcare. We are not much better off financially by me returning to work — the main reason for returning is to ensure I do not deskill. It is challenging for doctors to return to work after a long period of absence. Even so, I am strongly considering leaving my job and staying home with my children.”

Laura Keenan

Co Dublin

My childcare costs are more than €3,300 per month (this is after the deductions for NCS). I live in Dublin. My situation is that I have a two-and-a-half-year-old and 18-month-old twins. Finding out I was having identical twins was a total shock (identical twins are not hereditary) but I knew I absolutely did not want to give up my job. I have an actuarial qualification and I have worked incredibly hard in my career. The general consensus from people I spoke to was “I assume you won’t go back to work” or “surely you won’t go back full-time”. I went back to work full-time in July when the twins were 16 months. I am so lucky to have a job that allows me the privilege of being able to work and also pay childcare fees of this magnitude. I had my twins during Level 5 lockdown and joined a WhatsApp group of 20 other wonderful women across Ireland who also had twins at this time — many of them are crippled with the cost of childcare and many gave up their jobs.

I appreciate that I do get additional child benefit for the twins (my total child benefit per month for the three is €560). However, that is really used up on the cost of living.

Another point to add is that our childcare costs increased by 8 per cent in May with no notice. This was quite upsetting as my twins hadn’t even had any time on the previously agreed pricing. With three in the creche there was nothing I could do but pay it as there are very few options available to try and move them, especially at short notice. I will say that the creche is absolutely fantastic, the staff are wonderful and my kids love it there.