Call for extension to paid parental leave

Campaigners call on Government to set out plans for investing in children as part of upcoming National Early Years Strategy

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


Paid parental leave should be extended to cover the first year of a child's life, a submission on the forthcoming National Early Years Strategy has suggested.

Proposals outlined today by early-age care and education advocacy group Start Strong form part of a wider submission by the group on the national strategy. The National Early Years Strategy (NEYS) was announced by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald in January 2012 and approved by the Government last June. An outline of the strategy provided by the Department of Children says it will cover all aspects of children’s experiences in their early years including health, family support, care and education and will identify the structures and policies needed to improve early year’s experiences in Ireland.

The Start Strong submission, which also includes recommendations on regulating paid childcare, extending to two years the free pre-school year and the development of a national strategy for parenting supports, also calls on the Government to use the forthcoming national strategy “to set out plans for investing in children.”

Speaking at today’s launch, Toby Wolfe, Start Strong acting director said the strategy should become a Government priority in order to ensure a high quality of care and education is available for all young children.

"We urge the Government to develop an ambitious early years' strategy, with the emphasis on quality," Mr Wolfe said.

The submission, compiled following two national consultation meetings and consultations with over 600 children aged 3-5, also draws on research evidence and a comparison of national and international standards.

Quoting figures obtained from the OECD, Mr Wolfe said State spending on early care and education services is currently less than 0.2 per cent of GDP, well below the OECD average of 0.7 per cent. The submission includes a call for total investment in this area to be increased to equal the OECD average within 5 years and the international standard of 1 per cent within 10 years.

"Early care and education is an investment in children - and an investment that can yield large economic returns. But, it only benefits children if it's of high quality," Mr Wolfe said.

The group also included a call for reform of governance and monitoring systems. Services and supports for young children and families are currently shared across different departments and Start Strong says the NEYS is an opportunity to improve co-ordination.

"It is an opportunity to have a co-ordinated vision and also to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the different departments work together," Mr Wolfe said.

"The number one priority has to be quality. Raising the quality of early care and education services. By the end of the strategy no child should be in a low quality early care and education setting."