Early childcare the 'best investment'


THE BEST long-term investment the Government could make to ensure Ireland’s economic recovery would be in early child-care and education, according to a new group of childcare advocates.

The Start Strong network, which has more than 90 members including the Children’s Rights Alliance, Barnardos and the National Parents’ Council, was formerly the Irish Childcare Policy Network. It announced its “Children 2020” campaign yesterday, saying the current “patchwork response” to early education meant Ireland was “bottom of the league” of 25 OECD countries.

Director of Start Strong Ciairín de Buis said that while Ireland was “bottom of the list for quality” it was “top of the list for costs”.

Among 10 priorities of the campaign are the introduction of paid paternity leave and longer maternity and parental leave; affordable and accessible childcare for all families; greater supports for work-life balance; and additional childcare supports for families “who need support most”.

Ms de Buis said the universal provision of early childcare and education worked for children because it helped them make the most of their lives. It was good for the economy because its impact on children’s skills and dispositions lasted a lifetime; and it was good for society because it reduced social divisions by strengthening equality.

“The return to investment in quality early care and education is high. Cost-benefit analyses in the US have found returns can be as high as $16 for every $1 spent.”

She said the forthcoming budget would probably be one of the harshest ever. The budget for early education at the Office of the Minister for Children had already been cut by more than 50 per cent since 2008. There was a need more than ever to protect services to children from further cuts.