Childcare providers want the Government to temporarily reduce qualification standards for their employees in order to tackle a “staffing crisis”.
Seas Suas, a new representative group for independent childcare providers, said requirements that all staff should have a certificate – a basic childcare qualification – was making it difficult to find qualified staff.
It wants to relax this requirement temporarily so just three-quarters of staff should need this level of qualification.
“As an interim measure, and subject to the requirement that staff would be strictly supervised, this would ease the staffing crisis in the short-term and allow all staff to upskill to meet the required qualification standards. Without this measure,the staffing crisis will intensify,” the group says in a new policy document.
“Reducing the labour pool will reduce our ability to implement both existing and future provision of early education schemes.”
The group says while it supports the move towards greater professionalisation and a focus on formal qualifications, it was important not to overlook the “valuable broader skillset which staff possess through extensive practical experience”.
It says experienced carers have been forced out by excessive regulations and wants “radical reform” of early education and childcare services.
Seas Suas describes itself as a group of independent early education and childcare providers from across the country, ranging in size from small to large independent providers.
The group cites Sweden as a model, where it is national policy that a family with one child attending full-time early years services will never have to pay more than €150 per month.
This contrasts with Ireland where family costs average €700 and up to €1,200 per month.
Seas Suas chairwoman, Regina Bushell, said the State continued to be decades behind how other countries valued, financed, regulated and legislated for early education and childcare.
“Inconsistent, ill-informed regulatory thresholds are having unintended consequences,” she said.
“Much-loved, experienced carers have been forced out. Independent providers are having to reduce the number of available places. Costs, for families and providers, are rising.”
She pointed to a recent EU study which found that the State had one of the greatest gaps in coverage for early years education.
The study concludes that “mothers have fewer options and exclusive family/mother care is normative not because of explicit incentives, but because of a lack of publicly financed alternatives.”
Ms Bushell said: “It is more difficult for parents, particularly mothers, to return to the workforce, something we ourselves as employers of 25,000 people have to grapple with. Regulation should always support best outcomes for children and families and gender balance in the workforce.”
She said it was time for a strategy that sets out a pathway for reform, with step-by-step improvements that put Ireland alongside the best.
“Our Taoiseach recently spoke of creating a ‘republic of opportunity’. Access to high-quality, affordable early education and childcare services for all children irrespective of background or social status has to be the starting point for this ambition. Next Tuesday’s budget must kick-start this commitment.”