The next Budget must mark a turning point in State support for services for pre-school children, the Coalition has been told.
Early Childhood Ireland is pressing for changes in legislation supporting pre-school services announced last week to be supported by guaranteed funds.
The group, which represents pre-school and day care centres across the State, says money must be found, or at least ring-fenced, to ensure measures announced by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald are enacted.
The group briefed a range of TDs and senators at Buswell’s hotel in Dublin and is pressing for a Government commitment of 1 per cent of GDP to be invested in pre-school services and supports.
Such a move would bring Ireland into line with European Union best practice.
Chief executive Irene Gunning said the RTÉ Primetime programme Breach of Trust broadcast in May, was a catalyst for change.
However, without security of adequate funding, the chance to improve provisions at a critical stage in child development could be lost.
“The Irish model has been to invest in direct cash payments to families and not in services and standards and the limited investment we’ve had to date has been bout building bricks and mortat and not about building children’s futures,” she said.
“Budget day must be a turning point for our children, our citizens and future entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors who will keep the economy afloat.”
Calling Ms Fitzgerald, a “real champion for this sector”, Ms Gunning said the Minister had to press her Cabinet colleagues to make “child-friendly choices”. “The workforce development plan, and in particular the training transformation fund for the sector, is absolutely key,” she added.
Early Childhood Ireland says it is essential that the ECCE scheme (Early Childhood Care in Education) is extended throughout the year. Currently, qualified staff on the scheme for 38 weeks per year have to sign on the dole during the summer months, Ms Gunning claimed.
The organisation says the majority of practitioners in pre-school services are paid only for their direct contact time with young children. All other work, including planning and evaluation is carried out in their own time.
This “is simply not sustainable,” the group said.