Childcare providers struggling to cover costs of fire safety upgrades

State grants not enough for some to cover new Tusla fire safety requirements

Nearly €5m worth of fire safety remedial grants was claimed by 644 childcare providers. Photograph: Getty Images

Nearly €5m worth of fire safety remedial grants was claimed by 644 childcare providers. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A number of childcare providers have had to shut because they were unable to afford upgrades demanded by Tusla to meet fire safety rules, according to the Federation of Early Childhood Providers.

Saying it was “wrong” that they had to close even though they had operated safely in older buildings for years, the federation’s chair, Elaine Dunne, nevertheless said “we cannot go up against regulations”.

State grants worth €10,000 were available but they were not enough to meet the costs left by the new regulatory demands, said Ms Dunne: “It comes down to funding.”

Regina Bushell, chair of Seas Suas, which represents independent early-education providers, said many owners had faced bills costing thousands of euro to meet standards.

The regulations do fix a “legacy issue”, she said, and childcare providers were generally supportive of the new standards. “It is unfortunate if somebody would have to close.”

She said some owners who were renting found that landlords were resistant to upgrades. “It was a challenge. I think most people accepted that it had to be done.”

The loss of a large city-centre creche such as the Harcourt Creche would be felt by parents as it was “challenging” to find places for children in Dublin, Ms Bushell told The Irish Times.

Nearly €5 million worth of fire-safety remedial grants was claimed by 644 providers, according to the Department of Children, although €5.5 million was left unclaimed. It was used to improve ventilation and outdoor play areas during the pandemic.

Noting that some were struggling to meet the new rules in time, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, said it was “aware of the difficulties”, and encouraged those facing difficulties to speak with their local authority.

It said the deadline for the new rules had been extended by 18 months to November 2021. “The suitability and safety of premises […] is a key concern in the assessment and quality provision for early years’ children,” The Irish Times was told.

Meanwhile, Ms Dunne said early childhood education faced “huge” staff shortages. “I have been advertising for three positions since April… I got one applicant, and that is from a girl in France.”

She said staff must hold a Level 5 qualification, but employers could not afford to pay enough. “They have to train to Level 5 or 6, but they keep going until they get to a level where they could get a good wage elsewhere.”

According to Ms Bushell, the need for qualifications to start cuts out the possibility of apprenticeship-style training and stops mature students who may have raised their own children.