Coronavirus: Creches under pressure could receive fast-tracked financial support

Potential extra funding for creches still in financial difficulty could come from the Early Learning and Care Sustainability Fund

Creches facing financial pressure could receive fast-tracked financial support under proposals being considered by the Government.

The development comes after Siptu, the State’s largest trade union, called for access to a fund usually dedicated to assisting the establishment of non-profit childcare operations.

Some creche owners have complained that the structure of the bailout scheme, which will see the Government effectively pay the entirety of the sector’s wage bill for the next three months, leaves them financially exposed.

They have argued that the suspension of the usual level of Government subsidies during this period will leave them with cash-flow issues, even after their wage bill is taken care of by the State.

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Potential extra funding for creches still in financial difficulty could come from the Early Learning and Care Sustainability Fund. A spokeswoman for the Department of Children said this funding “is usually only open to not-for-profit organisations, however we are currently open to exploring if this can be opened up to the for-profit sector”.

The scheme is relatively small, with the approved budget for 2020 just €2.2 million. “The Department will consider assigning additional funds to sustainability if necessary. The sustainability of the early learning and care sector, during and after the Covid-19 crisis, is essential to ensure the best outcomes for children, and to support economic recovery,” the spokeswoman said.

The indication that extra funding schemes may be brought on stream was welcomed by representative organisations in the childcare sector. Marian Quinn, chairwoman of the Association of Childcare Professionals (ACP), said such a scheme was going to be needed "without a doubt" due to the suspension of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and other subsidies.

“The government has pulled significant schemes that were funders for early years services. If they want the services to be able to re-open, without a doubt services will need additional support.”

She said there had been confusion on the precise detail of the Government’s scheme, which will see fees for parents being waived and a variety of top-up payments being made to creches and childcare workers.

“They’ve announced they’re putting together a Covid emergency payment scheme but there’s so few details that providers don’t know what they should be doing at the moment,” she said. “They’re in a savage panic.”

Joan O’Sullivan, owner and manager of Little Footsteps creche in Swords, north Co Dublin, said she was worried she would have to lay off staff unless clarity and funding was forthcoming in the days ahead. “We all just want to see our building stay open and our staff to be paid,” she said, adding that she would be open to taking part in a dialogue with Government on the path forward. “People would love some guidance on how we can help,” she said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times