A new Fine Gael report has called for a major rethink of the way Ireland supports children and the childcare sector.
In the first report to emerge from the party’s new “policy lab”, Fine Gael is proposing what it has called a “major re-prioritisation” of early childhood by the Government and policymakers.
“There is no denying that there are strains within the early childhood sector,” the report says.
“For many parents, the cost of childcare is like a second mortgage, and gaps in provision are highly disruptive to their lives. The career structure for staff is underdeveloped and insecure.
“Providers struggle to meet the rising demands to meet gaps in service and growing expectations on all sides.”
Among the solutions proposed by the party are measures designed to ease the financial burden of childcare, including extending the national childcare scheme, as well as increasing and extending parental benefit beyond the current limit of two years after a child is born.
The report, Care of the Child, also proposes giving childcare providers access to existing State facilities.
It says: “A systematic drive to build for emerging needs must inform developmental planning at local level and state investment.”
The report says that it wants to solve issues of pay in the childcare industry and suggests a new career structure is needed, as well as proposing a new apprenticeship programme be introduced to allow people to enter the sector “at any stage of their careers”.
The proposals have received the backing of the party's chairman and former education minister Richard Bruton, who oversaw the creation of the party's policy lab.
“Wellbeing in early childhood must be systematically prioritised and assessed,” he said.
“It must be a significant part of the new social contract, which the Government seeks to forge.”
Senator Mary Seery-Kearney, the party’s Seanad spokeswoman on children, said: “The policy lab is seeking the adoption and implementation of its recommendations. They are based across three key cornerstones, parents, providers and staff, with the wellbeing of the child the overall priority.”
Fine Gael said that the proposals were put together following a survey of 2,500 people and more intensive discussions with 150 people from the childcare sector.
The party is planning to submit the proposals to the Department of Children.
Other proposals include the creation of an innovation fund for childcare providers, which the report says would support “development of new types of childcare centres – community based, co-operatives, employer-led, co-location, some to be managed through the local childcare committees”. – PA