Staff turnover at 40% in full-time childcare operators

Unions warn the figures represent a risk to controlling spread of Covid-19 in creches

Staff turnover in full-time childcare operators is running at more than 40 per cent, new figures show, with the Department of Children blaming pay and conditions for an “unsustainably high” level of personnel change in the sector.

The figures, released to Sinn Féin's spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion, show the average turnover for full-time services, which provide childcare for more than five hours a day, is 40.17 per cent.

A spokesman for the Department of Children said the figure is “not reflective” of the overall situation as when all services are included – such as childminding or play groups – the level dropped to an average of 24.7 per cent.

However, the spokesman said staff turnover is “unsustainably high”, adding that “it is believed that a key driver of turnover is the level of pay and working conditions in the sector, which have remained a serious concern and impact on the quality of provision to childcare through their effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff”.

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“The lack of consistency of care caused by high staff turnover impacts directly on quality, while low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill and professionalise the workforce,” the spokesman added. The most recent data on pay and conditions in the sector shows that average hourly pay in the middle of last year was €12.55.

Unions have warned that the figures represent a risk to controlling the spread of Covid-19 in creches, with turnover levels undermining “play pods”, the core measure to stop the disease in childcare, which sees children segmented into small groups with an adult worker.

Siptu will today launch its pre-budget submission for the childcare sector, calling for a living wage scheme and sick pay for workers. The union's head of organising, Darragh O'Connor, said a lack of supports and high staff turnover are "undermining Covid-19 control measures in creches".

State funding

“The high turnover of staff undermines the play pod policy due to changes in key workers and increases the possibility of Covid-19 outbreaks,” he said, adding that almost 80 per cent of staff do not get sick pay. “The mistakes made in nursing homes and meat factories are being made again in childcare services.”

The 40.17 per cent figure is down from 46.4 per cent in 2017-2018, but is an increase on the 2016-2017 level of 36.8 per cent.

Data released by the department indicates that the State pays 58 per cent of the bill for childcare services, across a variety of subsidies and grants, with the balance being covered by parents.

While State funding for the sector has increased by 141 per cent in the last five budgets, overall levels compare unfavourably to other European countries. Departmental research shows that in order to match what Iceland spends on childcare, Ireland would need to spend €5.83 billion every year, compared to the current level of €640 million.

The cost of a State-run childcare service could be as much as €2 billion annually, with €1.6 billion needed for wages alone, recent research found. It is estimated that parents spent about €450 million a year on fees for centre-based services.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

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