Creche report recommends fees cap among sweeping changes

Much higher public funding needed along with better pay for staff – report

‘The variation in the parental fees charged by providers is striking,’ the report found.’ Photograph: Getty

‘The variation in the parental fees charged by providers is striking,’ the report found.’ Photograph: Getty

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The State should significantly increase funding for childcare and early-learning services in return for providers paying higher wages to staff and cutting unaffordable fees for parents, an expert group has recommended.

The group was commissioned by the Department of Children to examine the funding models for childcare, but was specifically excluded from recommending that the State should take control of all childcare.

Its report, Partnership for the Public Good, recommends that private and community providers should get more State backing, matched by more State oversight

In a key finding, it concluded that fee capping would be necessary: “Some families are facing extremely high costs,” said the chairman of the expert group, Michael Scanlan.

The State help currently on offer is weighted in favour of poorer families, the reports finds, but concerns about paying for childcare “are particularly acute for households with multiple children using high hours of care”.

“The evidence suggests that for the most part this is not currently a highly profitable sector, but the variation in the parental fees charged by providers is striking,” the report found.

Twenty-five recommendations are made, including the need to increase wages for the 45,000 people working in a profession that is widely recognised as low paid.

The Government has committed to doubling childcare funding to €1 billion a year by 2028, but the group finds that even more will need to be spent to repair gaps.

While the expert group welcomes the Joint Labour Committee’s current investigation of pay rates, a second report released yesterday noted that the majority of workers in creches and early learning in seven years’ time will be graduates.

Highly qualified

The report recommends a core funding model that will facilitate private and community providers to provide a professional and quality service at affordable prices, and with highly qualified staff.

The group praised many aspects of the current service but added there were “legitimate and serious concerns about certain features of the existing system”.

It instances high employee turnover rates, driven by low pay and poor working conditions. This, it said, impacted negatively on the quality and consistency of care, a sense of precariousness and fragility among providers, fees imposing a high burden on some parents, and the absence of any specific programme to tackle socio-economic disadvantage.

“The single biggest and most important issue in relation to quality is the impact that pay and conditions in the sector are having on the ability to recruit, motivate, develop and retain a workforce that can provide children with the stable and consistent interactions upon which early childhood development depends.

“Notwithstanding caveats about international comparisons, it seems clear that the out-of-pocket costs incurred by many Irish families [for childcare and early learning] are higher than those of their counterparts in many other countries.

It recommends that the Deis system for schools in disadvantaged areas could also be adapted to address similar issues in early childhood development and learning.

Its core funding recommendation is for a new supply-side payment for providers designed to support quality – including improved staff pay and graduate staff – with associated conditions in relation to fee control and cost transparency.