Spouses of front line staff may get extra childcare supports

One proposal would see certain crèches look after children of doctors, nurses and gardaí

Spouses of front line workers could be provided with extra supports to remain at home as part of a package of childcare supports aimed at freeing up workers crucial to the State’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The Department of Children is understood to be working with more than 30 county and childcare committees to potentially match up demand between front line workers; such as nurses, doctors and gardaí with childcare volunteers across the sector.

A source said “intensive” work is ongoing between the Departments of Children, Health and Public Expenditure to finalise a package of supports for these workers. The Department of Children is currently waiting on advice from the chief medical officer Tony Holohan and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Officials are examining the “balance of risks” of allowing certain crèches to look after the children of these workers as well as looking at guidelines around physical distancing and how to ensure clusters of infections do not develop in facilities.


It is understood the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has already informed childcare groups that if the NPHET clears the Department’s proposals, any such childcare scheme for front line workers would be done on an entirely voluntary basis.

A source said there is an appetite amongst early years providers to help doctors, nurses and gardaí and others on the front line but that assurances have been sought about safety and insurance.

One option being considered to alleviate the burden is through providing extra supports to the spouses of frontline workers where possible, it is understood.

SIPTU Head of Strategic Organising and Campaigns Darragh O’Connor said that “whatever type of childcare is provided, whether in the home or in a childcare provider setting, it has to be on a genuinely voluntary basis.” He said these childcare workers should receive a premium wage.

“The ratio, where the care happens, the type of facilities, these need to be taken into account for the sake of the worker, the family and the child,” he said.

Fianna Fáil spokeswoman for children Anne Rabbitte said the Government needs to move to take the burden off front line workers with childcare issues who are already facing significant stress in the battle against the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the Department of Children said “the provision of Early Learning and Care and school age childcare services for front line health staff is a matter that is being actively considered at present by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health/HSE.”

In Northern Ireland, schools are to be repurposed as facilities to care for the children of key workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

First Minister Arlene Foster said last week that “the educational work that goes on in schools has come to an end” but schools were “a good place to provide that free childcare for those workers … to allow the National Health Service to be in a fit purpose to serve us”.

In Canada, the Ontario government announced last weekend that it will be opening select childcare centres across the province to help frontline workers.

All schools and childcare facilities are set to remain closed until at least April 19th.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times