There will be a drop in quality and availability of child care if the Government does not address a "crisis" in the industry in the upcoming Budget, Early Childhood Ireland has warned.
The organisation, which represents pre-school care and education providers, has said the crisis is due to continued State under-funding, low pay rates and problems with recruitment and retention of childcare professionals.
In a report due to be published this week, the organisation has found the average childcare service in Ireland, whether private or community run, operates on a breakeven basis.
It also found salaries are the most significant costs and the hourly wages paid to staff are “markedly low”, with many of those working within the sector earning less than €11.45 an hour, the living wage, including those with a degree.
It found a large number of staff in the childcare sector are employed on part-time and or 38-week contracts and sign on the dole over the summer months.
And it found the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme, known as the free pre-school programme, which was extended from one to two years from this September, is proving too difficult for many operators to deliver, due to recruitment and retention issues.
The organisation has called for a €10 increase per child per week in the capitation paid under the pre-school programme, and an extension in the number of weeks of the programme, from 38 to 41. The combined increases would cost €92 million in 2017.
It has also called for a €3 million investment in education and training and €20 million to introduce a childcare subsidy to support parents with childcare costs for children under three.
Teresa Heeney, chief executive of the organisation, said many childcare providers cannot recruit and keep good staff, and are just about keeping themselves afloat.
“Without suitably qualified and experienced staff, the quality of childcare is threatened,” she said.
She said due to staffing challenges, childcare operators will find themselves having to reduce the services that parents need, at the very time Government wants the sector to expand.
“This Government must base subsidies on a realistic assessment of the cost of providing quality childcare, and the financial viability and sustainability of childcare providers needs to be a key concern of policy makers,” Ms Heeney said.