A flawed system of childcare

While State funding remains so depressed, and childcare workers are paid so little, the sector will continue to struggle

 

The most effective way out of poverty is through a job and any incoming government must provide direct and generous funding for childcare, rather than focus on cutting taxes or restoring pay levels. Economic recovery is underway but the high cost of childcare inhibits mothers who wish to enter the workforce from actually doing so and places a heavy financial burden on others.

Irish childcare is the most expensive within the European Union and, for parents with more than one child, can amount to the equivalent of taking on a second mortgage. State investment is 0.2 per cent of GDP, compared to an OECD average of 0.8 per cent. Childminding costs in Ireland are double that of the UK and three times of that in France. Because State funding is for 38 weeks, which excludes holiday periods, it is not designed to cater for full-time carers or for working mothers. Those shortcomings need to be addressed.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has reported on an increase in the level of casualisation within the sector and noted that a high-quality model of early care and education will require significant improvements in the pay and conditions of workers. There is nothing new in that conclusion. But it addresses only one aspect of the problem. The other has to do with providers and ensuring they deliver a high-quality service, with a staff to child ratio that facilitates proper child development, while remaining profitable.

The status quo represents another instance – like social housing – of an official policy that transferred public responsibility to the private sector. Now, both the public and private childcare sectors are struggling to provide appropriate services because of totally inadequate State funding.

New rules and regulations were introduced over recent years in an attempt to establish consistent levels of service. And more advanced qualifications were required of employees. While State funding remains so depressed, and childcare workers are paid so little, the sector will continue to struggle. In such circumstances, the losers are our children.

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