Childcare – a crisis in staffing

 

Sir, – The Minister for Children Katherine Zappone delivered an additional €89 million for early childhood education and care through Budget 2019, bringing the annual investment in the sector to an unprecedented €574 million.

The Minister’s ambition to turn one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world into the best is commendable, and it is heartening to note that the increased income thresholds announced under the Affordable Childcare Scheme will result in an estimated 7,500 more children benefitting from the scheme, with over 40,000 other children, already eligible, seeing increases to their subsidies.

The greatest asset in the childcare sector is its workforce of committed women and men. Many of these women and men who are qualified to degree level, work for minimum wage, and in some instances, if they are lucky, slightly more. Yet the expectations of these educators are enormous. They are expected to address educational disadvantage and poverty, embrace social inclusion, and support children’s holistic development. To do this they are expected to implement official guidelines, observe children, document and plan for their learning, support their transition to school, and undertake continuous professional development including diversity and equality training for example. Alongside this, settings are subject to multiple inspections by Tusla, the Department of Education and Skills, Pobal, and environmental health agencies, among others. All of this and more for minimum wage.

The sector is experiencing a chronic staffing crisis that has repeatedly been brought to Government attention. Currently staff turnover stands at 28.2 per cent. Some believe this is a conservative estimate. In any case, educators are leaving the sector in large numbers; some to work as special needs assistants in schools, others to work in shops and factories where they can earn much more and without the responsibilities and pressures associated with early childhood education and care. Others choose not to enter the sector at all. Often the lure of primary school teaching attracts graduates to pursue a postgraduate qualification in teaching.

It is not surprising that educators are expressing intense frustration and anger about the budget measures, and are rightly asking what is in the budget for them? They are rightly asking why they should undertake three and four years of study to gain a degree in early childhood education, when there is no correlation between their qualification level, experience and remuneration. They are rightly asking how much longer they can be expected to turn the most expensive system into the best, when their right to a professional salary is persistently overlooked. They are rightly asking why they should remain in a sector where they feel undervalued and underappreciated. It is close to impossible to attract or retain educators presently. Unfortunately, this problem looks set to worsen. There is a deep malaise within the early childhood education and care sector: a disgruntled and disenfranchised staff. In the absence of a robust sustainable workforce, one has to ask, who will provide the affordable childcare? – Yours, etc,

Dr MARY MOLONEY,

Chairwoman,

PLÉ Ireland,

Newport, Co Tipperary.