Childcare providers play a vital role

 

Sir, – The headline “Childcare workers laid off by employers who still had State subsidies” (April 2nd) has caused unfair distress among the country’s many conscientious and responsible childcare providers who play a vital role in society, providing services that have been inadequately recognised, valued and resourced by successive governments.

For the sake of clarity and objectivity, the following should be acknowledged: the Government directive on March 12th that all childcare services had to close came with no prior warning and no direction as to appropriate social welfare or business support arrangements.

While some childcare providers directed staff to check their social welfare entitlements, in the first instance, most acted in good faith and in the best interest of their staff at a difficult and stressful time for all concerned, especially parents.

Many service providers put staff on temporary leave and advised them to seek the Covid-19 unemployment payment, when it was announced.

Most intended adding to this payment with funding from the Government childcare schemes/parents’ fees, when they had clarity as to what payments could be retained and what was acceptable to the Department of Social Protection and Revenue.

A significant number are attempting to subsidise staff income, while mindful of their own family’s needs.

Recent events have had a devastating effect on providers delivering creche and preschool services as well as on their staff. Most providers are small business owner/managers. Many pay significant rents or mortgages along with other bills and continue to do so in spite of services being closed. They face uncertainty; not knowing if they will survive the next 12 weeks, if they will have services to go back to or enough families able to pay for their service, secure its viability and allow them to pay the bills.

They don’t know if their staff will return, if Government funding will be reinstated, or, if reinstated, what obligations will need to be met.

For many years, the childcare sector has looked to the media to help address the problems it faces in meeting the needs of children, families, and working mothers in particular. Instead, we have sensational headlines ... and unhelpful comments from Opposition TDs.

Talk to us about inadequate public investment in services and successive governments who have not made adequate provision for the care and education of preschool children and babies. Let’s discuss a raft of legislative and compliance requirements, responsibilities and expectations from a host of different bodies that come at significant cost. Can we also question how childcare providers deal with insurance increases of over 150 per cent in 2020?

Maybe look closer at Government investment into the sector, which gives a public perception that childcare providers and staff are well catered for, when the reality is that wages and financial return is low for most providers and their staff; particularly in the context of the responsibility involved and invaluable service provided.

Yes, every business, organisation and individual in the country is now suffering in one way or another. But, can we please examine the realities before seeking to condemn an entire sector?

The article does a disservice to a huge number of providers of early learning and care services who, by right, should expect to be valued, respected and protected in their roles.

The fact they are not points to systemic failure on behalf of successive governments, and flawed, makeshift solutions to childcare provision that fail to meet society’s needs. – Yours, etc,

DENISE McCORMILLA,

CEO, National Childhood

Network (NCN),

Knockaconny, Monaghan.