The commodification of childcare
Sir, – According to the most recent annual report of the Early Years Inspectorate, just 2,203 of the 4,484 services registered in 2017 received an inspection visit.
We would all like to see an improvement in this regard but while State regulation of care institutions is an important and necessary mechanism for upholding standards and safeguarding children, it is necessarily limited in what it can achieve, since periodic inspections, no matter how frequent or well carried out, are unlikely to provide a completely accurate picture of how effectively a service is operating.
Some early years services have in place provisions for management boards with parental representation. This, in conjunction with an open-door policy, is in my view an important step in preventing abuses of power since the development of more robust and representative governance structures within childcare and education settings – to include front-line staff, management and parents – would seem essential in promoting a culture of respect and co-operation between key stakeholders.
Direct parental involvement in their children’s education is in theory at least an important principle in Irish early years policy, and the importance of partnership with parents and families underpins Síolta, the national quality framework.
To be meaningful, such partnership must go beyond communication or even consultation, but allow parents to share in decisions about the running of the service. There are research findings which indicate that direct parental involvement in the governance of early years services is positively correlated with quality provision.
We have a diverse mix of for-profit, non-profit and public providers in the Irish early years sector with various different models of administration and control. Ensuring democratic governance structures are put in place in all types of setting will help to ensure equity of provision. This can only happen with Government support and legislative change; although some of the best centres have formal representation structures for parents in place already, many do not and will only do so if compelled by law.
The RTÉ programme also raises broader questions about the appropriateness of care and education of the young being provided on a commercial basis, something which has been subject to insufficient debate in the Irish context.
In the RTÉ Investigates programme, the admonition to a member of staff employed in the Hyde and Seek creche that “this is a business”, as she attempted to put a child’s needs ahead of those of the institution, was chilling.
While we can hopefully assume that this establishment is in no way representative of early childhood service providers in Ireland, the privatised model of childcare adopted in the Irish context means that there exist ongoing tensions between the imperative to turn a profit and the needs and rights of children.
Further revelations in the media following the broadcast about the scale and profitability of the commercial operation behind the Hyde and Seek creche chain should give us serious pause for thought about the policy choices which have resulted in the commodification of care in Ireland. – Is mise,
Dr KAREN SMITH,
Lecturer in Equality Studies,
School of Social Policy,
and Social Justice,
University College Dublin,