Time to invest in childcare
Sir, – Pitting parent against provider in the current debate regarding the new affordable childcare scheme is regrettable and deflects from the real issue, the continuing lack of political will to apply fresh thinking and sufficient investment to address Ireland’s childcare dilemmas once and for all.
As the National Childhood Network (NCN), a support organisation that works across Ireland with childcare providers and staff, we wish to challenge the many negative comments made frequently by ill-informed politicians and commentators within the media on creche providers and their fee increases. The rhetoric used when referring to “extortionate creche fees” and “price-gouging” is divisive, and chooses to ignore the reality of what it takes to meet the needs of our younger children outside their homes: providing regulated creche, pre-school and after-school services that meet essential operational costs and quality standards.
Research, common sense, and report after report point to the benefits of having sufficient Government investment that subsidises the delivery of quality services for children that are affordable to all parents and families. However, investment, although increased in Budget 2017, is still far below that of countries that are meeting the needs of children and parents.
Meeting the requirements of legislation, delivery of Government schemes, quality provision and practice, increasing operational costs and the employment of qualified, competent and skilled staff is impossible with current levels of funding.
Additional funding is required in Budget 2018 and subsequent budgets.
We need the right Government policy decisions and sufficient investment to meet the OECD and Unicef recommendations. The National Childhood Network proposes that this fresh thinking begins now, underpinned by a shared vision of what affordable early childhood services of a high standard should look like.
The artificial separation of care and education, through positioning some aspects of early childhood education and care within the Department of Education and Skills, and some within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, needs to be reviewed, with a collaboration that can oversee new ways of addressing current difficulties and underfunding.
After all, with one courageous step, Donogh O’Malley as minister for education in the 1960s changed the whole landscape of education with free secondary provision, when the salaries of teachers were funded regardless of the school management arrangements. Such courage and imaginative thinking would be useful now, with salaries for early years educators being provided by collaboration between Government departments, which would greatly lessen the burden on both providers and on parents. This is one idea, and surely in our creative country there are other ideas around that would improve the current situation.
Let our politicians have courage now to make the right decisions for young children, their parents and those who care for and educate them outside the home in their early years. – Yours, etc,