Start Strong Statement, 04/02/2011: New OECD report - Doing Better for Families
A major new report has just been published by the OECD, Doing Better for Families. The report provides a formidable, statistical overview of a wide range of policy areas that broadly come under the heading of 'family policy'. As the scope of the report is wide, and not all relevant to Start Strong's concerns, we here pick up just a few key messages from the report:
- Early childhood is the most important time for public investment in human capital, and children's early years should be protected from 'austerity cuts'. At a time of pressure on Government Budgets across the developed world, the report suggests prioritising public expenditure on services and supports for young children. The report notes that public investment in early childhood services is particularly low in Ireland.
- Public support for childcare services should be linked to work-life balance policies and to the timing of parental leave to ensure a continuum of support without 'gaps'. 'A coherent policy approach for the early years would ensure that childcare services are available when leave benefits run out.'
- Reducing child poverty requires a carefully designed policy-mix, including both income supports and the provision of services. The report looks particularly at lone parents, among whom poverty rates are high in most OECD countries, and argues that making benefits conditional on looking for jobs 'can only be expected to work if suitable, reasonably priced childcare supports are available'. The report notes that childcare costs for parents in Ireland are among the highest in all OECD countries and create a major disincentive to work, particularly for lone parents.
- To promote child development, the quality of childcare is critical (with the greatest benefits arising from 'high quality formal care') as is good parenting, which can be supported through home visits or family/child service centres.
The OECD is cautious in its recommendations, and is careful not to single countries out for criticism, but the array of data presented in the report shows clearly that Ireland has a long way to go if we are to meet international standards in family policy.