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Press release, 28/11/2011: Start Strong Calls for free pre-school year to be maintained in Budget

News release, issued by Start Strong
Monday November 28, 2011.

Start Strong Calls for free pre-school year to be maintained in Budget

Investment in Quality Early Years will Save Money

The government has been urged to maintain the free pre-school year as universal and free in Budget 2012 to ensure that children and families continue to benefit from it.

Start Strong, an expert body on early childhood care and education, stated in its 2012 Pre-budget submission that the Free Pre-School Year has had a very high take up rate of 95% in its first full year, demonstrating the importance of early care and education to families.

Start Strong Director Ciairín de Buis said cost benefit analyses show that investment in high quality early childhood care and education yields a high return, both for children who participate and for the State.

“Research evidence from Goodbody Economic Consultants in Ireland and the OECD shows that quality supports in children’s early years reduces the need for later expenditure in the criminal justice system, healthcare and remedial education. Through its effectiveness in prevention and early intervention, quality early care and education reduces future social expenditure by the State.”

Start Strong said given the economic difficulties facing the country budget proposals should point to ways in which the government can save money in the short or medium term and early childhood care and education, when it is of high quality, can do both of these.

“It is crucial that the government does not make cuts in early care and education that would result in increases in public spending in the medium to long term.”

“While there is much still to be done to achieve a high quality system of early care and education in Ireland, in Budget 2012 the Government must at least maintain current levels of funding, with a view to increasing spending in this area in future Budgets.”

Further recommendations made by Start Strong include:

• Continue supports for quality in services for young children through funding the implementation of Síolta and Aistear and other quality supports, and through continuing to incentivise professionalisation through the higher capitation grant available within the Free Pre-School Year.

• Prioritise continued funding for preventative health and parenting supports, ensuring that at least the current level of health expenditure is available for Public Health Nursing for young children, for special needs assessments and for responses to assessments, and for parenting supports.

• Enforce quality standards more rigorously by ensuring that public funding of services is linked to a sufficient level of compliance with statutory requirements, and by making inspection reports publicly available on the internet.

• Develop early childhood hubs on a pilot basis, following through on Government commitments to new area-based approaches to child poverty and early childhood education.

• Maintain financial supports such as the Child Benefit at current levels for parents with young children.

See full Start Strong pre-budget submission at www.startstrong.ie

Further Information
Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications: (01) 830 3116 or (086) 317 9731.