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Press Release, 22/09/2015: As our T.D.'s return from holidays, it's time to put young children first in Budget 2016

Start Strong Pre-Budget Submission calls for extra €223m to address crisis in early years.

September 22: The Government must use Budget 2016 as an opportunity to invest in quality care for young children, Start Strong’s Pre-Budget Submission 2016 outlines.

Childcare subsidies should be linked to qualityStart Strong – a coalition group campaigning to improve government policy on early years in Ireland – believes an extra €223m is required to set a path of continued public funding in early years care and education. With the recent publication of the report of the Inter-Departmental Group (IDG) on Future Investment in Childcare in Ireland setting out a welcome blueprint for significant investment in childcare, such steps must now be implemented using a three-pronged approach:

  • Extending paid family leave, by introducing two weeks’ paternity leave and six weeks parental leave in 2016 (rising to 26 weeks parental leave by 2021). [€82m extra in 2016]
  • Developing quality, affordable childcare by linking public funding to standards of care, invest in supports for quality, extend subsidised childcare places and set maximum fees for parents. [€121m extra in 2016]
  • Giving an entitlement from the age of three to free pre-school education, and moving towards a second free pre-school year. [€20m extra in 2016]

Director of Start Strong Ciairín de Buis said: “With the Government approaching its final budget before the General Election, early childhood care and education (ECCE) must be a top priority. For too long many Irish families have been left with expensive, low quality childcare that, as the 2013 Prime Time investigation ‘A Breach of Trust’ highlighted, can lead to serious mistreatment of young children.

“While we acknowledge the work of the Inter-Departmental Group in setting out a range of proposals aimed at improving affordability and quality in ECCE, ideas alone are not enough.

“As the Dáil resumes, the Government must now take action to ensure the report is not left to gather dust on a shelf. By implementing the proposals laid out in Start Strong’s Pre-Budget Submission, they would show real commitment to addressing the public’s concerns over the quality and affordability of childcare.”

Ms de Buis also called for a nationwide audit of childcare services as well as more supports for childcare workers, to ensure staff are adequately trained and qualified.

“While it is important to make childcare affordable, this cannot come at the expense of quality. Start Strong sees three childcare crises: affordability, quality, and public investment. All three areas must be addressed if Ireland is to have the level of care and education that our young children deserve.”

Under Start Strong’s proposals, Budget 2016 would signal the start of rising public investment in early years. Current investment in this area in Ireland is less than 0.2% of GDP – this falls far short of the OECD average (0.8% GDP), and even further behind the UNICEF recommended benchmark of 1% GDP, which is already exceeded by New Zealand, France, the UK and the Nordic countries.

Start Strong calls on the Government to commit to increase early years care and education investment to reach the OECD average within five years and the 1% GDP benchmark within ten years.

ENDS

To read Start Strong’s Pre Budget Submission 2016 in full please click here.

For more information or for interview requests please contact Michael McHale on 087 4135641 or Ciairín de Buis on 087 1207103.

Note for Editors

About the IDG Report: Future Investment in Childcare in Ireland

Published in July 2015, the report was written by a group of seven Government departments chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It had as its terms of reference to "identify and assess policies and future options for increasing the quality, accessibility (including supply) and affordability of early years and school age (out of school) care and education services".

Among its key recommendations were:

  • Introducing 6 months' paid parental leave, to be available after paid maternity leave, so that parents have 12 months' paid leave in total.
  • Extending free pre-school provision to up to about two years, by allowing children to start it at any time of year, whenever they pass the lower age threshold (either 3 or 3.5).
  • Making childcare more affordable (including after-school care) by replacing the childcare subsidies with a new, single, income-related subsidy, paid directly to services, and available in all centre-based services), with parental fees capped according to parents' income level, reducing fees to parents and preventing childcare prices rising.
  • Embedding quality improvements in public funding through extending the higher capitation supplement to all childcare provision for children of all ages, so incentivising the move to a graduate-led workforce.
  • A range of specific quality-raising measures including: a regular audit of quality, options for increased capitation and some paid non-contact time, a fund for professionalisation and expansion of the Learner Fund, increased funding for mentoring and for the inspection system, and also the regulation and support of childminding.

While welcoming the report and its overall policy direction, Start Strong believes the report could have done more to address the issue of paternity leave and the low pay of childcare workers. You can read our full press release in response to the IDG report here.

About Start Strong

  • Start Strong is a coalition of organisations and individuals seeking to advance children’s early care and education in Ireland. Our advocacy is built on clear evidence of the benefits this brings for children, for the economy and for society. For more see www.startstrong.ie
  • Early care and education means the care and education of children in their early years, from their first months to the compulsory school starting-age of 6 years old.
  • Follow us on twitter @StartStrongIrl Like us on Facebook facebook.com/StartStrongIreland.