Early Years #GE16 - Affordable, Quality, Accessible
Start Strong's Early Years #GE16 campaign addresses the three crises affecting childcare and family leave in Ireland: Quality, Affordability and Accessibility.
Despite the enormous childcare prices paid by parents in Ireland, the quality of childcare in Ireland is very mixed. Many services are in breach of minimum standards. Qualification levels among staff are low, as are wages and working conditions, meaning staff turnover is high and children sometimes don’t get to know the people looking after them. We need a new model of early years services.
There are around 20,000 childminders in Ireland, caring for about 50,000 young children (under 6). Less than 1% are notified to Tusla (the Child and Family Agency). Most childminders are exempt from regulation, inspection and Garda vetting, and work without support. Only those caring for 4 or more pre-school children are required to notify Tusla. Childminders are regulated in other countries. Scotland, for example, has 6,000 registered childminders, all of whom undergo police checks and inspections.
Children do best when cared for at home for at least the first year, but our current family leave policies don’t support this and lag well behind other European countries. Combining paid maternity and the recently announced 2 weeks’ paternity leave, parents can have up to 28 weeks’ paid leave in Ireland. On average European countries give 18 months’ paid leave to parents.
Irish parents pay some of the highest childcare costs in the world. OECD figures show that on average 2-parent families (both parents working) with 2 children before school-age pay ¼ or more of take-home pay on childcare. For one-parent families, it’s even more. Average costs across the EU are less than ½ of what Irish parents pay.
Quality is critical. Low quality services can harm children. Following a 20-country study, the OECD concluded that the best way to achieve affordability and quality at the same time is through subsidised childcare places. Tax credits would do nothing for quality. As well as which, those families in most need of support may get little or no help from tax credits, and tax credits can simply push up prices for everyone.
The current system means that many families with low incomes cannot access subsidised childcare, which means many parents cannot afford to work. The Government recently committed to reforming subsidised childcare, but we don’t know what that will look like.
There will be increased supports for children with disabilities in the pre-school year. The enhanced supports are welcome, but do nothing for children outside of the pre-school times. Nor do they do anything for children with other additional needs, such as children who do not speak English or Irish at home.