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What is early care and education?

By early care and education we mean the care and education of children in their early years, from their first months to the compulsory school starting-age of 6 years old. Early care and education involves:

• All settings where the care and education of young children takes place, including: their own homes, the homes of relatives and childminders, centre-based services such as crèches, playgroups and naionraí, and the infant classes of primary schools.

• A wide range of services and supports, including services for young children, parenting supports, home visiting, after-school services, and specialist services such as speech and language therapists.

Young children need high quality care and education because it works:

For children. First and foremost, quality care and education in the early years helps children to flourish and make the most of their lives.

For the economy. A strong economy depends on people’s skills, creativity, motivation and knowledge. Investment in young children has high economic and social returns, because its impact on people’s skills and dispositions lasts a lifetime.

For society. Quality care and education for young children helps make society fairer and more equitable through reducing social and economic disadvantage and strengthening equality.

High quality care and education in the early years allows children to start strong, giving them solid foundations upon which they can build their lives. If we do not give young children the care, support and opportunities they need, we are wasting the chance to lay those solid foundations. Children do not have a second chance – there is only one childhood.