Early Childhood Ireland commissioned an independent survey by iReach Market Research in June 2011, to provide a snapshot of the current issues for the Early Childcare and Education Sector in Ireland, and to establish a baseline for the newly formed organisation.
Early Childhood Ireland had at that time over 3,200 members including playgroups, parent and toddler groups, full day care groups, after-school and out-of-school groups, sessional services, family day care, tutors, and individual members, representing over almost 80% of the childcare sector in Ireland.
The results from the survey emphasise the significant contribution of the Early Childcare and Education Sector to the Irish economy. It is estimated that members alone are generating almost €320 million in salaries with a further €105 million being spent in the wider economy on day to day overheads and annual running costs.
Even with current economic conditions;
64% of respondents are operating at over 80% capacity
29% operating at 100% capacity
This is a positive sign that the sector is still a very viable element of the Irish economy.
Findings from this research study highlight a shortfall of annual income to costs in the region of €13 million in 2011 which is likely to grow this year.
The reality of this shortfall is that many facilities are being forced to cut back on their services or the range of services in order to survive. The budget 2012 changes to the ECCE, CETS and CCS schemes will further impact negatively on member facilites, as well as on the parents of children dependent on such facilities.
Many facilities are proving themselves to be innovative during these tough financial times by restructuring their services and providing additional services such as out of school services for the summer holidays and mid-term breaks as a means of augmenting income.
Key findings of the survey:
Financing and Sustainabiltiy
Financing and sustainability is a key issue for the childcare sector:
over half (51%) of all members surveyed, expecting their financial situation to get worse in the coming year
63% expecting expenses to increase
The outlook for the next 12 months is challenging, especially with increased utility costs and increases in ECB interest rates, and the recent Budget 2012 cuts to funding schemes. In parallel, parents and families are also facing more difficult financial conditions, increasing pressure on school and childcare costs.
As staff salaries account for 75% of facility costs each year, reducing the salary bill has become the main focus area for cost reduction, as there are few alternative options:
In response to financial pressures, many member facilities are moving employees to contracts based on working 38 weeks instead of the full 52 weeks each year, rather than increase fees for parents.
20% of survey respondents are expecting to decrease the number of paid staff in their services, in the coming year. This approach if not addressed in the near future, has the potential of putting early childcare services at risk.
Renovation and Improvement
Only a small number of members invested in facility renovation and improvement in the past year, and these projects are estimated to have been worth around €50 million to the wider economy. These investments generate employment outside the sector and are needed to ensure that facilities are delivering enhanced services to children, supporting the needs of parents and the wider community.
Staff Qualifications and Training
Education of staff is a key element in ensuring a high quality service and giving them the skills to support the needs of the individual children in their care. Accredited training for staff is the policy area believed to have had the most positive impact on services with 76% stating the impact was positive with almost half (49%) stating it was very positive.
86% of facilities have at least 1 staff member with a FETAC Level 5 qualification in Childcare
72% of facilities have at least one member of staff with FETAC Level 6 qualification awards (minor and major)
Less than half of facilities (48%) have a staff member with current Children First training, highlighting an urgent need for more accessible training in this area.
Reflecting the needs of parents
Part time places are the most utilised, reflecting the changing needs of parents in difficult economic conditions, and in response facilities are diversifying and restructuring and offering a wider range of part time and out of school services. For example 46% of member facilities are offering out of school services such as summer camps.
70% of Early childcare member faclities surveyed have at least one child with special needs or additional learning needs, many of which do not receive any State support. This highlights the key role of this Sector in providing specialist support to parents of children with additional needs, and that additional State support is needed in this area.
This survey highlights the significant contribution of the Early Childcare and Education Sector to the Irish economy, with an estimated €320 million in salaries being generated and a further €105 million being spent in the wider economy on day to day overheads and annual running costs.
However the research findings also highlight a shortfall of annual income to costs in the region of €13 million in 2011 which is likely to grow in the year ahead, indicating that financing and sustainability is a key issue that needs urgent attention.
The Budget 2012 cuts to funding schemes and the increase in utility costs, are further impacting on childcare facilities who are already struggling to remain economically viable.
The large proportion of services that provide support for children with special educational needs (70%) stresses the need for further support in this area, and the lack of practitioners trained in Child Protection is another cause for concern. The positive effects that quality accredited training has on a service in order to enhance practitioners skills, cannot be under estimated.
The findings from this survey will equip Early Childhood Ireland to advocate strongly on issues that are relevant and important to members, and it will feed into our submissions over the coming months.
The research findings from our very first Early Childhood Ireland membership survey will also be invaluable in contributing to the development of Ireland’s first National Early Years Strategy for children aged 0-6 years.