In the first month of 2022, this Policy Brief looks back at some of the major developments for the Early Learning and School Age Care sector over the past year. Our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team engaged with various stakeholders and advocated on behalf of our sector for these welcome advancements.
The Launch of the Childminding Action Plan
In May, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children invited us to discuss the National Action Plan for Childminding. In our opening statements to the Committee, Early Childhood Ireland welcomed the recently published Plan. It aims to improve access to high quality, affordable early learning and care and school-age childcare through childminding. Currently, the Child Care Act 1991 exempts most childminders from regulation and one consequence of this is that the vast majority of childminders cannot take part in the National Childcare Scheme, preventing thousands of families from accessing subsidies to reduce the fees they pay. The launch of the National Action Plan for Childminding is a positive step forward, as childminders already play a vital role in the provision of both Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare in Ireland.
The Continuation of the EWSS
Throughout the various phases of the Covid-19 crisis, Early Childhood Ireland campaigned for government supports for our sector. The bespoke Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) introduced by the Government in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which currently supports a significant proportion of salaries in childcare settings has kept our sector afloat and its continuation will afford childcare settings all over the country essential stability as the transition to a new model of funding is ushered in. The recent announcement to restore the enhanced rate of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) until the end of January is welcome.
Early Childhood Ireland’s Budget 2022 Submission: Keeping Our Promise to Children, called for the government to meet its commitment in the national early years strategy, First 5, to at least double investment by 2028. In our submission and through various advocacy work, Early Childhood Ireland urged the government to make Budget 2022 ‘The Childcare Budget’ and on 12 October we welcomed some of the announcements in the Budget 2022 childcare package that demonstrated a renewed government commitment to the delivery of a sustainable service for providers, staff, parents and children, as a key priority.
Child Poverty and The National Childcare Scheme
On 23 November the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth met to discuss child poverty in Ireland. Early Childhood Ireland welcomed the invitation to present to the Committee to draw its attention to the current challenges and opportunities in addressing child poverty in Ireland. In opening statements to the Committee, Early Childhood Ireland highlighted the various objectives of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS)and we suggested that the poverty reduction objective must be prioritised by the government. This would help the most disadvantaged families as well as the wider objective to reduce overall child poverty levels. Read more in our Policy Brief on the Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting.
Early Childhood Ireland also brought to the attention of the Committee the issue of increasing baby room closures in early years settings. We have been monitoring this carefully and are concerned that there is a hidden crisis burgeoning in our sector. The closures themselves are of concern, but this is also a key capacity metric about which currently no data is being collected.
The Review of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS)
On 1 December the findings of a 12-Month Review of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) and the Work-Study Test Evidence Review were published. The reports, available here, aimed to provide a basis for the Department to consider how effectively the Scheme is meeting its objectives and provide key data to support the future development of the Scheme.
Early Childhood Ireland welcomes these reports; however, their findings indicated some emerging issues that need to be addressed, including low awareness among parents, administrative issues experienced by providers, and barriers for some families accessing supports, including through the sponsorship arrangements. We will be monitoring the follow-up actions on foot of the Review.
Major New Reports
Early Childhood Ireland has welcomed the publication of two reports which together, we believe have the potential to transform the provision of care and education of young children in Ireland. Staff and members were involved in various Working and Consultative Groups which contributed to both of these.
The publication of the new report ‘Partnership for the Public Good’ announces and outlines a new sector funding model and published alongside it is the report entitled ‘Nurturing Skills’ which outlines the road map for a new workforce development plan for our sector. We welcome these important reports as well as the Government reaffirming its commitment to reforming and developing a sustainable Early Learning and Care Sector. We look forward to the publication of the review of the operating and model forthcoming early this year.
Early Childhood Ireland will be engaging with politicians and decision-makers to leverage the opportunities of these advancements for our sector and all forthcoming developments.
Our policy team is always available to brief you and your team on any aspect of our work. To arrange this, please email us.