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Access to Childcare and Home Care Services Across Europe (ESRI, 2019)

September 24, 2019

The European and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published the Access to Childcare and Home Care Services Across Europe report last week.

This finds that Ireland has the fourth highest level of unmet childcare needs in Europe, and that lack of affordability is a significant contributing factor for families experiencing unmet childcare needs.

The report uses survey data from the 2016 EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) to examine the childcare and home care needs of families with children aged up to 12 years across Europe. It looks at eleven countries and three distinct family types. For the purposes of the report, ‘formal’ childcare is defined as the provision of childcare services at centre-based settings, such as preschools and crèches.


Irish context

The report finds that Ireland ranks fourth in Europe for unmet childcare needs; behind Spain, the UK, and Greece. Use of formal childcare in Ireland is also low, at just 17% of families. This compares with 67% of families in Sweden. 16% of families in Ireland reported having both unmet and met needs for formal childcare. By contrast, only 7% of Swedish families reported having an unmet need for care. This reflects the high reliance by Irish families on family care, with 61% of families exclusively reliant on parental care and 19% on non-parental family care. 68% reported having no need for formal childcare at all, as one or more parent looks after their children.

Notably, the main reason reported by families for unmet childcare needs was lack of affordability. 78% of Irish families cited this reason as a contributing factor in their unmet childcare needs.


Additional findings

The report finds a strong association between childcare need and material deprivation, with families experiencing unmet childcare needs 2.2 times more likely to experience material deprivation than families in which those needs are met. There is, further, a ‘significant’ relationship between unmet childcare needs and maternal non-employment.

The report notes that the most vulnerable families – such as lone parents, working-age adults with a disability, and those from lower social classes – are more likely to experience unmet childcare needs.


Policy implications

The report concludes that social policies supporting access to formal childcare, as well as facilitating the labour market participation of mothers, are key components in broader policies aimed at tackling poverty and social exclusion.

Early Childhood Ireland notes the findings of this report with interest. The data highlights the need for significantly increased investment in the early years sector in order to address issues of affordability and sustainability. Quality, meaningful early years experiences have been linked to enhanced outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and it is imperative that funding is increased in order to support equality of access and opportunity for all children.

Increased investment is also essential to support early years staff to deliver universal quality services. Investment must be linked to a strategic staffing and capital plan if issues of staffing and sustainability are to be adequately addressed.

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