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Budget 2028 anyone?

By: FRANCES BYRNE

Tuesday 03 October 2017

The pace of change in the early years sector is something which only those of us trying to engage with it, can begin to grasp.  When your role, as mine does, involves analysing and responding to this change on behalf of a large, and growing membership, sometimes the grip feels quite tenuous, such is the range of fluctuations and updates to programmes, schemes and regulations.  It’s a very good discipline therefore to stop the merry-go-round, and take stock of the present as well as the future.  How will the sector look a decade from now feels like an overwhelming question, but it’s really important to hold on to the big picture, and work towards something. Seeing as Máire Corbett in her last Scéalta blog post Let’s Be Positive, looked back 10 years, this week I’m going to fast forward 10 years.

So, in October 2027, what would we, as early years stakeholders, be hoping for, a week before the 2028 Budget announcement?  Well, I hope by then we have recognition of a professionalised workforce with appropriate terms and conditions, as well as clear education and career paths.  What would our major policy asks be for the sector then?  I hope Ireland will have caught up with our envied Scandinavian colleagues, and have achieved an annual increase investment in early years, which is accepted by all political parties, and is some way above the cherished 1% we now need to move towards in significant steps and reach by no later than 2022. I hope Ireland is a recognised world leader in early years innovation.  And most of all, I hope parents, and those planning to have families, take completely for granted that they will have wonderful settings to send their family’s precious babies, toddlers and children to; where they know they will receive high quality care and education, regardless of where they live, what their abilities are, or how much money they earn.  Depending on your perspective, this sounds like Utopia, or you think this is just children receiving what should be their basic rights from the moment they are born. At Early Childhood Ireland, we fall into the latter camp.

 

So, how do we get there?  Early Childhood Ireland believes that we get there by focusing on three interlinked areas: quality; sustainability and affordability.  As Ireland recovers from the recent recession, and as that recovery hopefully becomes more evenly distributed, the pressure may be on to offer parents more affordability.  This is by far the most appealing political option.  In spite of this, it is worth noting that politicians from all Parties and none have received the message that quality is linked to staffing and in turn that professionalisation is intertwined with sustainability. In ECI’s pre-Budget 2018 meetings, it is clear that the role of providers, of all types, is understood as vital, and not just in the current context of implementing Affordable Childcare. So, let’s hope this message that has been given and heard loud and clear bears fruit next week.

Our biggest challenge as advocates for a dynamic and well-resourced sector is to convince the public.  Nobody denies the importance of primary education to children.  We need to persuade people of the value of early years care and education too.  A lot of families avail of it – almost all 3-year olds take part in ECCE.  Calling it the ‘free pre-school year’ is banned in our office.  The message needs to be reinforced every day that it’s not free.  The public pays for it.  I would ask every early years staff member and every operator to talk that up. Help get the message that ECCE and ‘Affordable Childcare’ are subsidised by the public, as they should be.   

Early Childhood Ireland intends playing a leading role in getting the quality, sustainability and affordability messages across, while seeking public support for increased investment, through a multi-annual and broad-based campaign.  We hope you will get on board.  We all have a part to play. Watch this space! 

Please click here to view our Budget 2018 Submission 'Invest for the Best'

 

Bio:

Frances Byrne is the Director of Policy & Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland. Frances has worked in a variety of large and small organisations in the public and voluntary sectors since the 1990s, including for more than a decade at OPEN, the national network of lone parent groups.  A former Chairperson of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Frances also served as a board member of the European Anti-Poverty Network–Ireland, and was a founding member of three NGO-led initiatives driving positive change in Ireland: Claiming our Future, the Advocacy Initiative and the Equality and Rights Alliance.  

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