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Childcare – A Bad Job?


Tuesday 06 March 2018

The phrase ‘I love my job’ is one you’ll often hear from Childcare Practitioners. It’s a feeling I share, I find my job very rewarding. It’s a privilege to be trusted with the care and education of Children under 5. I take my job seriously, I’m a professional, I’ve earned an education and my years of experience are invaluable. The Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer (2018) on public attitudes to Childcare shows that 75% of people agree that my job is as important as those educating children over 5, it also states that 56% of people believe I am a professional.

Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer 2018 - Childcare – A Bad Job

Results from Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer 2018


Despite this, I am brutally aware of the low status of my low paid job. A report on precarious work (Congress, 2017) discusses low status work and its negative effects and consequences for people, and society. It differentiates between good and bad jobs; a good job has a permanent contract, a pension plan, sick pay, funded training and an incremental salary. A bad job has none of those things. It’s a harrowing feeling when you realise that being a Childcare Practitioner is a Bad Job.


These bad jobs are not the fault of our employers, who do their best to be fair to staff, while trying to balance the books. Ireland has the most underfunded Childcare system in Europe at 0.1% GDP (Social Justice Index, 2017) with the European average being 0.8% GDP. The knock-on effect of this underfunding for our 23,500 person sector (Pobal, 2017) is in my opinion 23,500 bad jobs. A report entitled ‘Who Cares?’ (Congress, 2016) described the Irish Childcare Sector as being amongst the worst paid in Europe due to policy failure on a major scale.


A report by Urban (2017) acknowledges the constant and substantial policy changes over the past two decades, in the Childcare Sector. Despite this transformation of the sector, Childcare Practitioners are still struggling to find a professional identity, the report (ibid) suggests that this is a consequence of a sector that is fragmented, and a workforce that are disempowered due to being undervalued, who do not have a sense of being professional because of low pay.

Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer 2018 - Childcare – A Bad Job

Results from Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer 2018


Our work is vital; we are part of the scaffold that holds up the economy. Despite this we are a largely invisible sector, we are not recognised or properly remunerated for the work we do. Lynch (2014) calls this indirect Affective Inequality, our needs as workers who are in a caring profession are neglected, we are not recognised economically, politically or socially for the essential work we do.  We are not offered the opportunity to take part in the future direction of our sector because our voice is omitted from the political arena, and for as long as this remains the case we will suffer from low pay, undervaluing of our work and a lack of recognition.


This needs to change, we need a plan; we need to get our voices heard. Organisations like Early Childhood Ireland have done good work to gain recognition and now we need to back this up by unionising. Our own Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has gone on public record to support a move towards a properly paid, recognised and valued sector. In Dail Eireann 05/07/17; at the Kennedy Summer School 07/09/17; and in Seanad Eireann 04/10/17; the Minister offered us an open door that only needs to be pushed. She stated if she were a Childcare worker she would join a Union, and this would lead to greater investment and a proper pay scale for the sector.


I have spent 11 years in the Childcare sector, I have a Saturday job, I’ve invested thousands in my education, I spend each Summer on the dole. I’m not the only one, there are many in my position. I’m tired of polite suggestions that I should apply for jobs outside the sector now that I have my qualifications. I’m upset when I hear about people in the sector being denied mortgages and loans because of their precarious job. I’m deflated when I hear about owners who don’t take a wage in order to keep their childcare service open, these owners who unjustly cannot access social welfare during the summer. I’m astounded when I hear about people jumping out of planes or selling calves at the mart to raise funds to stay open.


I would like to feel proud of my job. I’d like to sit with a friend for coffee, or go to a school reunion, or an occasion with relatives; and for people to say fair play you fell on your feet there, what a great job. To everyone in Early Years we need to support each other, we need to sustain the sector we love, we need to work together to turn bad jobs into good jobs.



Deborah Reynolds is a Playschool Leader in Kilkerrin Community Playschool, a play-based service in East Co. Galway. Deborah has qualifications in Childcare, Fine Art and Forest School, she recently graduated from Athlone IT with a Level 7 in EYCE. She is currently completing the LINC course and she is on the National Committee for the Big Start Campaign. Her main influence in Childcare has been her Mum, Therese. Therese planted the seeds of a play-based approach that have firmly taken root. 

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