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Rising to new challenges

By: AISLING HEARNE

Tuesday 09 October 2018

As a member of the Policy and Communications team at Early Childhood Ireland, I have been exposed to a vast amount of knowledge in my first few months on a new team. Last Thursday, 4th October we hosted our very first Meet the Members event. This event brought together our members and members of the Oireachtas so that our collective voices, as advocates for early years in Ireland, can be heard directly by our elected representatives. Timely planned, this event coincides with our 2019 Budget submission Rising to the Challenge. A huge success on the day, our event provided a chance for our members to breathe life into something that can feel static to those working on the ground. Budgets, government initiatives, submissions; these are all concepts and words that can often feel intangible to a workforce within a sector that feels significantly undervalued.

So, to really strip it back, let's imagine for a moment you have worked tirelessly to build a home. You have spent several years gathering all the materials you need. You invested in the right supports, adhered to all the rules and regulations, yet still, the support frame you need to hold the building together feels so very far out of your reach. Disheartened and tired you know that if you spoke with the right people you could get your hands on the glue that could help hold it all together. But, when the opportunity arises to source what you need you are unable to attend. Why, why…when this is the vital piece you need are you not the first person in the queue? The answer is simple. If you let go of the bricks, everything will fall around you.

Yes, I am aware this is a very simplistic analogy, but unfortunately this is the reality for most Early Childhood Ireland members I spoke with over the last month. These are providers that desperately wanted to attend this event. Providers that seek an opportunity to voice their opinions to those with influence, the true depiction of the early years sector in Ireland today. The irony being that the same providers could not attend due to ratio issues and relentless administration, to name only a few of the factors involved in their constant staffing crisis. The glaring injustice being that these are the very same people who forego wages so that their staff can have a salary and the families they serve can have a summer camp. As our Chairperson, Jillian van Turnhout, addressed last Thursday, 'These people are the backbone of our sector and we need to strengthen and sustain them.'

What was evident and what truly stood out for me working on this event were the numerous champions for change. Travelling the length of the country to attend, they are true advocates; passionate and willing to tell their story. History teaches us that there is something so undeniably powerful about the collective voice, about networking and coming together as a force for change. So much so, Professor Brene Brown, inspired millions with her Ted Talks  on the power of vulnerability. Brene explains how when we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write the ending. So, when an elected representative is faced with a provider in a vulnerable sector who is standing right in front of them, face to face, telling their story, it is impossible to ignore. We saw a surge of advocates progress from our ‘Real Voices’ campaign last year to ‘Real Faces’ last Thursday.

Members of the Oireachtas heard that day about the issues of staff recruitment and retention being the most challenging area facing our members, and one which needs a sustained focus in Budget 2019 and beyond. They heard how it is an issue that impacts on quality, sustainability, and affordability for the early years sector. A qualified and valued workforce is the magic ingredient that will be transformative in delivering the best for children, families, communities, and society at large. Rising denotes succeeding, taking a stance, overcoming obstacles, so we now ask: will our government rise to the challenge?

 

  • The challenge to increase investment in our sector.
  • The challenge to ensure there is universal access to quality experiences for all babies, all children & all families.
  • The challenge to build a world class early years system in Ireland.

 

Today on Budget day, let’s try to remember the words of the great activist for change, Maya Angelou.
'Still, like air, I rise...'

 

Bio: 
Aisling Hearne is a Media and Journalism graduate working in the Policy & Communications team at Early Childhood Ireland. A lover of words, she is often found with a curious four-year-old, pocket journal and ink on her hands.

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