Children’s Rights Alliance End Poverty Week
From the 12 to the 16 September 2022, the Children’s Rights Alliance organised End Child Poverty Week. Over the five days a series of discussions took place, covering five different themes.
The week saw a wide array of speakers including Lee Elliot Major, Britain’s first Professor of Social Mobility, Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times columnist and writer, Terri Cole, the Education Manager in Grow it Yourself and, Rónán Hession, the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Social Protection. The first day covered the theme of turning the tide against poverty. On day two, a panel discussed food poverty in Ireland. The topic of discussion on day three was play, recreation and participation. On the fifth and final day, a panel talked about education.
This policy brief will focus on the talk that was given on the fourth day. This talk focused on early childhood education and care. This talk was chaired by Francis Chance, a consultant in Children and Family Services and Prevention and Early Intervention Network chairperson. The panellists included Gráinne McKenna, Assistant Professor in the School of Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education in DCU, Ann-Marie Brooks from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), Darragh O’Connor from SIPTU and, Julie Ahern from the Children’s Rights Alliance.
The Impact of Poverty on the Lives of Children
Grainne McKenna discussed the impact of poverty on the lives of children and the negative effect it can have on their physical health and well-being as well as their sense of belonging. She pointed out how poverty places stress on families and that this can filter down to children. She also stressed how poverty is not equally distributed across towns and cities, and that poverty is concentrated in certain areas.
She discussed the importance of investment in early years learning and care and how it can break the cycle of disadvantage. She also talked about recommendations by the European Commission on how to break the cycle. In these recommendations, it is specifically noted that any reduction in inequality for young children should be irrespective of the parent’s labour market situation. Gráinne McKenna also talked about her involvement in a community setting and how these settings provide things in addition to what they are funded to provide. These include hot meals on-site, winter boots and coats, lower child-to-adult ratio, parenting programmes and family supports, and food hampers. She also noted that there is a need to invest in dedicated spaces for movement and growth for children.
The goals in First 5 for Early Eears
The following speaker was Anne-Marie Brooks, who discussed the goals and objectives in First 5 regarding early years. The investment target is to have doubled it by 2028. This means investing €1 billion by that year. Now Ireland is only investing €719 million, though she recognised that the country is still not near international standards.
She talked about some of the successes the DCEDIY has experienced such as the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme with her saying that 61% of families would not be able to afford preschool without the programme. The department is looking at addressing under-enrolments and lower uptake in the programme. The DCEDIY is also looking at expanding the Access & Inclusion Model (AIM) and introducing improvements to the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) that were suggested by the working group.
She also touched on how tackling disadvantage is one of the strands of the funding system and how the department are considering a basket of universal and targeted supports.
A Marketized System
Anne-Marie Brooks was followed by Darragh O’Connor, from SIPTU, who pointed out that high-quality care and education for children was being undermined by pay conditions in the sector. He noted that the problem at the heart of the sector is that it is a marketized system and that government investment in the sector can lead to quality and affordability conflicting with each other.
Childcare Costs Contributing to the Cost of Living Crisis
The final speaker was Julie Ahern from the Children’s Rights Alliance. She started by emphasising the importance of the roles that Early Years Educators play in the lives of children. She also talked about how the cost-of-living crisis, which the high cost of early years care is contributing to, is driving many families into poverty. She also pointed out that families from marginalised backgrounds find it harder to access early years care. She gave the example of Roma and Traveller families are unaware of the supports that are available, and they find it difficult to apply for these supports due to a lack of internet access or low levels of literacy.
The Children’s Rights Alliance End Poverty Week was full of interesting discussions and debates. The recordings of each talk can be found on the Children’s Rights Alliance’s Facebook page. If you have any questions regarding the discussions or would like to engage with us, please contact our policy team.