In December 2021 the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Mr. Roderic O’Gorman launched a consultation seeking the public’s views on the recently agreed EU Child Guarantee.
The goal of the EU Child Guarantee is to prevent and combat social exclusion and child poverty throughout the EU by guaranteeing access for children in need, to a set of key services:
- Providing free access to early childhood education and care
- Providing free access to education (including school-based activities)
- Providing free access to a healthy meal each school day and effective access to nutrition
- Providing free access to healthcare
- Ensuring effective access to adequate housing
As part of obligations under the Child Guarantee, Ireland must develop a National Action Plan for its effective implementation. This consultation sought to engage with informed stakeholders in the preparation of this Plan, seeking their views of children in need and the barriers they face in accessing the services covered by the Child Guarantee.
Early Childhood Ireland believes that keeping the rights of children at the centre of national policy frameworks is essential to achieving better outcomes for children and their families. We also maintain that the provision of universal access to high-quality, affordable and sustainable early childhood education and care is a crucial lever in combatting child poverty and social exclusion. This is mirrored in the EU Child Guarantee which offers an opportunity for Ireland to commit to delivering a more resilient early childhood system that not only meets the needs of all children and their families but can provide early intervention supports to vulnerable young children and babies experiencing disadvantage and social exclusion. Early Childhood Ireland welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Consultation on Ireland’s National Action Plan for the EU Child Guarantee in relation to Key Service – Pillar 1: Providing free access to early childhood education and care.
Ireland has had a fragmented approach to early childhood development. Comparatively very low levels of state investment into our early years services compared to our EU counterparts has led to a piecemeal, fragile, and costly system. However, recent developments have reflected a recognition of the critical importance of high-quality provision. First 5, A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children, and their Families 2019-2028 committed Government to improve access, affordability and quality of Early Learning and Care (ELC) provision. Key reports have been published recently in relation to the development and reform of the Early Learning and School Age Care sector workforce, ‘Nurturing Skills’ the funding model, Partnership for the Public Good as well as the Childminding Action Plan and there has been a commitment to increase public funding. Strengthening the workforce and the policy agenda for quality improvement and sustainability are important steps towards addressing the challenges of Ireland’s ELC sector, however, it is essential that a policy of significantly increased state investment is provided on a multi-annual basis to realise the objectives of these national plans. This and some of the other key processes that will lead to the provision of universal access to quality early childhood education and care that we addressed in our submission are as follows:
Investment – The new funding model, ‘Partnership for the Public Good’ recommends four elements in a revised system: 1. Core Funding, a new supply-side payment for providers designed to support quality (including improved staff pay), sustainability, and enhanced public management 2. Funding for new universal and targeted measures to address socio-economic disadvantage; 3. AIM extended beyond the ECCE programme.; 4. An amended NCS to provide enhanced universal support to all families, resolving certain issues arising from the NCS work/study test or wraparound policy. We welcome these recommendations and will be carefully monitoring their impact in addressing the challenges of staff pay, quality and sustainability.
Data – There is a scarcity of data on children’s early years especially under 3 years, including sufficient disaggregated data. Early Childhood Ireland calls on the government to stand by its commitments in ‘First 5’ and to deliver a plan that will map out the implementation of a regional and national data strategy for babies, young children and their families accessing ELC and SAC services.
Establishment of a Single Agency and Lack of Provision – Further Government considerations are needed with regard to the planning for childcare places and service provision at both a local and national level. Though we are pleased that the current government has committed to establishing Childcare Ireland, a single agency for our sector, we seek to ensure that its remit includes oversight of quality, information, programme delivery, financial management and strategic planning; and that it will ensure that sufficient supply of childcare places in both centre-based care and childminders homes is provided nationwide to meet the needs of all children and their families.
Quality development – High-quality early childhood education and care has been widely shown to provide a wide range of benefits for individual children, especially the most disadvantaged. It is essential that high-quality ELC and SAC services are provided to all children and that they are delivered by a trained, educated, consistent and valued workforce. ‘Nurturing Skills’ recognises the central role that the ELC and SAC workforce plays in achieving good outcomes for children and families while acknowledging that the workforce remains undervalued and unpaid. We welcome the vision set out in this report to achieve a ‘Well-qualified, skilled, diverse and valued professional workforce’ and its interlinked recommendations to achieve this goal.
You can read our full submission here. Early Childhood Ireland will be monitoring the outcome of this consultation. If you would like more detail on the subjects discussed here please contact our policy team.