Eurochild has recently launched a series of country profiles and a cross country analysis highlighting a need for better data and greater investment in public policies for Early Childhood Development (ECD). The countries analysed were Spain, Serbia, Romania, Portugal, Ireland, Hungary, France, Finland and Bulgaria.
The nine-country profiles provide a snapshot of the current state of ECD within each country and include sections on six key areas – child poverty, maternal and child health and nutrition, child’s safety and security, early learning including early childhood education and care (ECEC), parenting and family support, and cross-sectoral coordination for ECD. Some of the main findings for Ireland are highlighted below:
- There is a lack of disaggregated data on child poverty and social exclusion for children under three years of age;
- Sufficient data on maternal and child health indicators are not available, although data on antenatal health coverage are;
- 1,075 children under six years were in alternative care at the end of December 2019;
- There is no legal entitlement to a guaranteed place in ECEC for children under three. The 2019 Survey of Income and Living Conditions indicates that 33.4% of children under three attend either pre-school or day-care centre services. This does not include disaggregated data on other types of non-parental care such as paid/unpaid care by relatives, childminders, nannies or au pairs;
- A low percentage of ECEC staff for under-threes has a minimum of a Bachelor’s level qualification, but there are public policy initiatives in place with the aim of increasing this;
- The participation rate for children aged up to two years old in low-income families is about 17%, less than one-third of that for children from high-income families (59%).
The country profiles also included priorities related to ECD. In Ireland, increasing public investment in ECEC, working towards a publicly funded model, was one of the recommendations. Improving data on child poverty, maternity and child health, along with monitoring child safety and security indicators were also recommended.
In the cross-country comparison, it was highlighted that Ireland is the only one of the nine countries where efforts are put into developing a more comprehensive policy at the national level to ensure a coherent system of parental and family support that reaches out to all families and meets their needs (the National Model of Parenting Support Services). Ireland was also considered to be the only country in the sample that had national multi-sectoral strategies and a coordinating body to oversee cross-sectoral ECD policies. Regarding access to ECEC services, the authors argued that all countries have taken measures to facilitate access to ECEC services for children up to six years of age from very low to low-income families – in Ireland, subsidies are provided also for homeless or asylum-seeking families; however, certain vulnerable groups such as Roma and Travellers do not always benefit from such policy measures.
Early Childhood Ireland will keep monitoring research like this, to keep our members informed about the latest data and policy developments in early childhood development. If members have any questions about the Eurochild profiles, please contact our policy team.