The Early Childhood Ireland Childcare Barometer 2021 was released yesterday, Monday 15 February 2021. This is the fourth edition of the annual poll, which gauges public attitudes to early years care and education in Ireland. As in previous years, Early Childhood Ireland commissioned RED C to conduct the poll, which surveys a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 years and over.
This year’s survey was carried out by RED C between 22 and 28 January 2021. Given the unprecedented scenario faced by the world, the 2021 Barometer incorporated new questions related to COVID-19. These new questions were designed to capture respondent attitudes and expectations towards childcare in the context of the pandemic.
New questions for 2021
Notably, one of the new questions added to this year’s Barometer attracted the highest level of agreement noted within the survey. 73% of respondents agreed that the government has a significant responsibility when it comes to making sure that childcare settings have sufficient funding to operate under COVID-19 restrictions. This proposal yielded strong support across all respondents, regardless of age, class, or region.
Survey participants were very divided, however, on whether childcare settings should be open for all children during periods of Level 5 restrictions. Only 30% of respondents agree that settings should open more fully, with parents of young children and those working full-time showing the highest levels of support. Currently, settings are open for children of essential workers and vulnerable children only.
55% of respondents agreed that the government should pay childcare staff as is the case with school teachers. Support for this was not higher possibly due to concerns of increased taxation in a scenario of slow economic recovery post-Covid.
Comparison with previous years
In addition, this year’s survey also polled respondents on certain questions asked in previous years. The results show that:
- 62% of respondents agree that the education of children under 5 is just as important as the education of children over 5;
- 58% feel that parents should be financially supported to stay at home with their child for the first 12 months of a child’s life. There was a notable gender divide in responses to this statement, with 65% of women in agreement, compared to only 52% of men;
- 61% of respondents agree that childcare should be available free to all children;
- 60% agree that parents should only pay towards childcare in line with their overall income;
- Under EU guidelines, by 2022, staff working directly with children must be qualified as other professionals such as nurses and teachers. 73% of respondents agree that, when this is the case, the terms and conditions of staff employment contracts should reflect this.
There was a steep rise in support for better terms and conditions for qualified childcare staff, since last year which was 65%. We are delighted to see such robust support for such an important cause in the 2021 Childcare Barometer.
Support for the other proposals remains high, but it fell from last year. This trend is likely explained by the heavy impact of COVID-19, with people being concerned about the safety of children going to schools and ELC/SAC settings during the pandemic and about the state of the economy after COVID-19.
The Childcare Barometer is an invaluable resource for Early Childhood Ireland. It provides a nationally representative indication of overall public attitudes to childcare and our sector and is accordingly a highly important tool in our advocacy work. Early Childhood Ireland will draw heavily on this data in our engagement with the government in the months to follow.