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Early Childhood Ireland Webinar Series 6 - Recordings

Response to Government support package

June 12, 2020

National Statement: Early Childhood Ireland

Following the publication of Early Childhood Ireland’s checklist to inform the reopening of childcare settings, we have been considering the package of support measures announced by Government on Wednesday.

Members from across private and community childcare settings have expressed their relief that the Government has committed a funding programme to support the sector in this time of widespread need. The content of the package which includes contributions to staffing, operating and capital costs, has come about, we believe, because the government consulted the sector about what was needed.

As a diverse membership body, ECI believes that it is imperative that such forums for effective consultation between the sector and any future government remain in place to enable further solutions-focused discussions with policymakers.

In light of the challenges which providers have navigated in recent years, this funding commitment is a welcome acknowledgement of the key role that childcare will play in restarting the economy and the need to safeguard the sector’s sustainability beyond that. As such, we look forward to further consultation and the timely publication of further clarity, promised by government, on the next phase of reopening in September.

Meanwhile, after-school providers need urgent guidance from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Education and Skills as to the safe reopening of school buildings which usually accommodate summer camps during July and August. These summer schemes will be important for older children who will otherwise experience a huge gap in provision between March and September.

Early Childhood Ireland hopes that this unique period of readjustment will provide a timely opportunity to review the bureaucracy on issues such as the number of purchasing quotes for consumables and services for grant schemes, and around rules on the attendance of children which members believe should be suspended at this time. This is a key concern of members in relation to the child-centred focus of the ECI’s checklist.

Up to 60% of parents have expressed hesitation to members about their child returning to crèche and would welcome a more flexible approach which allows children to return on a limited basis from July or August. The disruption to normal routines and the fear or anxiety which might be caused by enhanced safety measures on their return mean it is important that providers can accommodate families as they ease children back into schedules as they see appropriate.

If this flexible approach cannot be accommodated, members suggest that the 8-week attendance window is extended to meet the initial reopening period of 29 of June to 23 of August.

Staffing levels will be a concern for many providers as adjustments are made to accommodate the safe reopening of childcare settings. The wage subsidy scheme does not include considerations for those who may be returning from maternity or other types of leave, and also excludes any new staff that will need to be hired.

Members have also highlighted an anomaly in the proposed grant schemes which will prove unfair to providers and parents. The bands which determine grant levels are based only on receipt of subsidies under childcare programmes, which for some members may mean the difference in a grant of between €4,000 and €16,000. Considering the short existence of the National Childcare Scheme before crèches closed on March 12, and the relatively low uptake to date compared to the Early Childhood Care and Education programme, members recommend that the DCYA address this by relaunching the NCS scheme to parents as soon as possible.

Early Childhood Ireland looks forward to working with government to safely reopen the sector in a way that will prioritise the health , safety and wellbeing of children and staff, and also focus on the overall sustainability of our vital sector.

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