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CEO update: Early Years Forum, Monday 28th November 2016

December 6, 2016

We are delighted to bring you an update from the second meeting of the Early Years Forum, which took place on Monday 28th November in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, from ECI’s very own Policy and Implementation Panel representative Paula Hilliard and CEO Teresa Heeney.

The Forum was opened with an address from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone who invited the Forum members to be critical, creative, affirming and challenging. She believes that an Information and Awareness Raising programme for parents is essential and that this ideally would happen in advance of further negotiations with the Dept of Public Expenditure & Reform (DPER) for Budget 2018. The Minister acknowledged all the reports recently conducted which highlight the need for additional investment and believes that in 2017 we need to issue our challenges in the public arena, making even more persuasive arguments. The more professional  the arguments, the more they help with the advocacy for greater resources.

 She knows that the Budget fell short in many areas and that providers are not getting the support needed. However, she sees it as a starting point of a new phase of improvement within the sector.

Affordable Childcare Scheme

The Minister informed the Forum that over 4000 responses had been received to the consultation on the Affordable Childcare Scheme (ACS) which is a mark of real engagement of the Early Years sector.

There were a lot of questions on ACS and Laura McGarrigle, Principal Officer in DCYA whose responsibility includes the design and implementation of the new scheme, addressed some of the issues raised. She advised the Forum that the scheme has been developed on the basis of figures that where available to DCYA at the time of its design and that it is a flexible platform that will allow for continued and increased investment. She said that they plan to use a working group of providers to test the administration and IT system and this group will feedback to DCYA on any issues arising.  It is intended that parents will be involved at this testing stage as well. Many concerns were raised including the 48-week payment, lead in time for parents, the costs of quality delivery etc. DCYA clarified that their forthcoming review of costs will inform the ACS.

In addition, the ACS will require primary legislation due to its complexity. This legislation is currently being prepared.

 

Workforce

While recognising that a lot of the problems in the sector are interconnected, Teresa Heeney stressed the urgent need for an Early Education and Care Workforce Development & Professionalisation Strategy. A Strategy would need to address the issues of recruitment and retention of staff as well as the critical issue of Terms and Conditions for the profession. The current recruitment difficulties were emphasized and are further evidence of the need for a Strategic plan.

Linked to this Mary Moloney, on behalf of PLe, raise the need for an independent statutory professional body. Such a body would have oversight of entry level qualifications for the Profession as well as monitoring the content of foreign qualifications. A professional body could also maintain a register of suitably qualified early years professionals.

 

Early Years Strategy

The Early Years Strategy was raised by Denise McCormilla.  Laura McGarrigle explained that an Open Policy Debate session would be held on December 7 and that it would be an important event to hear the views of all stakeholders.  DCYA intends to use the following structures for consultation on the draft Early Years Strategy- Open Policy Debate, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures Advisory Council (BOBF) Advisory Council, the Early Years Forum and the ‘Right From The Start’ Expert Advisory Group.

 

Dangers of an emerging Split System.

This issue was raised by Mary Moloney. A split system is not in the interests of an emerging profession and not in the interests of children.

 

AIM

In updating on the Access & Inclusion Model (AIM), Laura McGarrigle explained that 1200 AIM profiles have been completed which is in keeping with expectations. She said that there is overall positive feedback about AIM. Level 3 has not begun and is expected to begin in 2017. The LINC programme is up and running and all 900 places have been filled. The Diversity & Equality guidelines have been developed and a training programme has been developed to support their roll out.

In responding to these issues Minister Zappone agreed that increased capitation is the most efficient way to support an increase in pay. However, given that the State is not the employer, a mechanism for achieving this needs to be designed. The State clearly has a very important role to play in this issue, to ensure the provision of this public good. However, because the State is not the employer, the early years sector must agree how additional funds can be channeled into salaries. The Minister also acknowledged the need to slow down further changes and told the Forum that she will be liaising with colleagues on the British Irish Council regarding workforce planning as they are involved in the same issue at present.

 

Early Years Sector Profile 2015-2016
Pobal made a presentation on the Early Years Sector profile 2015 – 2016, which was published on Monday 28th November. They have developed a number of information dashboards on their website that will be very useful to providers, students and anyone interested in the sector.

 

Registration of January ECCE Intake
Before the meeting ended, Teresa Heeney raised concerns about an immediate issue with the 26th December opening for registering children for the January intake of ECCE on PIP. The obvious difficulty with this date for providers is that it is the Christmas holiday period and services will be closed. Teresa has requested that registration is opened in advance of this date and that online support is available throughout the period.

 

Establishment of sub-groups

It was agreed that three sub-groups would be established with the objective of preparing proposals for consideration by the Forum in respect of three particular priority issues, as follows:

  • Communications
  • Incentivising the provision of services for 0 – 3 year olds
  • Provision of services through the medium of Irish

 

Members of the Forum were invited to express his or her interest in participating in one of the sub-groups.  The function of each group (which can, subject to the Minister’s approval, be amended by the group at its first meeting) is as follows:

  • Communications sub-group

 

To submit proposals to the Forum on how communications with the early years sector should be managed.  To include communications from the DCYA, the Department of Education and Skills, Tusla, Pobal and the City/County Childcare Committees.

  • Sub-group on incentivising the provision of services for 0 – 3 year olds

 

To submit proposals to the Forum on how early years services can be encouraged to provide / continue to provide care for children outside of the ECCE cohort.  To include proposals in respect of the 2017 early years capital funding programme.

  • Sub-group on the support of services operating through the medium of Irish

 

To submit proposals to the Forum on how early years services operating through the medium of Irish can be supported.  To include proposals in respect of the availability of publications, training and inspection services.

In concluding the meeting, the Chairperson, Bernie McNally, asked the members of the Forum to come together to discuss  Professionalisation in order to begin to design a strategy for same.

The next meeting for the Forum will take place on Monday 6th March 2017.

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