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Teresa Heeney and Cathy Bent at the fifth meeting of the Early Years Forum

The Early Years Forum, 6th Nov 2017

November 14, 2017

On Monday 6th November 2017, Cathy Bent from Sophia Housing Crèche in Donabate accompanied ECI’s CEO Teresa Heeney to the fifth meeting of the Early Years Forum in the Mansion House in Dublin. Cathy, an active member of ECI’s Policy and Implementation Panel, was standing in for our regular Early Years Forum panel representative, Louise Kilbane. Cathy manages Sophia Housing Crèche, which is part of their wider service supporting families experiencing homelessness. The specialist nature of Cathy’s service means she brings a distinct perspective to discussions about the future development of early years policy in Ireland. We are very thankful to Cathy for her attendance and the contributions she made on the day. Cathy has kindly provided the following update on her experience at the Forum.

 

Before attending the Early Years Forum with Teresa Heeney (CEO) on Monday 6th November, I had a limited understanding of the work being done there. As an early years educator working on the ground, I often feel very removed from the formal panels and working groups in the early years space. I have often wondered if the voices of children, their families and early years educators are truly being listened to? I was delighted then to attend the forum and to get an insight into how effective it is at shaping, informing and developing policy for our sector.

The forum is made up of national organisations, like ECI, who represent early years providers, senior representatives from the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Education and Skills, and Pobal. The agenda for the meeting was very comprehensive and there were several items that were particularly significant to our work in Sophia House Crèche. These included: a question to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD, on the Affordable Childcare Scheme; discussion on the Sectoral Employment Order and the Independent Review of the Cost of Providing Quality Childcare.

 

The Affordable Childcare Scheme
As an early years educator working with children and families experiencing homelessness, I am very interested in how effective the Affordable Childcare Scheme will be at meeting the needs of this group. I’m concerned that some of the current funding measures, for example CCSR(T) funding could be removed. I was delighted to hear this issue raised during the questions and answer section with Minister Zappone. She reassured us that there will be provision for marginalised children and families within the Affordable Childcare Scheme. I also know that this is something ECI is keeping a close eye on in its engagement with DCYA. ECI will also engage with the legislature when the Bill to give effect to the scheme is being debated in the Oireachtas. Minister Zappone said she hopes to have the legislation passed before the end of 2017.

 

Sectoral Employment Order
The discussion on the Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) was extremely informative in terms of the journey we need to go on as a sector. Teresa Heeney made a presentation about the most recent use of the SEO process by the Construction industry. It led to an SEO on basic salaries, overtime (unsocial hours), sick pay, pension contributions and dispute resolution. It covers apprentices, new entrants, and all other workers in the sector. The SEO was sought by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) as the employer. ICTU, Unite and the Trustees of the Construction Workers Pension Scheme were all parties to the SEO and were consulted by the Labour Court throughout the process. Teresa explained that role definitions are essential to an SEO and the definition of the construction sector and construction sector employees had to be agreed by the parties. This is something the early years sector will need to reach consensus on to pursue a SEO and the forum’s Professionalisation sub-group could make a significant contribution here.

I think a SEO would have a positive impact on our sector. In addition to agreed terms and conditions on pay, pensions, and sick leave, it would be a formal recognition of early years as a professional sector. This would help strengthen the sector’s lobbying efforts with the Government.

 

Independent Review of Costs
For me, the need to independently review the cost of providing quality childcare is what our sector most urgently needs. Currently, we are unable to say what is the real cost is and this restricts us in effectively lobbying for increased funding and investment. I was pleased to hear that the first stage of the review process, a call for evidence, is underway. This call for evidence will inform later stages of the review. The review will engage with providers, sector representative bodies and other stakeholders by way of a survey, interviews, and focus groups. Click here to find more information on the call for evidence.

We were advised at the forum that the review is expected next summer (2018) to inform Budget 2019 negotiations. The survey of providers is expected in January and there will be an interim report in the Spring.

 

Final observations
In the past, I have wondered if these processes just pay lip-service to consultation and engagement with the sector and if ECI and other representative organisations really can make a difference. While I only attended one meeting of the forum, I was struck by the commitment, passion and drive of the organisations representing our providers, staff, children and their families, including those that are marginalised and disadvantaged. They aren’t just there to make up the numbers and they aren’t afraid to ask the Minster and the senior officials the hard questions. I really enjoyed this experience and I look forward to more opportunities as a panel member to work with ECI to direct and shape the future development of early years policy.

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