Budget reaction from Early Childhood Ireland, the representative group for 3,500 childcare professional members who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool and full daycare provision nationwide.
Today, the government is taking a first step to what must be a planned and substantial increase in state investment, recognising the value of quality childcare to children’s development in their critical early years. The additional investment in early years education and care signaled to parents and early childhood educators is welcome but it can’t be a once off and we need sustained additional resources of €100 million plus every year for the next 5 years. We are still a long way off the 0.8% GDP investment in childcare that we need to get to, but today represents a significant investment that must be built on in the coming years. Furthermore, throughout the discussions with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs over the coming days we will be emphasizing the role and recognition of the early childhood educator in all of this and the importance of introducing salary scales linked to qualifications and how this could be approached, as there was absolutely no mention of their importance in the budget speeches so far. We need to see much more commitment to improving their terms and conditions.
Our initial reaction to specifics announced in today’s budget:
- The announcement of two weeks paternity leave is timely and good for families. We know that children gain most from being with their parents until they are one year of age and we welcome this positive focus on paternity and parental leave and see this move as a pathway towards a full one year of combined maternity and parental leave.
- What is missing from today’s budget is more support and real investment in afterschool care, with only €3 million being allocated for afterschool and that is within school buildings. On first glance, that falls short and the money spent on increasing child benefit would have been better directed towards afterschool, with more real impact for families across the country struggling with that. That is a missed opportunity, but we may yet hear more details.
- The amalgamation of the childcare subvention schemes and making the funding available to both community and private services is a welcome development and makes sense all round, potentially opening up an extra 8,000 places. It will widen the net of families benefiting from childcare subvention and we’ve been calling for the inclusion of private services in such funding for a long time.
- We wholeheartedly welcome the additional €15 million allocation to supporting children with additional needs at preschool level. We expect that this is part of a whole set of recommendations in relation to supporting children with additional needs at preschool level. To date our members have received little or no help in this regard, with the extra time and cost of accommodating a child with additional needs falling on their shoulders, thus increasing the emotional and financial stress for families and for everyone involved. We welcome a fairer and more equitable approach in this regard and we look forward to hearing more details on that. Furthermore, it is timely to see the support and investment being given to the learner fund, in particular to finance training for early childhood educators in relation to dealing with children with additional needs.
Specifically regarding the ECCE (free preschool) scheme announcements today:
- The investment in the ECCE (free preschool) scheme with the restoration of previous cuts bringing the capitation rate back up to €64.50 per child per week is welcome, but it is the bare minimum to deliver this scheme. As such, it leaves many childcare providers still struggling with a scheme that doesn’t cover the actual cost of delivery. We await the detail of this element of the budget.
- We have yet to hear any details about the payment of professional time (“non-contact time” for childcare professionals in delivering this scheme) which is still not recognised or reimbursed in the capitation level and needs urgent attention, particularly in light of the expansion of the ECCE scheme. Our members have been short changed on this professional time in terms of administration and delivery of the scheme for too long, and they should not be subsidizing the scheme in this way.
- We are also disappointed that the funding for the ECCE scheme has not been extended to allow services operate on a 48 week basis. The cost of early childhood educators forced on the dole over the summer months is €7.4 million. It is impossible to professionalise the sector when those working in it are unable to work full time. But perhaps there are more details to come on that too.
- We welcome the phased, expansionary plan for the ECCE scheme to include children from 3 years of age to the age of 5 years and 6 months, or until they start primary school, with a staggered approach to enrolment throughout the year. This is a positive move for parents and for the children who will benefit from the extra time on the preschool curriculum. The early childhood educators who will implement this expansion need immediate consultation and input into how this will work for parents, practitioners and for children. However, we’ve got to remember that one capitation rate doesn’t fit all and there is a huge difference in the costs for childcare providers in different parts of the country. This needs to be addressed as part of the planning and consultation process around expanding this scheme.
Overall, we would say that this budget positions us firmly on a longer term investment pathway towards quality, affordable and accessible early childhood care and education system that works for everyone, the parents, the early childhood educators but especially for the children at the centre of it. But we still have a long way to go and a partnership approach with the sector in terms of delivering on the ECCE scheme will be critical to a smooth and expanded scheme by September 2016. We will be analyzing the detail of this budget over the coming days and we expect a lot more discussion about the detail of what exactly is behind the headline announcements today. From there, the sector and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs must sit down and work out how this may be operationalised
Further information: Teresa Heeney 087 7671481 or Dónall Geoghegan 087 2225691 or Carmel Doyle 087 2473537
Editor’s note: Early Childhood Ireland represents over 3,500 childcare professional members who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool and full daycare provision nationwide. Its work includes quality enhancement, publications, advocacy, training, business support and information for a sector that employs 25,000 people today.
Teresa Heeney CEO and Dónall Geoghegan Director of Policy and Communications in Early Childhood Ireland are contactable for interview. Full budget analysis will be forthcoming as further briefing meetings happen this evening and tomorrow morning.
https://twitter.com/TeresaHeeney & @TeresaHeeney
https://twitter.com/DonallGeoghegan & @DonallGeoghegan
https://twitter.com/EarlyChildhdIRL & @EarlyChildhdIRL