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Lobbying for the Early Years Sector

May 16, 2017

On Tuesday 9th May, ECI Policy Officer Amy McArdle attended the Children’s Rights Alliance AGM and Annual Conference, which included a political panel discussion on early years reform. Representing the political spectrum on the panel were: Jan O’Sullivan TD, Labour Spokesperson on Children; Anne Rabbitte TD, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children; Kathleen Funchion TD, Sinn Fein Junior Spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs with special responsibility for childcare; Jim Daly TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs; and Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit.

The discussion was wide ranging and the prevalent issues were around quality, professionalisation and pay and conditions.  Surprisingly, investment and more importantly the impact of chronic underinvestment in the sector by successive Governments was not initially addressed and so ECI raised it from the floor.  We advised the panel that in order to successfully reform the Early Childhood Care and Education sector in Ireland, the State needs to know firstly, how much it costs to provide quality childcare and secondly, to invest accordingly. We said that ECI was very disappointed by the delay with the independent review, which is crucial to the future funding and direction of childcare policy and particularly at the Affordable Childcare Scheme being rolled out before this work has been completed. There was broad consensus from the panel that the top priorities for reform  are the publication of an Early Years Strategy, which Jim Daly TD said would be completed by end of year, and the independent review. You are reminded of ECI’s recommendations on both, contained in our flagship report Doing the Sums: The Real Cost of Providing Childcare (May, 2016):

 
Publish the National Early Years Strategy: The National Early Years Strategy is a unique opportunity to identify the needs, opportunities and best interests of every child in Ireland from birth to 6 years of age, with special focus on early childhood care and education. The Strategy must recognise a universal, accessible and high quality ECE system as a right for all young children.
It must be built and developed with parents and communities to support children’s holistic development. The evidence informed policies set out in the Strategy must be accompanied by an implementation plan and timeframe and be met with the necessary funding by all the Government Departments charged with their delivery. The Strategy must serve as the roadmap for the future direction, development and funding of ECE in Ireland.
 
Base state subsidies on a realistic assessment of the cost of providing childcare: The financial viability and sustainability of childcare providers needs to be a key concern of policy makers, and not just the providers themselves. Government must address the structural deficiencies in the current funding model, whereby low state subsidies lead to low margins, low pay and poor conditions for staff, and ultimately undermines the ability of both the sector and the State to deliver quality services for children and affordability for parents. The levels of subsidy underlying the design of future schemes, as well as the existing ECCE programme, must be based on a realistic assessment of the cost of providing childcare with adequate margins. To this end, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs must expedite the independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare in private and community settings, consistent with the principle of ongoing professionalisation of the sector, as per the Programme for Partnership Government commitment (May, 2016).
 
Get the Affordable Childcare Scheme right from the start: The new Affordable Childcare Scheme must be planned and developed to ensure it provides a comprehensive and coherent system of supports for all children availing of childcare, including ECCE and School Age Childcare, and provides a flexible and robust platform for all future investment in childcare. The design of the Scheme needs to:
  • Be informed by an independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare in private and community settings, consistent with the principle of ongoing professionalisation of the sector, as per the Programme for Partnership Government commitment (May, 2016).
  • Be informed by the knowledge and expertise that the sector has to offer. Preparations for the Scheme need to include a comprehensive consultation and engagement process that ensures that the voices of providers and parents are heard.
  • Recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not suffice and that one level of subsidy will not work everywhere. Many factors influence to cost of providing childcare. They may be geographical or specific to the needs of particular communities and children. For example, subsidies should reflect the higher cost of providing childcare to children with disabilities in the under 3s cohort and in School Age Childcare i.e. outside of the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) in ECCE.
  • Be based on year-round supports, and incorporate non-contact time at a minimum of 10% equivalent of contact time and CPD for all staff.
  • Allow parents and providers to interface with a single, accessible and coherent system of supports.
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