The fourth meeting of the National Collaborative Forum for the Early Years Care and Education Sector, known as the Early Years Forum, took place in Dublin Castle yesterday, Monday, 24th July.
Early Childhood Ireland was represented by our Director of Policy and Advocacy, Frances Byrne.
The Forum had a very busy agenda which as well as in-depth discussions on a range of items, also included updates on the work of the various Forum sub-groups such as:
- The 0-3 age group – very preliminary report has been done which needs more work before the next meeting of the Forum;
- The Irish language – final report presented at the Forum;
- Communication – report will be brought to the next meeting of the Forum;
- Professionalisation of the sector – update given at the Forum.
The Childminding working group also updated the Forum on its progress and plans to issue its Report within the next month The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) also provided updates on ‘More Affordable Childcare’ and on some of the issues which the early years sector has identified as priorities.
Minister Katherine Zappone attended the first part of the meeting and briefly addressed the members. She said her main focus for the next period was on the forthcoming Budget.
Key messages and updates
Estimates and Budget 2018
Both the Minister and the DCYA officials emphasised that the Budget 2018 process will be very challenging as they compete with other departments and priorities. Minister Zappone urged stakeholders to keep the early years agenda firmly in the public domain in the next few months, so as to strengthen the DCYA’s hand in the pre-budget negotiations.
ECI responded that our Budget 2018 submission will be disseminated to DCYA, as well as the Departments of Social Protection, Finance and Education. We will also be engaging in an intensive media campaign during the autumn. We stressed to the Minister that the interconnectedness of the three pillars of our policy and advocacy work: quality, sustainability and affordability are still vital and will inform both our Budget 2018 asks, as well as how we will analyze the outcome of the Budget in October.
The Professionalisation of the Early Years Sector
This sub-group, which is convened by ECI presented a comprehensive update on its work to date. The main areas being:
- A research proposal which has been submitted to DCYA to explore models of professionalisation in other countries;
- A Code of Ethics for the sector which is at an advanced draft stage and will be brought to the next meeting of the Forum for discussion;
- Work on the development of pay scales, which will contribute to the forthcoming independent review of the costs of provision of early years care and education;
- Professional identity of early years educators and the sector itself.
DCYA said that there now just over 6,500 active contracts on the system, and the updated Rules, which are intended to be much clearer, are now available. The Department is keen to understand and receive data on the number of hours it is taking providers to engage with the new contracts and how the updated rules are working. They intend to set up an advisory group to undertake what they referred to as a ‘health check’ on these in September.
ECI responded that our members are reporting a two-pronged non-contact time experience: one to help parents work out if they are eligible for support, which can be very time consuming and is a huge responsibility now being laid on providers; and the other in registering children on the system, especially for settings who are unfamiliar with the targeted schemes and subsidies.
ECI has brought together a sub-group of our Policy and Implementation Panel, to look at contracts and related issues, which we will engage with to provide ongoing feedback to the DCYA. If any members who are not on that sub-group would like to share your experience, please get in touch with our Policy Officer, Amy McArdle: email@example.com.
DCYA also informed the Forum that the public advertisement campaign about ‘More Affordable Childcare’ will increase over the next few weeks.
Other Priority Issues
The DCYA will meet with a number of other government departments and agencies about the issue of Commercial Rates next month. ECI welcomed this and will keep members updated as soon as we hear about the outcome.
Tusla intends having a consultation about the Quality Regulatory Framework from November 2017 and promised to give plenty of notice about this.
If you would like more information about the Forum, please contact Frances: firstname.lastname@example.org