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New Minister for Children & Youth Affairs

May 8, 2014

Early Childhood Ireland thanks children’s champion Frances Fitzgerald Minister for Justice and welcomes Charlie Flanagan new Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, whose priority challenge must be to fuel the early childhood education sector with the right level of investment.

Statement from Early Childhood Ireland CEO Teresa Heeney:

“On behalf of our 3,400 members employing 16,500 staff who support over 101,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, parent and toddler groups and full daycare provision nationwide, we want to say a big thank you to Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice who has been a real children’s champion over the last 3 years.  We join with An Taoiseach is saluting her accomplishments as the first Minister for Children & Youth Affairs who gave children a voice around the Government’s Cabinet table.  While we will miss her, we know she will make a strong contribution to justice where children’s rights and the voice of the child must always be heard.

“We want to welcome Charlie Flanagan as our new Minister for Children & Youth Affairs whose priority challenge must be to fuel the early childhood education sector with the right level of investment.  Minister Flanagan’s arrival coincides with our prebudget call for an additional investment of €351 million from his Department which should be considered in the context of the €300 million plus taken out of the sector in 2009 when the Early Childhood Supplement was removed.  Minister Flanagan is no stranger to the real challenges in our sector as a former Spokesperson on Children and we expect him to continue to speak up for and invest in young children, particularly in their formative early years.

“We look forward to a very positive working relationship with Minister Flanagan and we will be seeking a meeting with the new Minister for Children & Youth Affairs to discuss the six key recommendations in our prebudget submission entitled ‘Getting the Best Start’ which was based on a nationwide consultation process with members.”

Editor’s Note:

Recommendations from ‘Getting the Best Start’ Early Childhood Ireland prebudget submission – full document on www.earlychildhoodireland.ie

Recommendation 1 – Increased Capitation for Free Preschool Year €22 million:  Increase of basic capitation rates by €10.50 per child per week on the ECCE free preschool year (from €62.50 to €73) with a projected cost in 2015 of €22 million.  A further €10 increase in capitation is recommended for 2016 and 2017, bringing capitation to €93 per child per week.  Capitation must fully cover salaries, rent, rates, utilities, food, equipment, administration, finance/auditing, health and safety equipment and training which is not the case in the majority of services today.”

Recommendation 2 – Support for Parents on the Cost of Childcare €244 million: The provision of standard capitation of €73 for all children (including infants and toddlers) in registered settings, thereby providing much needed support for parents to help address the costs of childcare with a projected cost in 2015 of €244 million.

Recommendation 3 – Graduate Staffing Fund €32 million: The introduction of a Graduate Staffing Fund providing a €7,000 grant to every service employing a graduate, which must be used as a direct salary supplement. The goal is to move towards parity of pay with Primary Teachers (commences at €30,702) with projected cost in 2015 for this move of €32 million.  While qualifications within the sector have risen incrementally, pay and conditions have not, creating a very real problem of retaining staff  within the sector.

Recommendation 4 – Extension of Free Preschool year to 48 weeks €50 million: Capitation in relation to the current Free Preschool year should be paid over a 48 week period in line with the primary school system, with the 10 additional weeks providing for essential non-contact time in running this scheme.  Projected cost for this in 2015 would be €50 million. This is essential to create viable careers in early childhood, to retain qualified staff and to build on existing investment in training.  Within the existing model, funding only covers direct contact time with children (3 hours per day) with no funded time for all of the additional activities that are required of a quality service.

Recommendation 5 – Extension of the Learner Fund €3 million: Make the existing Learner Fund available to all existing staff and include Level 6,7 and 8 at a projected cost in 2015 of €3 million.  In parallel extend the new qualification requirements to include those working with Under 3s.

(Note: adding  recommendations 1 to 5 = additional commitment from the Department of Children & Youth Affairs of €351 million.)

Recommendation 6 – Introduction of SNA’s children attending preschool €36 million (from Dept of Education & Science budget):  The introduction of a funding strand to provide specific staffing supports which would enable services employ SNA’s or access other specialists (for example, speech and language hours).  The projected cost to make this happen in 2015 is €36 million.  Linked to this, Early Childhood Ireland is also asking for increased and timely access to assessments so that children can fully benefit from Government investment in early childhood care and education.  Latest Pobal survey (2013) indicates that 45% of all services had at least one child with a diagnosed special need and almost 4,000 children with disabilities were reported in these services.   These children are among the most vulnerable in our society and the absence of SNA’s impacts very significantly on their life experience. This issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

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