Last week, our colleagues the Children’s Rights Alliance, launched their Report Card 2023. This is the Alliance’s third analysis of the coalition Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Green Party government’s Programme for Government: Our Shared Future. The Report Card looks at how this government’s programme has performed for children. The research approach comprised of detailed children’s rights analysis of relevant legal and policy documents and academic literature which was then supplemented with insights and evidence gained from members and subject specialists. The Alliance engaged with relevant Government departments and statutory agencies to capture developments which happened in 2022. The Report Card 2023 is an extensive document, so for the purposes of this Policy Brief we will focus on grades given to the ‘Reform of the Early Childhood Education and Care System’, the ‘Childcare Ireland Agency’ and a round-up of other notable grades.
Big investments in 2022
Of interest to our Early Years and School Age Care (EYSAC) sector, the Alliance note that 2022 saw the single biggest investment in the sector in Budget 2023. Overall measures totalling €1 billion were announced, meaning the government reached it’s own funding target outlined in First 5 ahead of schedule by five years. In addition to this, a number of key reports and plans were published in late 2021 and actioned in 2022, notably Nurturing Skills and Partnership for the Public Good.
The increase in the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) subsidies, the agreement of the Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for workers in the EYSAC sector and the rolling out of the Core Funding scheme have been the main developments in the sector in 2022. This resulted in the government receiving a B+ grade on ‘Reform of Early Childhood Education and Care system’.
The Alliance notes that further work and focus is needed to realise the potential of the EYSAC sector, particularly in addressing child poverty and disadvantage. This should be a key focus in 2023 and the next phases of implementation for First 5.
Establishing a sing agency
Following on from reform of the EYSAC sector, the Report Card 2023 outlines how the government has made steady progress on the establishment of a single agency. In Our Shared Future, the government committed to establishing a single agency for the EYSAC sector, Childcare Ireland, which will assist in the expansion of high-quality EYSAC, spearheading leadership, best practice and innovation and professional development in community and private settings. The government has received a C grade on this, an improvement on the D grade awarded in 2022.
The publication of the review of the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and the School Aged Childcare (SAC) operating model is an important foundational step towards establishing what shape a new agency will take. However, as the report highlights, the establishment of a new statutory agency will take time, both in terms of the development of legislation and the transfer of existing functions from other bodies. Therefore, momentum ought to be maintained for the second half of the lifetime of the programme for government. The Alliance will be heartened to see the establishment of a programme board to oversee the establishment of a single agency, which was announced recently in a Department press release. Had this development been announced further in advance of the Report Card 2023 launch, it may have impacted the grade received by government.
Further positive grades were awarded to the performance of government in delivering the programme for government, namely; commencing a free school books pilot (B grade), national monitoring of reduced school days (B- grade), developing a National Youth Homelessness Strategy (B grade), child safety online (A grade) and enacting the Harassment and Harmful Communications Bill (A grade). However, in keeping the government accountable, notable areas of improvement, with the government dropping from the B- grade it received in 2022 to D grade when it comes to ending the direct provision system and replacing it with a non-profit accommodation model, and no change in the ending of the admission of children to adult psychiatric wards (E grade) and introducing a Public Health Obesity Act (D grade).
You can read the full report on the Children Rights Alliance website, where you can also find Report Cards from previous years. If you would like to know more about the Report Card, how it relates to our work, or any of the other items mentioned in this Policy brief please get in touch with our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team at email@example.com