The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) recently released a new Policy Statement on Care, which promotes a human rights and equality-based framework for care and outlines the actions that the State must take to translate European and international standards into public policy commitments and measures. IHREC supports several of Early Childhood Ireland’s key policy proposals. In this week’s policy brief, we delve into the statement and highlight IHREC’s recommendations for our sector.
It is very encouraging to see that IHREC includes a call for radical transformation of Ireland’s Early Years sector, including “a shift in societal values and policies towards recognising care as a public good, supported by public monies”.
The relevant recommendations include:
- IHREC recommends that the State creates a detailed, ambitious and adequately resourced roadmap setting out how new and existing policies and targets will be integrated and implemented to build a public model of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) by 2030.
- That the State accepts Article 27(1) of the Revised European Social Charter on the provision of Early Years services. IHREC also highlights the need to realise children’s rights by ensuring all children have access to high-quality provision. As the paper notes, “quality of care is a key indicator for reform”.
- That the quality of ECEC services and the sustainability of the workforce is significantly improved through embedding children’s rights in all reforms, the development of a graduate-led workforce, and improvements to pay and conditions. ECEC services should be guided by established standards in primary school education and should strive for equivalence in the medium-term
- That the State continues to increase spending on ECEC in successive budgets, with a view to increasing its spending to match EU and OECD averages and reach the UNICEF target of 1 per cent of Gross National Income.
- That children from low-income families in receipt of the medical card are entitled to the highest subsidy under the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), guided by the best interests of the child and access to ECEC as a human right.
- That cultural competency training is provided for ECEC staff to increase awareness and understanding of ethnic minorities, including Travellers and Roma families. Efforts should be made during recruitment to ensure that the composition of staff reflects the backgrounds and ethnicities of children in attendance.
- That information on the availability of two free preschool years under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme is promoted through targeted communications for structurally vulnerable groups, in a range of languages and formats.
- That the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is expanded so that ECEC for children with disabilities is publicly funded outside of the parameters of the ECCE programme, including to children under the age of three and for extended periods of time.
- That reforms to ECEC are harmonised with wider measures to reduce child poverty, including through implementation of the Equal Participation funding model and linking ECEC centres to wider community supports including hot meals, transport, and education and information for parents.
This year, the Government will invest more than €1 billion in Ireland’s Early Years and School Age Care sector. After decades of being an international laggard, this is welcome and means that Ireland is on the right path to funding Early Years and School Age Care as many other wealthy countries already do.
An inclusive Early Years and School Age Care system creates a more equitable society for all, especially for those living in poverty or experiencing other disadvantages. Yet when it is discussed in Ireland, the focus is often on the affordability of services for parents. It’s rare that the value of high-quality care and education for young children is part of the political or media narrative, despite a large body of international evidence which has established that high-quality experiences for children provide long-lasting benefits for them, their families, and their communities.
There are positive statements from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and others that this year’s Budget will be focused on children. Early Childhood Ireland is very clear on what a children’s Budget should include. Implementing the IHREC proposals would be a good start.
Government must use future investment to ensure that every child has a consistently, high-quality experience in settings and in childminders’ homes.
For more on Early Childhood Ireland’s Budget 2024 submission, please click here.
You can read this paper from the New Economics Foundation on their website. If you would like to know more about this report and how it relates to Ireland, or speak to us about our work, please get in touch with our Policy, Advocacy and Campaigning team at firstname.lastname@example.org.