Policy in Action 12 March 2024

Policy in Action 12 March 2024
Early Childhood Ireland proposals are included in key Oireachtas report

Early Childhood Ireland is pleased to see that our main recommendations and policy proposals for the Early Years and School Age Care sector (EY and SAC) have been included in the final report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth’s “Report on Challenges Facing the Early Childhood Care and Education Sector”, which was published on Tuesday, 5 March 2024.

Chaired by Deputy Kathleen Funchion, the Committee is a cross-party group comprised of TDs and Senators from all parties. One of the functions of the Committee is to advise on policy issues including seeking submissions and holding hearings with third parties.

It is noteworthy that of the Committee’s 33 recommendations, 11 are proposals put forth by Early Childhood Ireland. We rely on research, international evidence and are guided by member experience and expertise to develop coherent proposals for policy makers. It is heartening to see so many of these ‘asks’ endorsed by an influential cross-party Oireachtas Committee.

Early Childhood Ireland’s representations to the Joint Oireachtas Committee

Early Childhood Ireland was invited to meet the Committee on 7 November 2023, which we were pleased to attend and to make a short opening statement to the Committee highlighting a number of issues. We also responded to questions from TDs and Senators:

  • The need for a 5-year plan for the sector.
  • The recruitment and retention of staff.
  • The pay and conditions of Early Years and School Age Care staff.
  • Better use of EY and SAC data to ensure adequate capacity. And to use this data to initiate a system of national and local 2-year and 5-year planning cycles.
  • The administrative burden felt by providers and educators and the impact attendance requirements have on administration.
  • Responding to setting closures and the need for a stakeholder response team.

During questioning, Early Childhood Ireland responded to a range of questions on the workforce, a publicly-funded model, children’s rights, quality, core funding, room closures, good EY and SAC practice, EY and SAC provision for children experiencing disadvantage, better capacity planning with better data, attendance requirements, the Single Agency and the Guidelines for Planning Authorities for Childcare Facilities. You can read the full transcript of the statement and the Q&A with members on the Oireachtas website.

Early Childhood Ireland took the opportunity of the Committee meeting to distribute our Policy Proposal: Closures or Early Years and School Age Care Settings to all members.  We subsequently sent our  Policy Proposal: A Single Agency for Early Years and School Age Care to the Committee in February 2024.  We are very pleased to note the inclusion of both of these proposals in the Committee’s Report.

The results of Early Childhood Ireland’s policy work

Of the 33 recommendations in the report, 11 are Early Childhood Ireland proposals that were provided to the Committee in our opening statement, the organisation’s policy proposals and the Q&A session with TDs and Senators.  These recommendations are:

  1. The Government should publish a five-year plan for implementing additional investment in early years and school age care to reach €4 billion, which is approximately 1% of GDP, by early 2029, and for implementing the Partnership for the Public Good report’s better data recommendations.
  2. A system of national and local two-year and five-year planning cycles to ensure there are enough early years and school age care places in communities for children.
  3. Census data should be used to a better degree for forecasting demand for early years and school age care.
  4. Consideration should be given to a unification of the existing funding programmes: the national childcare scheme, the early childhood care and education scheme and the core funding, to allow settings to use capacity, not children’s attendance, as a funding requirement.
  5. A response team should be established to forecast potential closures of settings, prevent them where possible, and manage setting closures, when they are unavoidable, in line with children’s best interests.
  6. The transition to a single agency for Early Years and School Age Care children should be progressed as a priority.
  7. The administrative burden and duplication of reporting requirements for operators must be addressed, inspections streamlined and made consistent, and an effective appeals mechanism made available where this does not occur.
  8. Rigid attendance requirements should be avoided where possible.
  9. Providers designated as relevant bodies must be supported and resourced in order to meet any new roles and responsibilities they have arising out of the new provisions and regulations.
  10. An examination into the rule requiring developers to build crèches in new developments under certain circumstances should be conducted to address the following issues:
    1. Developers excluding one- and two-bedroom apartments.
    2. Situations where the provision of a crèche is never made or made too late.
    3. Cases whereby the location and cost to purchase or lease that building is prohibitive, so providers cannot get finance.
    4. Whether entrusting the building of crèches to developers, in a housing sector already experiencing market failure is wise; and
    5. The potential need for local authorities to play a role in acquiring or building such premises instead.
  11. The trend whereby preschool rooms and staff are being diverted to primary schools should be investigated, mitigated and planned for.
Conclusion

Early Childhood Ireland warmly welcomes the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee and we are pleased to have made a strong contribution to the process. Our proposals have clear benefits for children, their families, providers and educators. We are grateful to our members who have contributed through member engagement work to strongly influence and shape these positive developments.

If you would like to know more about our work, please contact [email protected].

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