Policy in Action 13 February 2024

Policy in Action 13 February 2024

Last week, Early Childhood Ireland launched our Policy Proposal, A Single Agency for the Early Years and School Age Care sector. Since 2019 Early Childhood Ireland has been advocating for a Single Agency for the Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) sector. We were successful in having this added to the Programme for Government in 2020. Since then, the government has established a Programme Board to oversee the design and implementation planning phase of a new Agency, which is welcome, as there is currently no central body responsible for planning capacity, supporting quality, and financial management oversight.

The rationale for this change is compelling. A Single Agency would serve to resolve fragmentation, eliminate duplication, and streamline operations. This would not only improve efficiency but also enhance accountability and governance, and enhance quality provision and outcomes for children. A reduction in duplication for settings will also help to ensure that that staff spend more time with children, rather than on administration.

Current Sector Structure

As seen in the graphic below, the EY and SAC sector in Ireland is characterised by a complex landscape of stakeholders and functions.

The Rationale for a Single Agency

Our Policy Proposal provides the following rationale for the formation of a Single Agency:

  • Resolve Fragmentation: The current system, according to Indecon’s Operating Model Review (2021), is characterised by a fragmentation with multiple intermediary bodies, many of which are very small in scale and have voluntary part-time boards. The establishment of a Single Agency would serve to resolve this as a centralised body with a unified purpose, avoiding duplication and reducing administration for settings.
  • Child Safeguarding: The fragmentation between different bodies has implications for Child Safeguarding. Each body currently retains their own child safeguarding procedures, policies, Designated Liaison Persons and culture. A centralised system for reporting concerns should they arise is what the Agency should provide, including the child safeguarding training functions currently held by the City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs) will be folded into the body.
  • Quality Improvement: The establishment of a Single Agency will bring data collection, programme design, and quality improvement under one roof. At the moment these are spread across the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), Pobal and Better and the CCCs .
  • Improved Data Collection and Analysis: A Single Agency will facilitate and coordinate the collection and analysis of data related to EY and SAC planning and development. This data-driven approach can lead to more evidence-based decision-making, allowing for proper capacity-planning.
  • Stakeholder Response Team: In a concurrent Policy Proposal, Early Childhood Ireland has recommended the establishment of a Stakeholder Response Team, whose purpose is to manage setting closures by responding in a timely manner and to examine a range of options, focused on the best interests of children. The functions of this Team will be subsumed into the Single Agency once established.
Conclusion

Early Childhood Ireland believes that the proposed Single Agency will complement increases in public funding in the sector, along with a long-term plan for this investment. The creation of a Single Agency has the potential to expertly guide the EY and SAC sector in Ireland, reduce fragmentation, waste, and inefficiencies and would go some way to paving a road to a more efficient, accountable, and high-quality system that benefits children, families, providers, and stakeholders alike.

By coordinating efforts and resources and eliminating overlap, it can focus on raising the standards of EY and SAC provision, providing more consistent and high-quality experiences for children. Moreover, with data-collection and implementation functions centralised, interventions and investment can be data driven meaning that gaps in provision can be challenged. The establishment of a Single Agency will help to ensure that all children have equitable access to and meaningful participation in an effective, world-leading Early Years and School Age Care system.

Get in touch

If you would like to know more about this proposal or any other pieces of our work, please contact policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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