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Policy in Action 14 November 2023

Policy in Action 14 November 2023
Oireachtas Update

Early Childhood Ireland met with policy makers at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth last week to discuss ‘Early childhood issues’. We also took the opportunity to present members of the Committee with our new Policy Proposal on the Closure of Early Years and School Age Care Settings.

Representatives from the sector included:

  • The Association of Childhood Professionals
  • The Children’s Rights Alliance
  • Early Childhood Ireland
  • FECP
  • SIPTU

There were inputs about the main challenges facing the Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) sector, including:

  1. The need for additional investment

Despite record levels of spending on Early Years and School Age Care in Ireland the statements from all contributors called for a significant increase in investment in the sector.

Although over €1 billion will be spent on the EY and SAC sector in 2023 and 2024, it is 0.2 per cent of Ireland’s GDP, which falls short of the average of 0.8 per cent of GDP in OECD countries.

Early Childhood Ireland called for an additional €3 billion to be invested by 2029, while SIPTU stated that “Ireland would need to increase expenditure by two-and-a-half times to reach our peer group average.”

In their statement, the Association of Childhood Professionals told the Committee that “with significant increases in inflation, [and] despite increased investment we find that the core issues of staffing crisis, financial instability and variable quality remain.”

  1. Retention and Recruitment of staff

Early Childhood Ireland stated that “the recruitment and retention of staff is the number one challenge facing EY and SAC settings at present….If a setting cannot fulfil the adult/child ratios, it may be forced to close one or more rooms, and delay any capacity expansion plans.”

SIPTU told the Committee that “low pay is by far the biggest cause of this staffing crisis…[which] has led to unacceptable levels of staff turnover, reaching an average of 38 per cent per year in private and full day services.” Avril Green, Educator and member of SIPTU added that “many Early Years educators are living pay-cheque to pay-cheque…most [of whom] can’t get a mortgage or a car loan.”

The Association of Childhood Professionals and SIPTU proposed that the salaries of Early Years and School Age Care educators should be paid for by the State, as this would give certainty to workers, and encourage them to remain in the profession.

During the discussion, Early Childhood Ireland’s CEO, Teresa Heeney, highlighted the importance of retaining staff in settings, as the continuity of their relationship with the children is hugely important.

She gave the example of the Nordic model of EY and SAC, where all staff are on the same terms and conditions, and this has worked from a staff retention perspective.

  1. Administrative Burden

Sector representatives were quite clear about the need for a simplification of the administration of Early Years and School Age Care schemes.

Service providers are particularly concerned about a recent circular from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth regarding financial reporting requirements for Core Funding Partner Services. Following wider discussions on the matter, Committee Members agreed to raise this issue with the Department when it comes before the Committee today.

Early Childhood Ireland will be following developments on this issue closely.

Support for Early Childhood Ireland proposals

Early Childhood Ireland was pleased with the support shown by Deputy Jennifer Murnane O’Connor (Fianna Fáil) and by Senator Mary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael) for its Budget 2024 proposal asking the Government to publish a 5-year plan for implementing additional investment into the sector.

Senator Seery Kearney stated that “she completely supports a five-year plan”. Service providers “need a road map to know how funding is going to be increased, for how their services are going to be supported. They need to be able to predict what is going to happen, the same way you would need a business plan.”

Deputy Murnane O’Connor also agreed with Early Childhood Ireland’s proposal to remove of the attendance requirement for EY and SAC schemes. “There should not be a funding requirement on a child’s attendance,” said the Deputy.

Policy Proposal on Closures of Early Years and School Age Care Settings

In relation to setting closures, Early Childhood Ireland presented the Committee with our new Policy Proposal for setting closures. Early Childhood Ireland believes that not enough is being done by the relevant stakeholders at present to avoid or to manage setting closures when they arise. We are proposing the establishment of a Stakeholder Response Team – whose purpose is to manage and respond to planned setting closures in a timely manner, and to examine a range of options, focussed on the best interests of children. You can read the full policy proposal here.

You can watch the meeting with the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth here

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If you are interested in hearing more about our Oireachtas work or our engagement with members about policy development, please contact us on policy@earlychildhoodireland.ie.

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