Policy in Action 16 January 2024

Policy in Action 16 January 2024

Last week, as part of our continuing advocacy work, our team engaged with local media throughout the country by issuing our first press release of the year. We reiterated our call for a coherent 5-year plan for the Early Years and School Age Care sector and outlined how Government can address some of the main challenges facing Early Childhood Ireland members.

Our message

Using the latest estimated enrollment figures from the newly released Pobal Early Learning and Childcare data 2022/23 , combined with our own membership data, our team tailored press releases for each county in Ireland and issued them to local media last Wednesday, 10 January.

Each release focused on the ongoing challenges facing members and called for the creation and implementation of a coherent 5-year plan for the sector to address them. We argue that the lack of proper planning is failing providers, parents, and, most importantly, the children who attend settings.

Recruitment and retention

Staff recruitment and retention is undoubtedly the number one challenge our member settings are currently grappling with. Staffing pressures are caused by factors such as low pay and a lack of pensions. The Government must address this so that the sector’s 30,000-strong workforce is not left at the mercy of an annual wage negotiation process, which is moving at a frustratingly slow pace.

Administrative burden

Our members are also concerned about the amount of time they spend administering the various Government funding programmes, as it is taking educators away from quality contact time with children.

Many providers are also dismayed by the attendance requirements. These lead to a lack of flexibility for families and are not centred, as they should be, on the lives and needs of children. We are proposing a unification of the existing funding programmes: National Childcare Scheme (NCS), Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and Core Funding, to allow settings to use capacity, not children’s attendance, as is the case with one of the programmes now. This would offer improved flexibility with no financial consequences for providers or parents.

Investment and planning

Further investment and the need for a coherent medium to long-term plan for the sector are essential. Significantly more investment is needed to provide an Early Years and School Age Care sector that is of high quality, adequate capacity, and is inclusive of all children. It is vital for the interim sustainability and certainty – which children, families, providers, educators, and communities need – that a new funding target and a coherent plan to achieve it is published.

Early Childhood Ireland has repeatedly called on the current Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and his Cabinet colleagues to do this. It will require more than one government to agree and implement this plan, so political leadership from all sides is needed.

Encouragingly, we have heard members of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee voice their support for our proposals. What we need now is action so that we can have an Early Years and School Age Care sector in this country that works for all concerned. Ireland’s children and families deserve nothing less.

The results

Our releases generated a lot of interest from journalists throughout the country, and we secured wide-ranging local coverage. You can read some of the stories here, here, and here. Furthermore, our CEO Teresa Heeney took part in a radio interview in Donegal. Our Director of Policy Frances Byrne was interviewed twice, once in Mayo and the other in Wexford. Our main message was also broadcast in several news bulletins throughout the day.

If you have any questions or would like to engage with Early Childhood Ireland’s media team, please contact us at media@earlychildhoodireland.ie

And please feel free to follow us on X (formerly Twitter) – @EarlyChildhdIRL

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