In Policy in Action this week, we examine a recent Irish Times article addressing closures in Early Years settings (available here to publication subscribers). This article features our Director of Policy, Frances Byrne, and Early Years provider and long-time member Louise Kilbane. This piece is an excellent example of how our media and policy teams dovetail to engage the media and enhance our advocacy work.
Early Years setting closures
The main subject of the piece, penned by journalist Sheila Wayman, is the closure of Early Years settings. Though figures from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, Youth (DCEDIY) show that setting closures reduced last year compared to previous years, any closure can have a detrimental impact on children, families, staff, and local communities.
Stakeholder Response Team
In the article, Early Childhood Ireland outlines what Government can do to minimise the impact of any setting closing on the community. Currently, providers do not need to tell the State they are closing until up to 28 days after their doors have shut. We are proposing that Government needs to be more proactive in dealing with closures and engage closely with providers who risk having to close their setting to see what can be done in the best interests of children, staff, and the wider community.
Furthermore, the need for the establishment of a Stakeholder Response Team to determine why a setting is about to close and attempt to prevent it from happening is outlined. However, in the worst-case scenario of a setting shutting its doors, the Stakeholder Response Team would manage and respond to the closure promptly and examine a range of options that are in the best interests of children.
Early Childhood Ireland CEO Teresa Heeney launched this proposal in a position paper presented to the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth at the end of last year. It can be read in full here.
How it could work
Sheila Wayman also spoke to our member, Louise Kilbane. Louise explained how in 2018, following the brief closure of a community setting in Co Mayo, various stakeholder groups, including the Mayo County Childcare Committee, Pobal and Tusla, came together to devise a plan to keep this essential community service open, with Louise securing the tender to take over the running of the Kiltimagh setting.
Louise says the various agencies supported the services reopening and did everything they could to get it up and running again as quickly as possible. “We are very much there for the community and work very closely with the agencies in the area. That doesn’t make it unique as we all do that,” she said, “but everybody at the time saw that it was very important that the service remained open.”
For its part, the DCEDIY said that it already has a range of supports in place to avert and assess setting closures. However, we would argue that the coordinated efforts of the agencies mentioned above are the exception to the rule and are not typical of what happens elsewhere in the event of a setting closure.
Budget 2024 and ongoing challenges
The article closes with a focus on a “brutally disappointing” Budget 2024 and ongoing challenges in the sector. We reiterated our call for a new investment target and, crucially, a five-year plan for the sector, with the ultimate goal of achieving a publicly-funded model. However, there needs to be much more consultation on this issue with providers, who have been delivering high-quality education and care in the sector for decades.
Louise says that staffing and sustainability are the two biggest challenges the sector is faced with. “In order for services to be sustainable they need to be full and in order for them to be full they need to have a full complement of staff. It’s a vicious circle at times. We need to recognise our graduates coming out of college with highly qualified degrees,” Louise, who is also a lecturer in early childhood care and education at Atlantic Technological University, said.
Louise also believes that if a publicly-funded system would benefit children, then it must be something that private providers such as herself consider. However, the multitude of stakeholders involved have to sit down and figure out how it would work.
“We have to look at the system before it collapses. I think the only way that is going to happen is if we sit down and have really tough conversations…. Is it going to be a fight? Yes, on both sides. And rightly so. Maybe 2024 will show us how we are going to do that,” she said.
If you have any questions or would like to engage with Early Childhood Ireland’s media team, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can reach our policy team at email@example.com