Policy in Action 7 November 2023

Policy in Action 7 November 2023
Oireachtas Update

As part of our policy work, Early Childhood Ireland monitors the Oireachtas each week. As well as covering Committee meetings and Leaders’ Questions, we also review Parliamentary Questions (PQs) that are submitted by members of the Dáil to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (CEDIY), Roderic O’Gorman TD. Seanad debates are also monitored.

‘Issues Facing the Early Childhood Sector’ is the agenda of today’s (Tuesday, 7 November 2023) meeting between Early Childhood Ireland and members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

The purpose of Early Childhood Ireland’s statement to the Committee is to ask policy makers to adequately respond to the issues facing our hugely significant sector.

Our statement covers the main challenges facing Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) settings such as staffing, administration, and funding. It also provides the Committee with policy proposals for responding to setting closures.

Staffing

In relation to staffing, Early Childhood Ireland states that the recruitment and retention of staff is the number one challenge facing EY and SAC settings at present. By law, settings must ensure that a specific number of competent, Garda vetted and qualified adults are working directly with children at all times. 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.

Staffing pressures are caused by factors such as pay and working conditions. We highlight how pay rates are not matching the policy goal of having a graduate-led workforce by 2028.

The latest available data from the Pobal Early Years Sector Profile shows that approximately 25 per cent of staff working directly with children have an NFQ level 5 qualification, 40 per cent have a Level 6, while 33 per cent have an NFQ Level 7 or higher.

It is vital that core funding addresses the terms and conditions of staff, and 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.

Investment and Better Data

While Early Childhood Ireland commends the Government for providing over €1bn for the Early Years and School Age Care sector, it proposes that the Government publish a 5-year plan for implementing additional investment in our children’s Early Years and School Age Care, to reach €4 billion – approximately 1 per cent of GDP – by early 2029. This would bring Ireland in line with its EU counterparts.

Good planning requires good data. Early Childhood Ireland calls for the implementation of the ‘Better data’ recommendations from Partnership for the Public Good, and to initiate a system of national and local 2-year and 5-year planning cycles to ensure there are enough Early Years and School Age Care places in their own communities.

Administrative Burden

Early Childhood Ireland informs the Committee of our members’ concerns about the amount of time they spend on administering the various funding programmes, as it is taking educators away from quality contact time with children. Many are particularly 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 propose 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 a funding requirement, as this would offer improved flexibility with no financial consequences for providers or parents.

Pobal Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2020/2021 (published 2022)

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. 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.

We conclude that significantly more investment is needed to provide an Early Years and School Age Care sector that is of high quality, adequate capacity, and that is inclusive of all children.

It is vital for the interim sustainability and certainty which families, providers, educators and communities need, that a new funding target and a coherent plan to achieve it is published. Early Childhood Ireland asks the Committee to consider supporting us in this call. It will require political leadership from all parties. All children and families deserve nothing less.

You can read the full Early Childhood Ireland statement to 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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