Last week, representatives from Early Childhood Ireland presented a Policy Proposal to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which was discussing the Early Years sector and issues arising. The purpose of this Policy Proposal is to provide an overview of Early Childhood Ireland’s recommendations to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), when an Early Years and School Age Care setting notifies authorities that it will close permanently. In this Policy In Focus, we will examine the Policy Proposal, setting out our key recommendations to government.
Closures can be extremely disruptive to children’s education and well-being and can have knock on effects in the wider community, so they should be avoided. Under the current regulations, registered providers are required to notify the Early Years Inspectorate in writing of the cessation of service not later than 28 days after they close. This requirement does not apply to temporary services. A Cessation of Service form is required to be completed where a person ceases to carry on a preschool or School Age Care service. Closures can happen for a variety of reasons and there is currently no obligation for providers to notify DCEDIY, Tusla or Pobal in advance of closures.
Impact of Closures on Children and the Community
Early Childhood Ireland advocates for all children to have access to high quality Early Years and School Age Care. High-quality Early Years and School Age Care is also a critical component of a thriving community and economy. There is a large body of research to show that Early Years and School Age Care has a long-lasting positive effect on a child’s well-being and long-term success. It provides parents with the ability to access employment, education and training. Early Years and School Age Care settings are also important employers in the community who contribute to the local economy. Access to high quality Early Years and School Age Care is essential for every child in every community, therefore, if a setting must close, it is essential that all efforts are made to lessen the negative impact on children, families, and the community.
Early Childhood Ireland Proposals for Setting Closures
In light of the nature of closures, and their potential impact, Early Childhood Ireland offers a proactive approach to permanent setting closures. This will be data based, by implementing the Better Data recommendations from Partnership for the Public Good. Furthermore, the following is proposed:
- When a setting indicates that it is going to close, it must first signal this within the Pobal Hive, by giving at least 3-months’ notice, but 6-months if possible.
- Once the setting has confirmed with Pobal that it is to close, this will trigger a response from a Stakeholder Response Team (SRT).
- The Stakeholder Response Team’s role is to respond to notices of closures, with a view to trying to avert them and manage setting closures, when they are unavoidable.
- To avoid closures, the SRT will work with a range of local agencies and others to devise a sustainable plan for the setting.
- The SRT will work with services in the local area, such as the CCCs, to source alternative places for children when closures are unavoidable.
This SRT will also be made up of experts from DCEDIY, Pobal, Tusla, the City/County Childcare Committees, Parents and local EY and SAC settings. In addition, a Data Officer from DCEDIY should be included, and this Data officer will be dedicated to bringing all of the information from the available data sources on EY and SAC in Ireland together, so that data can be used to develop evidence-based policy and planning for the sector, including an adequate response to setting closures.
Ultimately, Early Childhood Ireland’s ask hinges on three key recommendations:
- Implement the Better Data recommendations of Partnership for the Public Good.
- Appoint or assign a dedicated Early Years and School Age Care Data Officer in the DCEDIY who would be responsible for examining access to EY and SAC services in a particular area(s), conduct a needs assessment of those areas, and map the supply and demand for target populations.
- Establish an expert group of stakeholders, a Stakeholder Response Team, that will be responsible for development and implementation of a closure plan for the relevant setting, the affected families and local community.
You can read Early Childhood Ireland’s Policy Proposal in depth on our website, and you can also read our statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee last week. If you have any questions or would like to know more about our work, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.