Reimagining Childcare Provision

Reimagining Childcare Provision
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

WorkEqual, an organisation that works to achieve full gender equality in the workplace in Ireland, hosted the ‘Reimagining Childcare Provision’ seminar as part of their most recent awareness campaign.

The ‘Reimagining Childcare Provision’ seminar featured international guest speakers showcasing best practices in public childcare provision and explored how Ireland can learn from other countries to improve our childcare system and promote family-friendly work cultures.

The event began with a presentation from Brynhildur Heiðar-og Ómarsdóttir Secretary-General of Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, whose input was framed by the understanding that universal and accessible childcare has been the foundation for achieving progress in gender equality there. Iceland currently tops the Global Gender Gap Index at 89.2% equality and one of the main drivers of this is their Universal Day Care system. A system that mirrors similar systems in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, guarantee that the state is obligated to support families to provide the best care available for their children. It is understood that such state support is necessary to give both parents equal opportunity to care for their children while participating in the workforce.

Early Learning and Care System in Iceland

  • All municipalities in Iceland offer guaranteed admittance to playschool for children of various ages.
  • In municipalities where guaranteed Day-Care begins above the age of 12 months, authorities try to guarantee subsidised home-based care or ‘day-parents’, similar to childminders in Ireland. Day Parents are regulated by municipalities but there are no limitations on fees or guarantee of admittance.
  • The average age of entering ELC is 20 months. 4hrs a day of childcare costs €69 a month for a 2-parent family and €38 a month for a one-parent family. This nominal fee increases slightly for every additional hour of care, reaching a total of €308 a month for 9.5hrs a day for a two-parent family and 173 a month for 9.5hrs a day for a one-parent family.

Issues to be progressed in Iceland

  • Bridge the Care Gap between the end of parental leave to the start of guaranteed Day-Care.
  • Pass national legislation to guarantee universal affordable Day-Care
  • Guarantee pay equity for childcare workers

Michele Doull, Head of Professional Learning and QA at Early Years Scotland, gave an overview of the Scottish system since 2009 when the ‘Early Years Framework’ was published to promote a shared view of early years, identifying what pre-birth and beyond should look like for every child. In 2014 Scotland enacted its Children and Young People Act which brought a key attitudinal shift, identifying the Childcare System as Early Learning and Childcare (ELC), acknowledging that education takes place during care. The sector has come a long way most recently with its publication of a list of National Standard Criteria for ELC. Under this, since August 2020, all children between 3-5 years and eligible 2-year-olds are entitled to 1140 hours of ELC. However, there is no agreed national rate of pay for the ELC workforce in Scotland which is a challenge. The national living wage is £9.90 in Scotland and within the National Standard providers are required to pay at least the minimum wage. This is proving challenging to implement as some settings only receive £5.14 per child. One of the key goals for Scotland in terms of achieving an equitable and sustainable ELC sector is the establishment of a National Pay Scale that values the workforce.

As part of the panel discussion Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth welcomed the provision of new state investment for the early learning and School Age Care sector, in the form of the new core-funding model which supports quality and accessibility in our ELC system as well as to achieve social inclusion goals. He acknowledged that while progress has been made, there is a need to support the workforce which is primarily female. This new core funding will aim to create a valued workforce, reinforced by a Joint Labour Committee process to begin the process to attract new staff, create career pathways and develop the wider structure and capacity for the sector.

France Byrne, Policy Director for Early Childhood Ireland noted the comparison between fees in Ireland and Iceland, Ireland having some of the highest parental fees in Europe. It is also important to note that Ireland’s legacy of an underpaid and fragmented system of early learning and care is a gendered issue, with a longstanding cultural attitude that childcare is a women’s issue. The result is a 98% female workforce, the majority of whom are on low pay with poor terms and conditions. We must begin to view childcare as a societal issue and that quality, accessible and affordable early learning and care is a public good that drives positive outcomes for children and better social equity.  A priority is that we increase the pay and working conditions in the sector to attract and retain quality staff as well as a more diverse workforce.

Early Childhood Ireland will continue to monitor national and international developments that impact the education and care of young children and babies. Our policy team is always available to brief you and your team on any aspect of our work. To arrange this, please email us.

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