19th November – First 5 Launch
First 5 – My first day impression!
The long awaited day for those of us who work with children in Ireland was finally here – the much talked about, debated, and discussed ten-year strategy was to be launched. Having heard snippets over the weekend in the media, I was excited to see what the strategy would be like and if it was going to be as wonderful as we were all promised.
Having attended the open debates in relation to the strategy, I had had a brief glimpse into what was going to be in the strategy. And yes, I felt it lived up to the promise. As I sat in the room in the Miesian Plaza in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and looked around, and excuse me for being overly emotional about this, but I really do feel like it was an historic moment for children and families. I feel Minister Zappone had listened, and the department officials who worked on this document listened, and they carefully put together a plan that would see the future of children in Ireland as full of promise and hope. As I listened to speaker after speaker I took notes of what I felt were big statements from Ministers but which, in a sense, were ones we have been saying for years. An Taoiseach spoke about “investment in children and the early years of a child’s life was an investment in the future”. Simon Harris referred to the fact that “investment in children’s health pays dividends in the long run” and Mary Mitchell O’Connor said, “every child deserves a champion”. Minister Zappone certainly started the day correctly and as the children played in the room next door, I could hear their excited squeals and laughter of joy as they played and explored the room. Meanwhile the adults were inside the next room listening to predictions about their future and the futures of their children. The research for the strategy involved children and children were asked what they wanted – they wanted to spend time with their families, be with their parents, and for someone to improve the weather!
Giving both parents paid parental leave for 7 weeks on top of the already existing supports, while it may seem small, is to me a big step in the right direction. Minister Zappone referred to the 117% increase in investment in the early years over the last number of years and how the strategy intends to double this investment over the next ten years.
One of the strategy’s goals is to have a graduate-led workforce and to invest to ensure graduates stay within the sector. I know for many of us it seems impossible but yesterday I felt that, just maybe, the impossible is going to be possible; in the words of the Minister, “transforming the early years system in Ireland into the best in the world.”
I know, like many, I sit in my service and reflect on the strategy and it feels, at times, that we are not heard and sometimes ignored. However, I did feel that yesterday, we were listened to. First 5 refers to early years services as early learning and care centres. We are learning centres and we do care and love. Play is a fundamental part of the strategy and I hope this will now bring to the fore the important work we do as early years practitioners; valuing play and the importance of childhood and letting children live in that moment in the here and now.
I must say I am usually one of the first to jump up and down and complain and voice my opinion, but for now and for this moment, I feel it was exciting. It gave me hope – hope for those of us who work tirelessly in the sector and most importantly for children and families. Now let the work begin, let us read the strategy, analyse it and begin the next ten years of work as there is a lot to do.
Here’s to First 5 and the next ten years!
‘Providing Leadership to the First 5’ is the theme of Early Childhood Ireland’s forthcoming Annual Conference & AGM Weekend 2019. At the Conference, we will discuss the First 5 strategy, its implications for our sector, and how, together, we can bring leadership to this milestone plan. Click here to book your ticket for the Conference – special early bird rates available until 22 February!
Louise Kilbane is owner of Lollipop Lane, Tubbercurry, Sligo and Lollipop Lane, Kiltimagh, Mayo. Louise has a BA (Hons) ECCE, and is currently completing MA Leadership and Advocacy in the Early Years with IT Sligo. Louise has worked in the early years for the last 16 years and is currently the Early Childhood Ireland’s Members representative in the National Early Years Forum and also sits on the Professionalisation Sub group of the forum.