On April 16, Frontier Economics published three more research papers to inform the development of a new funding model for Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) in Ireland. The consultancy has been commissioned by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) to provide research support to an Expert Group that was tasked to deliver a report containing proposals for a new funding model. This week, The Big Picture provides an overview of Working Paper 8, the last one of the series.
The aims of this paper are threefold:
- Present a summary of the discussion around shared delivery across ELC and SAC services, including the benefits and barriers;
- Describe the identified instances of this type of collaboration between ELC and SAC services in Ireland and other jurisdictions;
- Summarise the available evidence on the effectiveness of these arrangements.
The methodology is based on desk-based research that focused on nine countries. The scope of the review includes models of shared delivery across settings that are independent.
In theory, shared delivery models could offer benefits such as reduced costs, improved quality and enhanced visibility. Different types of collaboration include:
- Shared business and administrative services;
- Shared frontline inputs (such as contact staff, premises or other venues, equipment or materials);
- Shared training or staff development;
- Shared learning;
- Joint marketing to promote reputation;
- Shared care (when a child attends two different settings or services managed by different organisations).
Despite the potential benefits, only a small number of examples of shared delivery models for ELC and SAC settings were identified. One is the rapidly growing use of shared business and administrative services across the United States with the support of substantial public funding, within a context of a large number of small independent providers. Another example is the use of childminder agencies in England.
According to the authors, a possible explanation for the low interest in collaboration is that the overall benefits are small, particularly if any benefits are already captured in the system-level organisation supported by public funding or through chains of settings.
The report concludes that the evidence indicates that shared delivery is likely to be beneficial only for auxiliary supporting activities such as administration or training rather than for the primary activity of day-to-day frontline care and education. This suggests that promoting this type of collaboration between settings may be able to achieve more for the quality of provision than for substantially reducing costs.
Early Childhood Ireland believes that in ELC/SAC systems characterised by small providers and highly complex administrative requirements, such as Ireland, the sharing of business services could be very beneficial. This would allow management and staff to concentrate on working with children. It does not come as a surprise that collaboration is not widely used thus far in Ireland, as the inherent push of any privatised system is one of competition or conglomeration. Under a new funding model, the implementation of public governance structures could be the way forward for smaller settings here.