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Early Childhood Ireland Response to RTÉ Investigates: Creches – Behind Closed Doors

Staffing crisis in female-led childcare sector threatens future of services

March 8, 2019

 ‘A lot of staff would get paid more walking into a supermarket with no qualifications’


The detrimental impact of the early years staffing crisis is made clear in a new survey published by Early Childhood Ireland to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The survey paints a stark portrait of the impact of ongoing recruitment and retention difficulties in a sector where 98% of staff working directly with children are women[1]. Many respondents highlighted low pay and poor working conditions in the sector as being central to the crisis.

The survey polled a total of 616 respondents, corresponding to approximately 14% of all early years providers in Ireland[2]. It indicates –

  • 91% of respondents, when asked about the impact of the crisis, indicated that they were concerned problems with recruiting and retaining staff will negatively affect the viability of their service. This represents a 5 percentage point increase in the rate of concern about the viability of services, compared to the results of a similar survey conducted by Early Childhood Ireland in 2017.
  • 65% of respondents are finding it difficult to retain staff – an increase of 16 percentage points on the results of the 2017 survey;
  • Of those services that lost staff in the past twelve months, almost two-thirds indicated the primary reason given by departing staff was that working in the sector is not financially viable;
  • Of those respondents that indicated they have struggled to hire staff in the past twelve months, 1 in 5 have had to limit the services they provide to families as a result.


In their own words, respondents were candid about the impact of the crisis on the viability of their services, as well as the toll on staff wellbeing and professional development:

  • ‘A staff member was told by a bank manager when applying for a mortgage that she needs to get a job in a different sector because she won’t get a mortgage on the wages childcare staff get. A lot of staff would get paid more walking into a supermarket with no qualifications.’
  • ‘We are currently planning for September and will probably be closing two rooms.’
  • ‘We deserve to know we can be sick or have financial security…I believe if we weren’t women who are passionate about education in the childcare business, we would be taken more seriously.’


Concerns about viability were ubiquitous, with community and privately-owned services across rural and urban areas all raising this issue.

Commenting on the results, Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, said, ‘As we mark International Women’s Day this Friday, early years staff in Ireland – the vast majority of whom are women – will be nurturing and supporting our youngest citizens. It is absolutely imperative that the uncertainty clouding their vital role is not allowed to continue. Early years staff must be at the forefront of investment as we look to the implementation of First 5, the national early years strategy. It is essential that we safeguard the most fundamental component of quality early years education and care – its people.’

She continued, ‘Ireland’s early years workforce is predominantly female and these results highlight the very grave impact of poor investment on their daily lives. Providers are deeply concerned about the viability of their services, while low wages and job uncertainty prevent staff from making secure provision for their future.’

Ms. Byrne concluded, ‘These stark and deeply worrying results capture the sense of uncertainty and widespread anxiety across the early years sector. Ireland invests the lowest amount of any EU country in early years, at just 0.2% of GDP. Investment in staff is crucial to ensure quality provision, affordability, and the sustainability of the sector.’


For more information or media queries, please contact Grace Duffy on (01) 404 0644 or 086 144 8768.


Editor’s Note

Early Childhood Ireland is the largest organisation in the early years sector. It represents 3,800 childcare members, who support over 100,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, and full day-care provision nationwide.

Ireland invests approximately 0.2% GDP in the early years sector[3]. This is significantly below the OECD average of 0.8% GDP, and the UNICEF international benchmark of 1% GDP. Leading countries in this area (such as the Nordic countries) invest between 1.2% and 1.9% GDP in the sector[4].

Early Childhood Ireland previously conducted a survey on staffing in early 2017. The results were published on 31 March 2017 and can be accessed here.


For a breakdown of survey results, please click here


[1] Pobal Early Years Sector Profile 2017/18.

[2] The Pobal Sector Profile 2017/18 indicates that there are 4,543 settings contracted to deliver at least one government programme.

[3] Please see page 193, note 245 in ‘First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children, and Their Families 2019-2028’.

[4] ‘Education at a Glance’, OECD Indicators, 2015.

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