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Statement Regarding Childcare Report

July 22, 2015

Statement from Teresa Heeney CEO of Early Childhood Ireland regarding publication of new childcare report by Minister Reilly in Sligo

“We are happy to welcome the general thrust of the report, and its recognition of  the importance of quality experiences for young children and that the state must finally accept its responsibility to invest in early childhood, parental leave and quality and training supports.

“However the report is short on the very detail that is necessary – timeframes and anticipated investment levels.

“Regarding the extension of the Early Child Care Education (ECCE) scheme, so that children would not have to wait until September each year before enrolling for pre-school, this is certainly a bold move, but we must ensure that the service infrastructure can cope in terms of capacity around the country and regulations and this is something we will analyse with our 3,500 members running preschools and crèches nationwide.

“The value will be seen by the right level of investment in early childhood education in the next budget.  Many of the recommendations have no time frame which is something we must challenge Minister Reilly on.  Today, at 0.2% of GDP, Ireland is still bottom of the class today in terms of investing in our children and we must move to 0.7% and ultimately 1% over the next 6 years.

“On first glance, what Minister Reilly has presented today is the architecture for change in the childcare sector but it is our members who are the builders on the ground who will make this happen.  They must be consulted properly.  We can see the evidence of the consultation process in this report, but that must be ongoing.  For much of this report to be implemented, an authentic and trusting relationship with the operators  in the sector must be developed, one that respects their commitment to this sector.

“We welcome the acknowledgment that the capitation levels for the ECCE scheme must be increased and that time for planning must be included. ECCE capitation must ensure sustainability for staff and operators. And we are disappointed that the report does not reference a commitment to working on the development of salary scales with the sector. Capitation levels directly impact on salaries and quality and we would urge the Government to offer leadership on this issue.

“In our own report ‘Footsteps for the Future’ we had recommended increased capitation levels to €75 and €85 per child per week at a cost of €27 million in 2016.  This would recognise that a good quality childcare place costs €75 and above to deliver and it would improves sustainability of service providers, drive quality improvements throughout the system and retain professionalism in the sector.  What we’ve got to remember is that of the nearly 25,000 childcare workers, over 3,370, almost 14% of the total workforce, had to sigh on the live register in the summer of 2014, at a cost of €7.2 million to the exchequer, with similar levels signing on this year.

“We welcome the focus on quality throughout the report, but are disappointed that the report does not go so far as to envisage a new single care and education Inspectorate,  for all early years settings, regardless of whether they take up ECCE schemes or not.  We must see more efficiency and less duplication in the area of inspection which is so important to everyone.

“The additional subvention to make childcare more affordable makes sense.  Ireland is the one of the most expensive countries for childcare due to lack of State investment.  However, the level of subvention must be sufficient to ensure quality and for operators.  A Subvention framework  must be complex enough to recognise the different costs of providing quality depending on location or  level of disadvantage. Capitation levels that are too low drive quality downwards and force experienced and professional staff out of the sector.  It remains to be seen if the Cabinet has the courage to make the big step changes needed in terms of proper investment in childcare, but we remain optimistic and a report like this gets us further down the track to real investment.  Our own policy recommendations published last week require an additional spend of €109 million in 2016; another €80 million in 2017; €84 million in 2018; €83 million in 2019; €87 million in 2020 and €67 million in 2021.

“We welcome the absence of tax credits in this report, as there has been much kite flying in that regard lately.  We’ve always said that tax credits will not support the financial sustainability of early childhood settings, and therefore will have no impact on reducing the direct cost of childcare for parents.  They are extremely expensive and will not drive quality throughout the system.

“The focus on the supply side around the country and ensuring proper planning of new services is good and shows that the government has been listening to our feedback regarding displacement.  There should be no new services without clear evidence of need and quality and this information is easily accessible and is currently used by the Department of Education and Skills for planning purposes.

“The stated recognition that children with additional needs must be supported is good to see, but we won’t get the detail until the second inter-departmental group reports back on that in September.  So we must watch this space and we will continue to do so very carefully.

“To see the parental leave bolted onto maternity leave makes sense for children, families and ultimately employers and we have been calling for this for quite some time.”

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