The Children’s Rights Alliance Child Poverty Monitor 2024

The Children’s Rights Alliance Child Poverty Monitor 2024

“The State needs to provide free or nearly free access” to Early Years and School Age Care to families experiencing disadvantage, according to the third annual Child Poverty Monitor published by the Children’s Rights Alliance, last week, which shines “a spotlight on the key areas where children and young people continue to experience poverty including in access to education and healthcare.” It is one of several medium- to long-term recommendations to tackle child poverty in this year’s report.

Child poverty statistics in Ireland

The report cites the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2023 on child poverty [1] (see Table below). It shows that over 21 per cent of children in Ireland experienced enforced deprivation. This means that these children “might go to bed hungry in a week or do not have clothes or shoes that fit for school.”

Over 41 per cent of children living in lone parent households experienced enforced deprivation.

Consistent poverty rates for children are 4.8 per cent, the highest rate of any age cohort in the State.

The importance of Early Years and School Age Care

There is a large body of evidence that shows that high-quality Early Years and School Age Care experiences provide long-lasting benefits for children, their families and communities. It provides children with essential skills and capabilities that are vital for them to thrive. Research demonstrates that children experiencing disadvantage positively benefit from high-quality Early Years and School Age Care.

Provision of affordable Early Years and School Age Care

“Providing access to affordable childcare is the single most important measure in addressing child poverty based on the evidence that providing quality employment alongside quality childcare is what works the best,” says the Children’s Rights Alliance.

The Alliance backs up its call for “free or nearly free access” to Early Years (EY) and School Age Care (SAC) by referring to a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publication Education at a Glance 2019, which states that if EY and SAC is not sufficiently subsidised, fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds participate in it.

A small contribution

To ensure that families on low incomes or on welfare payments can avail of Early Years and School Age Care, the Children’s Rights Alliance suggests an example of “a small contribution of no more than €10 for people on the lowest incomes for parents living in consistent poverty.”

Access to the National Childcare Scheme Sponsor Referral

The report highlights a concern expressed by the charity, Focus Ireland, about the adequacy of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS) sponsorship rate and how it interacts with the current demand for EY and SAC places. “In some instances, the sponsorship subsidy falls below the actual childcare fee being charged by a childcare provider. This is due to the Sponsorship rate being based on the maximum possible NCS subsidy rate plus 15 per cent as opposed to the actual fee being charged. As the rules of the Sponsorship scheme prohibit providers seeking a ‘co-payment’, they must accept a lower fee income and given the current demand for EY and SAC places there is no financial or other incentive for them to accept children on the Sponsorship Scheme,” says the report.

The Children’s Rights Alliance, therefore, recommends that funding for the National Childcare Scheme should focus on the income assessed subsidies and sponsorship rates in order to unlock the potential of early childhood education and care to break the cycle of poverty. This could include adjusting the income thresholds to enable more families to access higher subsidies.

Other recommendations for the Early Years and School Age Care sector

Additional recommendations for the Early Years and School Age Care sector include:

  • Increasing Ireland’s investment in Early Years and School Age Care to 1.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Excluding Child Benefit and child maintenance as reckonable income for the purposes of the National Childcare Scheme.
  • Investing in establishing Community Workers to support Traveller families to access EY and SAC.
  • Allocate sufficient funding to the Government’s new Equal Start model (see below).
  • Bring Early Years staff into the public sector.
  • Commission a review to explore the steps needed to define what a public funding model means for the Early Years and School Age Care sector.
Equal Start – a new funding model for Early Years and School Age Care

The Child Poverty Monitor was published on the same day as the Government’s new funding model, Equal Start, which seeks to ensure equal access and participation to children and families living in poverty to Early Years and School Age Care. You can find out more about the model in this week’s Policy in Action.

If you have any questions or queries about our work, please contact [email protected]

[1] Please note that the SILC statistics do not include members of the Traveller or Roma communities.

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