The Good Information Project on A Sustainable Childcare Model

The Good Information Project on A Sustainable Childcare Model
How should we compare early learning and care systems?

On February 3, The Journal.ie published an investigative review of our system of childcare, why it matters, the Irish model and the planned increase in state investment into our system of early learning and school-age childcare. This review was undertaken by Noteworthy, The Journal.ie’s investigative platform for The Good Information Project.

Noteworthy and The Good Information Project spoke to a variety of campaigning organisations, politicians – including the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman – experts, including Early Childhood Ireland, and academics about the progress Ireland is making, what’s working and where it might be going wrong. Some of the published findings included:

  • Cost of childcare in Ireland is among the highest in the EU and parental leave entitlements among the lowest;
  • Accessibility is insufficient – a 2020 Unicef report ranks Ireland 14th out of 41 countries surveyed;
  • The same report found there was inadequate data to benchmark the quality of early years care and education against the other countries surveyed;
  • The planned State investment is not sufficient and will not deliver a sustainable, universal, model of care;
  • The ECCE preschool scheme is deemed a success, but care for under-3s and primary school children is inconsistent.

It noted too, that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the difficulties posed by the fragmented nature of Ireland’s system and the societal need for accessible and affordable early learning and care. This is supported by testimonies detailing how parents’ lives are impacted.

 

Why Early Years Care and Education Matters

The issues unite people from across the political spectrum. Advocacy groups point to evidence that investing in childcare leads to better social outcomes for children and wider society.   Early Childhood Ireland believes that greater investment in quality early years can mean less need for youth interventions and, down the line, reduced criminal justice system interventions.

From an economic lens, better early years provision leads to more money for the exchequer through better labour participation. Numerous reports have shown that high childcare costs are a barrier, especially for women, to entering the workforce. Chambers Ireland said that increasing female labour participation by even one point would “generate a saving of €172m per annum for the Exchequer.”

 

Low State Investment
Although investment has increased over the past decade, Ireland spent just 0.2% of GDP on early childhood education and care in 2018. This compares to an average of 0.9% across OECD countries, whereas some OECD countries including Chile, Iceland, Israel and Norway, spend at least 1%.
Barnardos told Noteworthy that the Government’s plan to increase expenditure to €1 billion per year by 2028 is still not enough as it will bring us in at just under 0.5% of GDP.

 

Pay and conditions

Half of the staff working with children earned less than the living wage in 2019. The Government-commissioned Crowe Horwath report found that 72% of providers had difficulty attracting suitably qualified and experienced staff. This impacts the consistency and quality of care provided to our youngest citizens.

Joint Labour Committee (JLC) is currently considering employment conditions and minimum rates of pay for the childcare sector, but several voices – including Deputy Kathleen Funchion, Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, have expressed concerns regarding the process, believing it unfair to link funding and wages to the JLC outcome.

The Minister for Children spoke of the support provided to the sector throughout the pandemic and the clear vision for the sector post-Covid. He pointed to additional state investment through ‘core funding’ set out in the Partnership for the Public Good: A New Funding Model for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare to provide better pay to staff to help keep them in the sector.

 

What needs to change?
Advocacy groups said that the focus on improving female workforce participation has driven the changes, but a more child-centred approach would yield better results. There is also a broad consensus from academics, campaigners and opposition politicians on what needs to change Early Childhood Ireland is among those calling for a fully publicly funded system.

The Early Childhood Research Centre (ECRC) at Dublin City University pointed to the example of Canada phasing in a system by 2026 with average childcare fees of $10 per day or €150 per month. A fully public model can be achieved in five years in Ireland.

The Expert Group report, Partnership for the Public Good: A New Funding Model for Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare, compiled by a mix of Irish and international academics and high-level civil servants, doubts that the planned investment will be enough to solve the problems. “We are convinced that the commitment to increase investment to at least €970 million by 2028 will not be sufficient to deliver the improvements required,” it said.

You can read the full article for more detail. Early Childhood Ireland will be monitoring the progress of these pressing issues for our sector. Our Policy Team is available to answer questions on the topics raised here.

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