Independent early years education providers across Ireland are in danger of never re-opening after the government paused funding from the Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) scheme in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to some providers.
The ECCE scheme provides funding for childcare services to allow children to access early learning prior to starting primary school.
The scheme has helped many independent childcare providers establish themselves across the country.
However, the scheme was halted in recent weeks in the face of the global pandemic and country-wide closures of early years facilities and providers are now being encouraged to sign up to a new scheme.
Ciannait Ní Riain Uí Broin, who runs a pre-school in Rathmines, said the loss of the ECCE scheme has had a devastating impact in her business and many more like it.
Ms Ní Riain Uí Broin is in her sixth year of business and, after some hard years, turned over small profits in the past 24 months, which she puts towards her salary as she charges nothing for her service.
“All of my funding comes from the ECCE scheme and I do not expect parents to have to fork out anything because that’s what inclusion in education means,” she said.
“I am very frightened that the government has just ceased my contract and are asking me to sign another one, which I have no idea what it entails,” she added.
On March 25, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced plans for a temporary Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme (WSC) to support the Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare sector during Covid-19 closures.
The Department told the Irish Examiner that, in order to receive payment next week, providers will need to have signed the funding agreement by Tuesday, April 21.
Otherwise they will be paid the following week.
Critically, the payments will be backdated to April 6 to ensure there is no break in the continuity of funding between the repurposing of scheme funding announced on March 25, a spokesperson said.
However, Ms Ní Riain Uí Broin said the decision to halt ECCE funding has had a “massive effect” on her business.
The DCYA spokesperson said the WSC aims to support sustainability in the early years sector, ensuring providers can reopen following the Covid-19 crisis; to reassure parents their children can retain their place in preschool without paying fees; and to give early years providers funding to retain staff.
The spokesperson added that the department is aware that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection had reported a high number of childcare workers attending at their Intreo offices on March 13.
“To achieve this, the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme will provide funding towards staff wages and a portion of service’s overhead costs.
"The minister is satisfied that the package available to the sector go as far as is possible to protect the sector and support its sustainability after Covid-19.
"The minister also believes this provides the best use of available public funding to support the sector during this time.”