The Haven Montessori school in Bandon is to close in June after 32 years in business.
Its owner, Gillian Powell, says she can’t make a living and run a top-class early learning facility under the current childcareregime.
She’ll be demonstrating outside the Dáil on February 5 as part of the Early Years Alliance’s national protest for a living wage in the childcare industry which threatens to close many facilities around the country for the day.
Powell has no pension of her own. She can pay the staff shevalues no redundancy.
This highly articulate woman, a former secondary teacher of English with a post-graduate qualification in education, says the Government’s National Childcare Scheme is creating “a governess class”.
“I don’t want to be a governess”, she adds. “I want to be paid as a professional.” She says “speaking my truth” is helping her cope with the grief of closing her business.
It was on RTÉ’s Liveline that she first came to my notice because, as I wrote here on January 2, Powell believes parents should have the choice to stay home for a child’s first two years. This is, in fact, a common theme among those who work in childcare. Powell finds childcare students do not want to work in baby rooms.
Elaine Dunne, who runs theTree House creche in Kilternan,Co Dublin, and founded the Federation of Early Childcare Providers last August is one of the organisers of the march on Wednesday, February 5. She says she doesn’t believe kids should be in creche until they are at least 18 months old, though she cautions me that she is “speaking personally”.
Her own kids were with her mother until they were two and a half, a woman who has the guts of 50 years experience in childcare and is not allowed to help in Dunne’s creche because she doesn’t have the right official qualifications. Bureaucracy seems to have gone mad in the childcare sector while the provision of tender-hearted care is under-valued.
As Gillian Powell says, under Tusla’s inspection regime a few cobwebs are as bad as a ratio of 19:1 in the baby room. The insurance industry seems to be spooked and spiralling insurance bills led to a sudden €7m handout to the industry before Christmas.
Elaine Dunne says she received precisely €289 of this largesse while another provider with the same number of children got €680.
She pays herself less than her staff, reflecting Powell’s pointthat the more you invest in your service, the less sustainable it is financially. What happens in these circumstances is that smaller providers are pushed out of business and chains take over.
Powell says that 90,000 of UK services are run by 10 chains and 500 providers are closing there every month.
In New Zealand more than halfof all services are now provided by international, for-profit chains and “systematic de-privatisation” is being called for as the number of complaints from parents has rocketed. Here, the Labour Party is calling for the childcare system to be nationalised; they are also looking for a realisable right to part-time work for those with caring responsibilities, a practical solution which exists in many countries including the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands. Fianna Fáil is calling for support for childminders, which are preferred by a majority of Irish parents and which some research, namely the UK’s Families, Children and Childcare, has found superior to creche care for young children.
It is truly shameful that this home-grown, community-based childcare option is still not part of the National Childcare Scheme: only 81 childminders are registered with Tusla though 43,000 Irish children are cared for by childminders. FF’s plan for a tax credit for childminding expenses is not the answer because, unlike Minister Catherine Zappone’s National Childcare Scheme, it only benefits those who pay tax.
But the National Childcare Scheme is not fit for purpose because its first building block is not concern for children’s welfare.
The Director the Early Education Research Centre at DCU, Professor Mathias Urban, recently raised the scary prospect that the poor practice witnessed by Prime Time Investigates at creches in 2019 and 2013 may not be just “bad apples” but rather indicators of “the state of the barrel. The critical questions arising from the scandal point to the general structure of the Irish early childhood education and care sector,” he wrote in newsprint publication Education Matters.
Urban cites the Government’s ‘First Five’ document on childcare as a potential “blueprint for fundamental change”. However ‘First Five’ warns against more than 32 hours in childcare for under threes as being linked to “poor outcomes in language and cognitive development” while the National Childcare Scheme will soon fund 45 hours.
The Government is turning a blind eye to its own research and turning its back on research from around the world which does not confirm its bias.
I thought I could no longer be shocked but a study of Quebec’s universal childcare programme which was published by experts from the University of Toronto, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of British Colombia shows “a sizeable negative shock to non cognitive outcomes” for children exposed to the scheme which made for “worse health, lower life satisfaction and higher crime rates later in life.” The Quebec scheme includes childminders and started life very much like our own, except that costs to parents were equivalent of €3.45 a day. Like ours, the scheme is universal, unlike the programmes which generated such good publicity for childcare interventions in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, which were directed at seriously disadvantaged kids.
While disadvantaged kids still made some gains in Quebec, less disadvantaged kids from two-parent families were negatively affected by the scheme, particularly boys and particularly if they entered it when very young.
IF creche care is cheaper than chips it becomes less and less possible for one-income households to survive and fewer and fewer kids will be reared at home in their early years, no matter their gender or their needs. In Quebec the proportion of kids reared at home fell from 55% to 25% in the decade after the childcare scheme bedded in, while the proportion of kids reared at home in the rest of Canada was nearly stable.
The advantage of creche care for our Government lies in a bigger tax take and the hope that mothers “freed” to go to work full-time will be better educated than those caring for the children.
This is Gillian Powell’s “governess class.” Anyone who cares about the future of our children should support our “governesses” as they demonstrate on February 5.
Both they and the young children for which they care are victims of an economic agenda which threatens to drive Irish society off a cliff.