Both Early Childhood Ireland and one of the country’s leading academic experts in early childhood care say the new childcare measures must also be available “to the squeezed middle-income earners”.
Their comments come as Department of Children sources stated that “no significance should be attached to the mooted €47,000 threshold figure” as it was only used “to show how the model would work”. “Budget negotiations on this are continuing,” the source said.
There is widespread concern that a joint gross €47,000 income threshold would make the estimated €2,000 a year contribution below many middle-income earners.
The head of the department of reflective pedagogy and early childhood studies at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Emer Ring ,said there were tens of thousands of parents “who have no choice but to both work as they have hefty mortgages to pay — very often these young parents are in negative equity”.
On top of big mortgage repayments, such parents are often paying substantial creche fees. “Many of these children are being cared for in creches. The early years are the critical years and all the research shows compelling evidence between high-quality preschool education and benefits for children. To have quality, we must ensure this new scheme is properly funded and there is equity for all,” she said.
Early Childhood Ireland’s policy and communications director, Donal Geohegan, said the scheme must be “targeted as widely as possible”. “We think that €70,000 gross joint income is much more like it,” he said.
He said there were already a number of State-funded childcare schemes in place for disadvantaged kids.
“Our greatest fear is that is that there will no extra money and that they will amalgamate the existing schemes with the same level of funding,” he said.
Early Childhood Ireland say it will cost €80m plus to keep the two free pre-school years, Early Childhood Care and Education scheme (ECCE). at a standstill They are seeking a €10 increase in the capitation grant for the ECCE and another €10 again for services where a childcare degree holder is teaching the scheme so that childcare worker’s wages can be increased.
Childcare workers earn €10.26 per hour and degree earners earn just €1 more per hour. Many staff only paid while the scheme is in operation, 38 weeks a year, and must claim social welfare benefits over the summer. Staff are not paid for administration work, class planning or contact with parents outside of the three hours a day that they are paid for.
At the moment, most parents, unless they are eligible for a community creche, do not receive any childcare subsidy until their children become eligible for the ECCE. As part of her negotiations about joining the Government, now Minister for Children and Independent TD, Katherine Zappone, sought a new affordable childcare scheme for children aged from nine months to three years.
The commitment states that an annual subsidy would be paid directly to childcare centres for children of this age range.
A subsidy of €2,000 per child per year will cost approximately €20m per year.
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