Seven creches looking after vulnerable toddlers in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Cork City could be facing closure.
Up to 225 children, aged one to three years, attend these early years community creches and the staff also provide wider support to their families.
Many of these parents have experienced homelessness, addiction or mental health problems. Nearly half, or 44% of these children, live in one-parent families.
However, due to changes to childcare regulations, these creches are being told to hire more staff — but the extra staff won’t be directly funded.
The Cork Early Years Alliance creches say their existing budgets cannot stretch to “having three qualified childcare workers for every child under three”.
The creches affected include Togher Family Centre; An Cliabhan in Ballyphehane; the Traveller Visibility Group creche at Shandon; Baile Beag in Mayfield; Glenfields Childcare in Ballyvolane; Mahon Community Development Project; and Before 5 creche in Churchfield.
According to Niamh Sheridan of the Cork Early Years Alliance and Togher Family Centre, many of these children attend their creches as they are unable to find places in others.
Some 26% of these children have already been identified as having special needs such as learning or physical disabilities, while another 24% are awaiting a diagnosis.
Another 12% of the children come from families where English is not their first language and so present communication challenges.
Community creches are available to parents who are not working or have an income below an agreed threshold of “adequate earnings”.
The creches had been promised interim extra funding until June but this has not arrived yet. They say they have been told this extra funding will not be available in September.
If they are not given extra funding, the managers do not see how they can provide childcare to this age group from September.
According to Ms Sheridan, 73% of these children are living in relative poverty.
“To meet the needs of these children, we do a huge amount of extra work with their parents and 17% of these children need one-on-one support from our staff,” she said. “Our creches are a huge support to these struggling families and without them, these children will be further disadvantaged.
“However, there is no way that we can hire trained staff, at €24,000 a year, unless we are given extra funding by the Department. Even though we work with some of the most disadvantaged children in the city, we are not given any extra money.”
These creches were funded under the Community Childcare Subvention but will come under the Single Affordable Childcare Scheme, as part of changes at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
The Cork Early Years Alliance is to hold a public briefing at the Imperial Hotel in Cork on Monday to inform local politicians of the closure of their services.
A Department of Children and Youth Affairs spokesman said it has committed to providing funding to enable some services to recruit additional staff.
“We are finalising a package for services who engaged with Childcare Committees Ireland,” he said.
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