A report calling for greater state subsidisation of childcare to relieve parents of the burden of an “extra mortgage” and to ensure the sector is sustainable for childcare providers has been broadly welcomed.
The recommendation is one of 13 contained in a report on Affordable and Quality Childcare by the joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, published yesterday.
A need to address pay and conditions of those working in the sector was also identified, as well as the regulation of all paid non-relative childminders, regardless of the number of children they have in their care.
The report says there should be “no separation, as far as possible, between treatment of private and community services in delivery of childcare services”.
In addition, the report says consideration should be given to running the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme for a 48-week period (as distinct from 38 weeks). The ECCE scheme provides a free year of early education for children of pre-school age, extended to two years in the last Budget.
The report said implementation of the extension of ECCE remains “a significant challenge” and it calls for adequate resources. It also says consideration should be given to the provision of an additional six months paid parental leave to be taken by either parent.
Children’s early care lobby group Start Strong welcomed the report, saying it laid the foundations “for a clear plan of investment in childcare and family leave for the next Government”.
Start Strong director Ciairín de Buis said she was pleased the committee had called for increased state subsidies in the future to make childcare more affordable. “As the report notes, such a funding model has been proven to be far more effective at ensuring quality than demand-side measures such as tax credits,” Ms de Buis said.
However, an early years model like the one presented in the report would need significant investment, Ms de Buis said, as Ireland currently invests less than 0.2% GDP on early years services while the OECD average is 0.8% GDP.
“With a General Election around the corner, we call on the next Government to commit to reaching the OECD average investment level by 2021,” Ms de Buis said.
Early Childhood Ireland also welcomed the report but CEO Teresa Heeney said a quality, affordable and sustainable childcare model could not be achieved “without addressing the issues of pay rates and investment”.
She said quality was “directly linked to staff qualifications” and many professional childcare staff are paid €10.27 on average per hour” which was “neither acceptable nor sustainable”.
The under-funding of the “free pre-school year” made it very hard for childcare providers to stay open and keep good staff, she said and political leaders needed to acknowledge that.
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