For the first time new creches and preschools here will have to undergo inspection before they can open their doors to babies and young children.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has updated the country’s childcare regulations for the first time in 10 years.
Previously, childcare centres only had to ‘notify’ Tusla they were setting up and were not obliged to register with the inspectorate. Sometimes, it took years before they were inspected for compliance with childcare regulations.
From July 1, all childcare workers will also be required to have childcare training up to Fetac Level 5. Before this, such training was only necessary for those working in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme or free preschool year.
Childcare providers have to ensure children get access to an outdoor play area every day and all staff have to undergo annual appraisals. There is a new emphasis on the administration of the creches, with ‘skilled’ boards of management or management structures required.
According to Early Childhood Ireland, existing services will be automatically registered once they fill out a statutory declaration by the end of next month. Once the regulations are in place, creches will have to re-register every three years.
Despite the increased emphasis on training in the childcare sector, the wages are still low, according to Childcare Ireland chief executive Theresa Heaney.
“Skilled childcare workers are still only paid €10.27 per hour with only a €1 hour increase if you are a room leader with even greater responsibility. This is a huge problem given that the ECCE capitation grants paid to creche owners are so low,” said Ms Heaney.
“As research completed for us by economist Stephen Kinsella showed, the sector needs €109m in investment this year alone if we are to have high quality yet affordable childcare. We can’t offer quality on a shoestring.”
Delegates at the Impact trade union conference this year heard that low pay, poor career prospects, and long periods off-payroll during the summer has led to turnover in the childcare sector of up to 22%.
Briefings on the sector’s new regulations are taking place around the country this month and in early June. The regulations will be operational from June 30, according to Tusla.
“It is only really when those briefings start that we will learn the nitty-gritty. The devil will be in the detail,” said Ms Heaney.
Meanwhile, from September, every child in Ireland will be able to start pre-school at age three and remain there until they start primary school as the free preschool year is extended.
At present, children are only eligible for a year’s pre-school (38 weeks) through the ECCE programme.
In last year’s budget, capitation payments to providers were restored to pre-2012 levels.
Around 67,000 children, some 95% of eligible children, have participated in the free preschool programme each year.
It is believed the extension of the free childcare year will increase the number of children benefiting from free preschool to more than 127,000 in a given year.
Childcare providers offering the free preschool year are inspected by the Department of Education and Tusla. The department inspections only began in the past number of weeks.
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