Ghosting and being blocked: Hunting for childcare in Ireland is worse than online dating

Childcare Tinder: Finding a creche place or childminder for small children has become an increasingly stressful exercise, one which left Jennifer Stevens rejected and dejected online.
Ghosting and being blocked: Hunting for childcare in Ireland is worse than online dating

A few weeks ago I was being ghosted. Perfectly pleasant online conversations just stopped out of nowhere. I felt like I was on show, doing my best to appear chatty, relaxed, open to anything and just when I thought I was getting somewhere I would be left unread, ghosted or in one case blocked.

I wasn’t on Tinder or Plenty of Fish, I was on childcare websites, desperately trying to find a new minder for my daughters.

The state of childcare in Ireland has, according to many parents, deteriorated massively over the last 18 months. It was always bad, a struggle to find help, handing over the equivalent of a mortgage payment, just for the privilege of being able to go back to work. But now, with a staffing crisis, baby rooms being closed and just not enough places available, many families are saying that the stress of trying to find childcare is too much.

It’s a provider’s market and I was turned down or ignored for wanting both too many days or not enough days, for having children too young at 18 months or too old at three because there needed to be an ECCE pick-up.

I asked other parents on Instagram how they were coping and was overwhelmed by the response from mums up and down the country.

Claire in Cork told me that she was shocked at how difficult it was to find a place for her daughters when she returned home from the UK.

“We moved back from the UK a month ago and have had my girls on waiting lists for creches in Cork since last year. Most places laughed at me in August 2020 when I said I was looking for a place in August 2021. Eventually I got them into a creche in Cork but it was very stressful.

“There was no issue getting a place in the UK, we couldn’t believe the difference here. We ended up having to delay my husband’s work start date by three weeks and get my mum to cover a week. It makes me angry how difficult things are here and it’s just accepted as one of those things.” 

Susan told a creche close to her home in the capital about her baby before she told some of her family and still, that was very late.

“In Dublin in 2019 I was eight weeks pregnant putting my baby’s name down for a creche place and they told me that I was late doing so. We’ve since moved to Galway where I did eventually get a place — I’m still waiting for a Dublin creche to phone with a start date.”

For Fiona in Limerick, childcare is just too expensive and she’s trying to do it all, which is no longer working.

“I don’t have childcare, when I just had one son my mum helped out and I worked around him. But I’ve a second son now and she’s older and can’t really help anymore so I’m trying to work around both boys. I’m constantly exhausted but I can’t afford full time childcare, so it seems like there’s no alternative.”

Catherine Wickham, Elite Recruitment and Business Development Manager with Mindme.ie, a website that helps families find childminders says that they’ve never been busier. “The demand for childcare has certainly increased over the last two years, but we have seen unprecedented demand in the last 6 months in particular. We feel that this is due to many people now working from home on a blended basis and also the decrease in childcare places in creches, particularly for babies. Many of our members are now looking for part time childcare, which could be mornings or afternoons only or three to four days a week.

“Prior to the Covid crisis we would have seen more parents looking for full time childminders and nannies, but the balance now is more towards part time care. This may change and settle down as the economy and workers get back to normality, but part time care will certainly be an option for many parents. Ideally it is best to start this process at least two months before returning to work.”

Anyone that has family or friends living abroad knows that Ireland is a particularly difficult place to return to work to after maternity leave. With places limited and baby rooms disappearing women are taking unpaid time off plus all of their holidays after their maternity leave in order to try and get to a year, when a creche may accept their child.

Frances Byrne, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, isn’t surprised by what parents have to say about childcare here. “The Irish public, even if they don’t have the statistics to hand about other countries, know because they hear stories about low pay, they know because they have young children and they’re paying the highest amount from take-home pay in the European Union for childcare. Even if they don’t have the wider picture to hand, they know in their everyday life that we have a major problem with underinvestment.

“Despite the last government increasing investment by more than 100%, we are still at the bottom of the table in OECD countries. We are investing 0.1 of 1% of GDP, in contrast Sweden invest 1.9%.

“UNICEF has said that developed countries should be investing 1%. We have a long way to go.”

Shortfall

That shortfall in funding is difficult to comprehend but will come as no surprise to parents of young children needing care. Even Frances, who works in the sector, finds it shocking.

“It’s very stark. You see it every day and it’s just horrendous. It doesn’t happen in other countries. That’s the really frustrating thing. 

Other countries do it and some of them have done it through the lens of better equality. 

“The Nordic countries have seen it as a twofold economic and policy win-win. They see it as, in the first instance, a way of equalising the participation of men and women in society, particularly in work. They also have seen it as a way to address child poverty and other disadvantages that some children face. In doing so, they now have all the evidence to show that it benefits all children regardless of their family circumstances or background.

“They have dealt with things like rurality, the location of children. They have dealt with parental choice around childminding. They have dealt with need for one parent to be at home with the child in the first year. They do it properly and they do it effectively and all of society benefits from that.

“It’s not rocket science. That’s what’s so frustrating. Sometimes you hear political leaders and others on the airwaves slightly wringing their hands about it. It’s not an exaggeration to say people from other countries jaws drop when you describe the uncertainty that Irish parents face when planning their family.

“You hear the stories from all over the country, from the commuter belts around Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford where mothers will say to you, ‘Well, I learned my lesson with child number one, and when I got pregnant with child number two, I told the creche before I told some members of my immediate family because I wanted to put the baby on the list’. That’s just dreadful.

“This is not a poverty-stricken country thankfully. We need to make a decision to invest. Childcare was seen as a private matter and for families to deal with. That has not helped anyone and it certainly doesn’t help children.

“We should see it in the same way and value it as the same that we value primary and secondary education. We don’t sae primary education as a private matter. We see it as a very important public good, and we have seen government treat childcare as a public good, as an essential service for at least a year and a half now. That needs to continue.”

Fiona and the team at ECI are preparing submissions for the budget, huge investment has been made in the sector during the pandemic, funding that parents were told wasn’t there before. It’s clear now that childcare, education and our health service all need investment and an overhaul. We have been patching up systems that are not fit for purpose for too long. I found a new childminder and I thank the universe for her every day. I hope I don’t have to flirt on childcare Tinder again for a very long time.

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