Creche attendance down among eight in 10 providers

THE number of children attending playgroups and crèches has dropped in almost eight in 10 pre-school services, according to a new survey by the Irish Preschool Play Association (IPPA).

The main reason for the reduction in numbers is the decision by more than four in 10 parents to wait for a free preschool place under a new Government scheme due to start next January.

The online survey, published yesterday, also found that of 500 IPPA members surveyed, 30% blamed job losses among parents for the fall-off and 23% said it was because parents could no longer afford childcare.

The net effect of the decrease in numbers attending playgroups and creches is job losses in the childcare sector. Almost a quarter of IPPA members said they expected to let staff go in the next year.

Irene Gunning, chief executive of the IPPA, said the market had effectively stalled. “There is no doubt that the childcare sector has felt the effects of this recession due to job losses amongst parents and pressure on family budgets.

She added that children were losing out on the first few months of playschool as cash-strapped parents were forced to wait to avail of a free preschool year under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme.

The scheme is open to children born on or between February 2, 2005, and June 30, 2006. To date more than 4,200 pre-school services have applied for entry to the scheme and latest figures from the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs estimate places available under the ECCE at 98,000. Money to fund the scheme will come from abolishing the Early Childcare Supplement.

Yesterday Ms Gunning said parents needed to engage with service providers well in advance of the introduction of the new scheme.

“There seems to be a feeling that they can turn up on January 7 and everything will be in place but in fact there is an awful lot of paperwork to be done between this and then. Communication is the key to ensuring the scheme can work,” Ms Gunning said.

Under the new scheme, children enrolled in playschools will receive free pre-school provision of three hours per day, five days each week over a 38-week year. Children enrolled in full- or part-time childcare services will receive free pre-school provision of two hours and 15 minutes per day, five days a week over a 50-week period.

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