‘Parental leave plans will only work if radical childcare reforms included’

Potential plans to allow mothers double the amount of paid leave they receive after having a baby, and to receive extra weeks off if they split the time at home with their partner, will only improve child services if they are backed up by a series of other wide-ranging reforms.

‘Parental leave plans will only work if radical childcare reforms included’

Early Childhood Ireland chief executive, Teresa Heeney, took this stance after the Irish Examiner revealed the Government is considering major changes to parental leave in order to free up space in creches.

The moves would allow women to go back to work sooner if they so wish; and ensure the responsibility for a newborn child is more evenly shared between couples.

Under measures which are still being examined by an inter-departmental group led by Children’s Minister James Reilly’s office, the 26-week paid maternity leave cap may be extended to a year and could be shared with fathers who currently have no right to paid leave after having a child.

The move, which has not been signed off on and is one of a number of policy options due to be highlighted in a Government report to be published later this year, is expected to prove popular with parents-to-be while also reducing the need to put children in increasingly expensive creches from an early age.

However, while supporting the proposal in principle, Ms Heeney said that its success hinges completely on a raft of other reforms being introduced alongside any parental leave changes.

“We need a whole plan that addresses the current weaknesses in capitation levels, the salaries and conditions of the workforce, and affordability and choice for parents.

“The extension of parental leave to one year over the next five years would reflect international evidence that confirms young children do better in their first year when they are at home with parents.

“This plan is, however, only one of many required,” Ms Heaney said.

Among the additional key reforms which Ms Heeney said are needed include:

  • Improved investment in the early childcare sector.
  • The removal of “commercial rates” for groups offering services.
  • Increasing the amount of space in creches.

The expert said the latter issue is of particular concern, as one in three existing services are currently full, placing considerable pressure on parents to find the necessary supports, and leaving many without alternatives should the cost of these services prove to be too high.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil’s children’s spokesman Robert Troy yesterday described the Government plan as a “PR stunt” and “kite-flying” that ignores the fact the coalition has done “absolutely nothing to help families” since coming to power.

Mr Troy said his party plans to publish a “comprehensive and fully-costed plan on the issue in the coming weeks.

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