Early Childhood Ireland's director of policy and advocacy, Frances Byrne has warned that if a decision is made to limit the numbers of children who can return to creches under public health guidelines, it would have a “dreadful knock-on effect” on staff retention.
It was “absolutely critical” that NPHET provide clarity about the public health implications for creches as they reopen about whether ratios of staff to children would change and if it would be necessary to limit numbers, Ms Byrne told RTÉ radio’s Today programme.
This clarity will help proprietors to make decisions about staffing and funding.
There was a tremendous amount of goodwill towards helping parents working on the frontline with childcare, but grave concerns had arisen about health and safety issues and the impact of Covid-19.
Ms Byrne said there were very strict guidelines already in place with regard to infection control and more could be done once equipment was provided.
The insurance issue became a “lightning rod” and for some staff going into homes they had never been in was a concern for them and for their families.
This was an issue that needed to be clarified, she said.
Insurance cover for creches would also be an issue on the possibility of outbreaks and who would be covered if an individual contracted the virus.
“It’s not just an insurance issue, there’s also the issue of testing for children and staff.”
On the same programme the head of the Fórsa trade union’s health and welfare division, Eamon Donnelly said that the state must contribute to the cost of childcare for essential workers.
Given the phenomenal efforts being made by essential workers to go to work, it would be simpler to help them with costs to cover ad-hoc arrangements they already have in place for childcare including using annual leave or paying for private childcare, he said.
“It is quite clear at this stage that the provision of childcare is a model that hasn't been thought through to the point that it is going to be successful”.
A proposal to contribute to costs had been made by Fórsa six weeks ago, he said.
Later Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the government would have to indemnify childcare providers to ensure that access to childcare was guaranteed and provided to workers on the frontline during the pandemic.
Nobody could provide a figure outlining how much this will cost, if insurance was called on, she said.
The first proposal to provide childcare solutions had fallen flat on its face and something needed to be done. That was the responsible thing to do.
Ms McDonald said that this was not the first time there had been issues with insurance and childcare providers, and it was worrying that it was rearing its head again.
Schools in Northern Ireland had remained open for children of frontline workers, she said.
Consultant Laura Durcan pointed out that other countries had provided childcare for frontline workers.
In France schools provided such childcare while in the US and Japan a certain number of creches and after school facilities were provided.
Dr Durcan said that when she worked in the US she had been provided with an emergency number to be called if ever she was in need of urgent childcare. “That was a nice safety net.”
Other countries ad provided a similar safety net and their experiences could have been a blueprint for Ireland, she said.