Childcare providers criticise Department of Children over closures

Childcare providers criticise Department of Children over closures

Creches and afterschool services can remain open, but only for the children of frontline and essential workers.

The Department of Children has been sharply criticised for the manner in which it communicated to childcare providers regarding the closure of services earlier this month.

A number of childcare providers have slammed the “pressure” they felt to remain open from January 11 in order to deliver care for the children of frontline staff and those designated as being essential workers.

Meanwhile, care facilities which closed of their own volition may be denied State childcare subsidies — a situation described as “very wrong” by chairwoman of the Association of Childcare Professionals Marian Quinn.

Providers were subject to a number of U-turns and last-minute policy changes on the part of the department, eventually being told late on the afternoon of Friday, January 1, that preschool services would be postponed until January 11 in line with primary and secondary schools.

That reversal was itself dialled back on late on the evening of January 6 when the department stated that preschool services would be postponed indefinitely. 

Creches and afterschool services could remain open, but only for the children of frontline and essential workers.

In the latter’s case, at first the Government stated that such workers must actually leave their home to work in order to qualify as such. Within a day, that instruction had also changed.

The Irish Examiner has spoken to multiple such facilities, all of whom related being put under extreme pressure to remain open, even though they did not wish to do so, both for business and safety reasons. Some bowed to the pressure, others did not. All requested anonymity for fear of prejudicing their business.

“We just couldn’t stay shut,” said one, “though it made most sense for everyone. It was just too much”.

The owner of another Dublin facility, which chose to remain closed, said she fears the loss of subsidies from the Early Childhood Care and Education and the National Childcare Schemes, due to her decision being made without the blessing of the department.

“They’re just winging it, is my honest opinion,” she said. 

I think they’re blackmailing us, because if you don’t open, if the HSE tells you to close, you’ll get funding — but if you close for the safety of your staff and kids, you won’t.” 

This comes down to the department’s interpretation of force majeure — because early learning is considered “safe to operate”, those who close of their own volition will not be recompensed.

In response to a query on these matters, the department said that all services can claim wage subsidy scheme supports regardless of whether they are open or closed, though this does not cover the other expenses of a business.

“Services which chose to close without direction or permission will not be in a position to provide childcare to the children of essential workers or vulnerable children, and so will not continue to receive department funding, as they are not providing the service they are contracted to supply,” a spokesperson said.

They added that the department is “considering various scenarios” for funding the sector should the lockdown be extended.

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