Staffing levels in childcare must be maintained at pre-Covid-19 levels, and investment in the sector cannot fall in the months and years to come.
That’s according to Early Childhood Ireland which published a checklist yesterday of nine key issues to be considered by Government to ensure the safe and sustainable re-opening of Ireland’s childcare sector.
Early Childhood Ireland represents 3,800 childcare members nationwide, who support over 100,000 children and their families, including 202 members in Galway.
The checklist published yesterday was drawn up following consultation with the organisation’s membership. The nine issues it highlights are:
- The health, safety and wellbeing of babies, children and staff must be paramount.
- Approaches must be child-centred. For example, the attendance of children should not be linked to the labour market status of their parents or guardians.
- Each proposal considered during the re-opening phase must pass a long-term sustainability test. If, for example, public health advice dictates a reduction in capacity (hours or children), then a viable financial response will need to be implemented with it.
- Staffing levels within the sector as a whole must be maintained as they were on 11th March 2020, at least.
- The approach to reopening must maintain the ‘First 5’ strategy’s goal that access to quality care and education is based on a progressive universalism model, combining universalism with the targeting of resources at those who have special needs for support or protection.
- There will be no regressing on the key underpinnings of quality, including minimum regulatory qualifications and staff-to-child ratios.
- Providers will need to maintain relationships with families who may need to curtail their involvement with settings and / or have it curtailed, owing to public health measures.
- Overall funding levels and investment in early years and school-age care must not be reduced.
- The diversity of provision within the early years and school-age sector must be considered. A ‘one size fits all’ approach will fail. For this reason and others, it is critical that consultation with providers and key stakeholders continues into and beyond the reopening phases.
Commenting on the checklist, Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, said: “The government can act now to save the childcare sector, and in turn support other sectors in our economy.
“By taking this checklist on board, they can ensure the sector not only re-opens safely, but does so in a way that guarantees its long-term sustainability.
“We are hearing from our members in Galway and nationally that parents need reassurance that the wellbeing of their children will be prioritised in the re-opening proposals put forward to date.
“At the same time, providers are facing huge costs to restructure their premises and business models, and ensure their staff are kept safely employed. However, we’ve had no firm indication from Government as to what level of financial support will be available to them.”
“We also need to ensure that the long-term impact of the measures taken now is not overlooked. The ‘First 5’ strategy sets out ambitious targets, aimed at making Ireland’s childcare sector more affordable, high-quality and accessible to all.
“A well-functioning childcare sector feeds into the competitiveness of our economy, influencing labour market participation rates and parents’ career choices. It also feeds into ensuring we live in a decent, equitable society, where all children benefit from high-quality early years care and education.
“If we cut back on ‘First 5’ targets now or decrease investment in the early years sector, we will eradicate the progress made in recent years and put an entire generation of children at a disadvantage. We will also severely limit the potential of parents to get back to work.”