Childcare providers are accusing the government of failing children with additional needs with its plan to reopen the sector at the end of the month.
The government last week announced a €75 million package of financial supports to help roughly 1,800 providers which would normally operate in the summer to reopen from June 29.
The Federation of Childcare Providers, which represents 1,600 providers nationwide, say the plan doesn’t take into account additional support scheme for children with additional needs which have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, which normally runs from September to June, was cancelled in mid March due to the crisis.
It provides early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age for three hours a day, five days a week over the course of 38 weeks each year.
The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) supports, which help children with disabilities access the ECCE scheme by supporting pre-school providers, have similarly come to a halt.
Elaine Dunne, the Chairperson of the Federation, said that under this plan, children with additional needs will not be able to return to childcare, and will have to stay home until September.
“Every single additional needs child in the country will have received no specialised care or education for a total of six months this year.”
“This is an unprecedented disaster for these children and their families as they will regress dramatically without specialised support.’’
Creches and other service providers will be operating at reduced capacity when they do reopen in order to enable proper social distancing.
The aim of these support packages, which includes funding for additional staffing costs, learning materials, and hygiene and cleaning goods, is to ensure that parents do not face higher fees.
Announcing the package, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said “Many parents need to return to work to support their families.”
“Childcare is essential to this and a critical element in enabling our economy to get up and running again.”
“We now have a funding model which supports the public health guidance. I believe it supports the sustainability of the childcare sector. It is the first step back towards full capacity.”
But Elaine Dunne described the €75 million figure as “bordering on deceitful” since it includes measures open to all businesses, such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The Federation has raised concerns with a number of other parts of the plan including deducting the value of Local Enterprise Office supports from departmental funding.
Concerns were also raised about childcare providers working on their own not being able to avail of the Wage Subsidy Scheme, as well as a “lack of clarity” on whether government funding will be based on pre-pandemic numbers at creches, or the number of children attending under new rules.
A short timeframe for applications has also been targeted as an area of concern, as funding applications will only open on June 22, and must be approved by June 24, to begin receiving payments on the 26th.
“I would strongly appeal to the Government that they need to go back to the drawing board urgently,” Elaine said, adding that even with the supports childcare providers will have a “black hole” in their finances.