The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Ireland’s childcare sector particularly hard because of deep-rooted, long-term and structural flaws in the sector.
That’s according to Early Childhood Ireland, which published a report highlighting a number of concerns and needs related to the pandemic.
The report is based on qualitative interviews with a sample of the organisation’s members during the summer – and examined the impact of the closure of childcare settings, the effectiveness of Covid-19 supports provided for the sector, and providers’ plans for re-opening.
Among the key findings is the need for the Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme to be extended to ensure providers can retain the current Covid-required child-to-staff ratios.
They also call for future government supports to take sufficient account of the diversity of the childcare sector as challenges faced in different parts of the country – the Overhead Payment that was offered as part of the initial package of Covid-19 measures did not stretch as far in urban areas as in rural areas.
Fast testing turnaround times for children and staff with suspected Covid symptoms are also needed, as well as with priority measures to address staffing challenges in the sector.
Finally, staffing remains a serious issue, and sourcing replacement and cover staff is likely to pose a huge challenge in the context of Covid, according to the organisation.
Commenting on the report, Director of Policy with Early Childhood Ireland Frances Byrne said that prior to COVID-19, Ireland’s childcare sector was already struggling because of ‘deep-rooted, long-term and structural flaws’.
“Chronic under-investment has resulted in a system where staff are poorly paid and, consequentially, staff retention levels are low; providers are under constant pressure; and parents feel they have limited choice,” she said.
“Our sector was already struggling, so Covid-19 really hit it a body blow. Indeed, the special measures introduced by government for the childcare sector in recent months amount to an admission that our sector cannot operate like other parts of the economy. Now, to address this fact, additional funding must be made available on a sustained basis.
“Covid-19 not only revealed the deep-seated flaws within childcare, but also the extent to which the entire nation is dependent on a properly-functioning childcare sector.
“We cannot reboot our economy and get parents properly back to work without having a fully-functioning childcare system. And we will never have a truly effective childcare system while public investment in the sector remains so low.”
She said that Ireland is still bottom of the league in Europe in terms of childcare investment and that rather than taking a patchy, piecemeal approach to addressing the issue, the Government needs to ‘seize the opportunity in Budget 2021’ to reverse this trend.
“They need to commit to significantly increased levels of investment to ensure our fragile childcare system can recover, not only from the wounds inflicted by the Covid pandemic, but from years and years of neglect,” added Frances Byrne.