Radical changes needed to address ‘fundamental threat’ to childcare sector

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Maintaining physical distancing with pre-school children is impossible and the changes required by the COVID-19 pandemic pose a fundamental threat to the survival of the sector.

This is unless adequate funding is made available, according to the results of an Early Childhood Ireland survey published yesterday, which focuses on providers’ concerns about reopening their childcare settings in the coming weeks and months.

The survey results show that the issues causing most concern to childcare providers include how to implement physical distancing amongst pre-school children, staff-to-child ratios and the provision of PPE for childcare staff.

The survey was issued online to Early Childhood Ireland’s members in early May, and received 1,689 responses, representing 48% of ECI’s early years membership.

Survey Findings

Implementing physical distancing was a concern for 85% for respondents, while 61% said that they were worried about adult to child ratios.

PPE was a worry for 48% of people who responded to the survey, and 46% said they are concerned about floor space requirements.

Members also raised a range of concerns around business operations, funding, infection control and the health and wellbeing of both staff and children.

The challenges identified by providers are underpinned by the fact that almost 70% of the childcare-providers that completed the survey say they provide care for children whose parents are essential workers.

Commenting on the survey findings, Frances Byrne, Director of Policy with Early Childhood Ireland, said that the high response rate to the survey shows that Early Childhood Ireland’s members are focused on re-opening, with ‘many prepared to find solutions to ensure they can do so in a safe and sustainable way’.

“However, the survey findings show starkly that the prevailing perception amongst providers is that physical distancing will not be possible with pre-school children.  Reduced capacity, in the number of children and/or hours of provision, is likely,” she said.

“This presents a huge challenge to policymakers, who will need to provide realistic solutions, which support quality experiences for children, safety for staff and which take account of the long-term sustainability of a vital sector.”

Ms. Byrne said there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for re-opening the childcare sector.

“The diversity of our members’ settings, and of the childcare sector more generally in Ireland, means that there can be no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the multitude of challenges we face in relation to reopening safely,” she added.

“Any changes to reduce the capacity of provision will create a funding gap that will severely compromise the long-term sustainability of our sector.

“Early Childhood Ireland believes the radical changes that will be required in the aftermath of the Covid-19 emergency have the potential to fundamentally and positively change our childcare system on a permanent basis.

“For many years in Ireland, we have been aware that our funding provision to the sector is not fully fit for purpose.  This crisis is presenting us with an opportunity to fix it and properly resource the sector in a sustainable, long-term way.

“For our economy to fully recover post-Covid-19, we need to ensure all members of the early years workforce can keep their jobs until Ireland returns to a fully functioning labour market.  This cannot happen without a well-equipped and effectively functioning childcare sector.”