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Childcare and coronavirus: Many parents still paying, but some childcare staff told to apply for dole

Many workers will now have to apply for jobseekers’ benefit.

Image: Shutterstock

MANY CHILDCARE FACILITIES across the nation will continue to charge parents fees despite the fact their children are at home as Covid-19 threatens to wreak havoc on the entire industry.

The news came yesterday that all crèche and Montessori schools were ordered to close, putting the 30,000 or so people who work in the industry in a perilous position.

Many parents, who have yet to be sent home from their own employment, must now take annual leave or force majeure days to ensure they can look after their children. 

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,800 childcare members, has advised crèche owners to use “their discretion” when levying fees against parents during this time. 

Their statement reads: “We advise members who have clauses covering unforeseen closures in their fees policies or parent contracts to enforce these clauses. For other cases, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

“It will be necessary to use your discretion when levying fees, or to engage with parents to come up with a solution while your service is closed.”

One parent, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, described the pressure now being foisted onto families, including her own.

She said: “It’s a major stress on parents. Our creche asked us to continue paying so that they could keep paying their staff. We are happy to do that for the two weeks that have been announced but we’re really worried about what happens next.

“It will probably go on for longer and if that happens, our household income will be halved as one of us will have to mind the children while the other continues working. I can’t see how we can afford to pay full childcare fees at that point, when we will be struggling to pay our mortgage and bills.

Even worse, our creche put a threat in their communication to us that if and when they reopen, it would likely be a skeleton staff and that they would prioritise taking in the children of parents who “supported” them by continuing to pay full fees.

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents 3,800 childcare members, has advised crèche owners to use “their discretion” when levying fees against parents during this time. 

Their statement reads: “We advise members who have clauses covering unforeseen closures in their fees policies or parent contracts to enforce these clauses. For other cases, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. It will be necessary to use your discretion when levying fees, or to engage with parents to come up with a solution while your service is closed.”

Karen Clince, who is the CEO of Tigers Childcare, said one of the reasons parents will be charged is so the company can retain the highest level of staff possible. Her business is not related to the creche referenced by the mother quoted earlier in this piece. Clince did not issue any such guidance.

She told TheJournal.ie: “We saw it coming last week and we had the board sit down together and we discussed what would happen in case of closures.

“Our first priority is the children. Closing is the best thing to do in these circumstances. Then we thought, what do we do about the charging of parents and paying our colleagues. 

The decision made by us is that the majority of parents will be off on paid leave. They are receiving the same amount of pay as they usually would. So, that’s why we ask that parents continue to pay. It also means that we retain high quality staff. This is going to end at some stage and we need high quality childcare.

Tigers Childcare said it is continuing to pay all its staff during the coronavirus outbreak. Clince added that she was conscious that the pay-scale for early childcare workers isn’t great and that many of her staff don’t have much money put away for a rainy day.

Asked about parents paying despite the facility being closed, Clince added: “We have to look after them. What we’re saying is we all have to pull together. We are holding their places. We’re asking parents who have been paid to keep paying.”

Clince said that she knows there will be parents out there who will be unable to continue paying. She said that her company “will look after them on a one-to-one basis”. 

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Industry concerns

Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland raised concerns about the future of the childcare industry and said that the planned closures will create “severe sustainability challenges for the sector”.

“There is no doubt that these health and safety measures are essential to curb the spread of Covid-19 but even in the midst of the crisis, we cannot ignore the potential long-term impact that this could have on childcare providers who have already faced a myriad of business pressures in recent months.

“We’ve been inundated by calls from our members who are concerned by what this closure will mean, not just for the 200,000 babies and children in their care, and their families, but also for the 30,000 staff working in the sector who are worried about their jobs,” she said.

While staff at Tigers Childcare will continue to be paid, there are childcare workers who will not be paid at all until the facilities re-open. 

The message from Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is that these workers sign on for jobseekers’ allowance. They will not be entitled to enhanced sick pay. 

A statement from the department reads: “Employees who are laid off temporarily, without pay, due to a reduction in business activity, can apply for a Jobseeker’s Payment. This application can be made online at www.mywelfare.ie or in person at an Intreo Centre.

“Employees who are put onto short-time working by their employer due to a reduction in business activity related to Covid-19 may apply for a Short Time Work Support payment.”

Speaking on Highland Radio this morning, Doherty said she was conscious of parents using annual leave and force majeure days to look after their own children while paying fees. She said that she hopes that a resolution can be found after the Cabinet meets on Monday.   

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