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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 9 December, 2019
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Why are Irish creches going out of business?

Ireland has some fairly progressive childcare measures in place, yet still child-minding businesses are going to the wall.

9659508950_a1f1278575_o Source: Michael Coghlan

FOR NEW PARENTS returning to work, childcare is a substantial minefield.

Between waiting lists and costs (make no mistake, childcare is not cheap), keeping your head above water while making sure your child is adequately looked after is a huge challenge.

Monthly fees for childcare in Ireland can vary from €600 in more rural areas to over €1,200 in Dublin, according to compareireland.ie.

As it happens, however, Ireland has quite a progressive system in place. Under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, introduced by former Minister for Children Éamon Ó Cuív in January 2010, one year of free preschool care is available to all Irish children.

Under the ECCE participating businesses offer a child 3 hours a day free educational, supervised preschool care, with the government paying the business in question a nominal capitation fee in recompense.

The ECCE has been a big success, and the next step logically is to extend it to two years rather than one.

There’s massive take-up for the scheme – 4,369 separate childcare operations in the state are signed up, compared with 3,787 in 2010.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that it’s shutting businesses down.

At a basic level, for creches, although it’s a scheme they can take advantage of, the reputation for interaction of a Montessori is leaving them out in the cold.

As a result the popularity of Montessoris in Ireland has gone through the roof since the scheme was introduced four years ago.

Mary O’Neill, a creche / Montessori owner in Kilcolgan, Co Galway told TheJournal.ie that providers are now “running at a loss”.

“They just didn’t consult with the industry adequately before going ahead with this, and it’s just not viable for a lot of businesses, particularly in the likes of Dublin as it stands,” she says.

For parents, it’s something for free from the government. But it’s the providers who feel the pinch.

Quinn Marian Quinn Source: Photocall

Marian Quinn, chairperson of the Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP), says that the “take it or leave it” approach of the government towards ECCE isn’t practical.

“Well it’s not that simple, if you don’t offer ECCE and your neighbour does that’s €2,600 or so a year you’re missing out on, money you can ill afford to lose,” she told TheJournal.ie.

And obviously there’s different stories, for some, people down the country with lower overheads, maybe no mortgage, they might be doing better than before ECCE.
But in the cities, particularly Dublin, businesses will close down, and it’ll be the ones who provide the best service that will go first.

Competency

From this September minimum levels of educational competency will be expected of all participating creche workers, which means in many cases mandatory education will have to be paid for.

Less understandable however – the government’s capitation fee only covers 38 weeks of creche care, but staff need to be paid for the statutory standard of 41 weeks.

“Not only that, but the capitation covers 15 hours a week – in practice our members are telling us that they work a minimum of 20-25 hours weekly to stay up to speed,” says Quinn.

She says that for one operator she knows based in South Dublin, “her accountant ran her figures and came out with her being paid €4.85 an hour. As an employer!”

He was asking her what the hell she’s still in it for. Because she’s supplementing what the government aren’t investing.

Given all this it becomes more understandable why creche fees are so high – the difference has to be made up somehow.

And, as one young mother-of-two told TheJournal.ie:

“They’re well worth it. Do you think that’s an easy job?”

Resolve

So what can be done to resolve the situation?

For starters, the ACP has submitted a 9-point working paper to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), outlining their concerns regarding ECCE.

An interdepartmental working group on the issue is currently doing its thing, with a report expected back to Minister for Children James Reilly within the next month.

New Cigarette Packets James Reilly Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A DCYA spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the minister “has indicated that, if resources  become  available  to the department, he will consider the scope for increasing the level of these capitation payments.”

Separately, a departmental source told TheJournal.ie that the situation is one “that is very close to the Minister’s heart”.

“At the same time, the state has put €170 million into this scheme. And the service that is being provided now is a good thing, simple as that, that is surely not open to debate,” said the source.

“Interdepartmental groups are all very well,” says Quinn, “but they have to have a strategic approach and a bit of vision.”

This isn’t something you can throw money at in a patchwork fashion.
Otherwise, prices will keep going up, and businesses will keep becoming unsustainable, that is certain.

This month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing startup and small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we are looking at the parenting industry.

To view other stories from our collection, click here.

Read: There’s an awful lot of money being made through infertility…

Read: Ten million downloads and counting – inside a Dublin games studio with a difference

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