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Childcare providers to tell TDs uncertainty is having 'profoundly stressful impact'

The Oireachtas Covid-19 committee will hear about concerns in the sector today.

Image: Shutterstock/ErsinTekkol

A GROUP REPRESENTING the majority of the State’s childcare providers will tell a Dáil committee about the worries in the sector over funding beyond the summer.

In her opening statement to the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19, Teresa Heeney of Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) will also claim that problems in the sector have been exacerbated by the health crisis.

Her appearance comes as childcare facilities start to re-open again under Phase Three of the government’s roadmap for exiting lockdown, expected to begin next Monday. 

Heeney will be one of a number of officials due to address the committee today, with secretary general of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs Fergal Lynch and Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghda also set to appear.

“The past three months have been extremely challenging for the early years sector,” her statement reads.

“From the sudden closure of settings in March, to the extension of the closure to the lack of clarity beyond August, the uncertainty is having a profoundly stressful impact on providers.”

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy are proposing to investigate how a new childcare system can be built in post-pandemic Ireland. See how you can support this project here>

Heeney will say that despite the crisis, ECI and the department had put forward a series of resources to support providers, parents, and staff during the closure and in advance of the reopening.

She will say that these have been “very well received” and given providers and educators an important sense of confidence about reopening.

But although she will also acknowledge the importance of the bespoke wage subsidy scheme and the reopening package for providers, Henney will say the need for such measures was in itself “a tacit acceptance of the precariousness of the sector”.

“The issues of staff recruitment and retention and settings viability have not gone away and have been, if anything, exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis,” her statement continues.

“However, our sector is extremely diverse, and problems cannot be resolved with a ‘one size fits all’ solution.”

Heeney will also claim that a lack of clarity on how the childcare sector will be funded beyond August “is causing anxiety” to providers.

She will say that the government should issue clear information about how funding needs will be met quickly and will also call for funds provided for staff costs under the wage subsidy schemes to be ringfenced into the future.

In a statement, the Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) called on the Taoiseach to intervene to save the sector ahead of its expected re-opening next week.

Ahead of this morning’s meeting, the group’s chairperson Elaine Dunne claimed that urgent intervention was needed to save hundreds of providers from going out of business.

“The Department of Children and Youth Affairs don’t even understand [that] their own package of supports for the sector, which fall short, will force children with additional needs to stay at home and leave a massive black hole in the finances of early years providers,” she said.

‘Rigid options’

This morning, SIPTU representatives will also tell the committee of several accounts of the difficulties encountered by essential health workers in securing childcare arrangements since the outbreak of Covid-19.

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The committee will hear how the union’s members in the health service strove to strike a balance to ensure their children were cared for while also fulfilling their duties on the frontline.

But the union’s health divisional organiser Paul Bell, who will appear before the committee this morning, said in a statement last night that the government focused on “rigid options only”.

“Ultimately, this seriously flawed and inflexible approach resulted in the depletion of essential healthcare workers from the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 and a financial loss for many of them,” Bell said.

“We believe these flaws must be addressed and remedied as a matter of priority in advance of any potential second wave.”

Speaking before the meeting, committee chairman Michael McNamara noted that a childcare scheme for healthcare workers which was proposed during the lockdown never materialised.

“The phased re-opening of early learning and childcare services is due to begin on 29 June and services will be asked to prioritise the children of essential or frontline workers if local capacity issues emerge,” he said.

“We look forward to hearing more details from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on the roadmap to re-opening childcare services.”

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