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Call for increased investment in early years childcare sector, especially for under threes

Teresa Heeney described the situation for new parents as “unacceptable”.

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INVESTMENT IN THE early years childcare sector must increase in the next Budget, particularly for children under the age of three, the CEO of Early Childhood Ireland has said.

Teresa Heeney of Early Childhood Ireland, an organisation representing the early years sector, described the situation for parents of young children as “unacceptable”. 

Heeney said it is common for parents to have difficulties accessing childcare in Ireland. 

She said many are put on “unsustainable waiting lists” that “aren’t even real” long before their child is old enough to attend. 

“In the same way as parents of five-year-olds can reasonably expect that they will find a school for their five-year-old close by, that has come to be the case for parents of three-year-olds,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. 

They’re looking for a pre-school place for their child and in general, they’re able to find a good quality Montessori, pre-school, playschool close by to their home that their child can go to before they go to school.

“But that is not the case with investment in services for children under the age of three and that has led to maybe a re-imagining or a re-designing by a lot of operators where they’ve moved away from running baby places to running places for children over the age of two, which are more sustainable and which follow the line or trajectory of government investment over the years.”

In recent weeks, parents have outlined their difficulties accessing childcare for their young children. 

Heeney said Ireland has to “do better” for parents struggling to find childcare for their children which she described as a “huge stress”.

“At Early Childhood Ireland, we’re certainly saying that this next Budget, unlike last Budget, the last Budget invested nothing more in this sector and this Budget has to change pattern and we have to focus on this entire sector and particularly services for children under the age of three.”

In 2019, the previous government announced that €54.5 million would be spent on childcare in the 2020 Budget, including the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme allowing subsidies for families earning up to €100,000 per year.

Liz Carolan, a working parent currently on maternity leave, wrote a Voices piece for The Journal earlier this month on the issue of accessing childcare. 

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She detailed how, in the final weeks of her pregnancy last December, she began phoning creches expecting to hear “eye-watering sums of money”, but instead was met with a long list of refusals. 

“All but one of the childcare places in my area refused to even take my name. One place offered a place for October 2022, when my then-bump would be nearly two,” Carolan wrote at the time.

It would cost more than a mortgage, and there would be no flexibility – the place was for Monday to Friday, for office hours, and I had to pay for every opening hour whether I needed it or not. 

“Early years childcare is an investment and should be a public good, not an industry. We will all benefit when provision is accessible, affordable and flexible. It is very hard to imagine how anything other than public provision will get us there.”

Are you affected by the lack of childcare places available for your small children? Contact voices@thejournal.ie if you’d like to share your experience with our audience. More details here.

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