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Burton: "Questions to be asked" about privatisation of creches

In an exclusive interview with TheJournal.ie, the Minister said that some parents are leaving their jobs because of the cost of childcare.



MINISTER JOAN BURTON has acknowledged the high cost of childcare in Ireland, and said that questions need to be asked about the privatisation of creches.

The Minister for Social Protection made the comments during an exclusive interview with TheJournal.ie where she discussed her thoughts on the controversial findings of a Prime Time programme on three creches in the east of the country.

A garda investigation has been launched into the treatment of children seen in undercover footage shot by the RTÉ investigations unit.

Minister Burton said she watched the programme, ‘A Breach of Trust’, and that what surprised her “was the almost total lack of hands-on management”.

She said that she was also surprised by the scenes of “small children pushed into seats and starting to cry”, which she found “really disturbing”.

I don’t know if the staff were left on their own but the key to something like a childcare facility, a creche, a successful school, one of the keys was not just the dedication of the staff, it’s the fact that you have a strong, active, hands-on management who really care for the children and care that their institution is the best institution and I know these were chains of for-profit creches.

“So I think there are questions to be asked around that and around that model,” continued the minister, noting that her department provides about 200 FETAC training places for people on community employment if they want to build a career in childcare.

The Minister said that creche inspections by appointment might be appropriate on some occasions, but “really there should be a lot of surprise inspections”. Parents should be empowered to know what happens in their children’s creche, she added, saying there are “lots of ways of addressing that as well”.

[M]y colleague Minister Frances Fitzgerald is working on it, we need to develop a much better, stronger system and much better regulation.

She said she thinks there is “food for thought for everyone in the country” in relation to the revelations on the programme.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, and Minister Burton have made a high number of after-school childcare places available, partly funded from savings from child benefit.

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The minister said that she thinks the cost of childcare in Ireland is “very, very high”. “I’ve had an opportunity to see creches and childcare facilities in the [United] States, I’ve seen them in Sweden and I’ve seen them in Norway,” she said.

She said that in the boom years it “might have been better if some of that [child benefit money] had been devoted towards resourcing childcare facilities” as she knows from being a young mother that such facilities are important.

When asked if some parents choose to stay at home rather than work because of the cost of childcare, Minister Burton said:

Yes, I think so. I represent a very young constituency in Dublin west with a lot of young families and I see quite a number of people making a decision where maybe one parent focuses on work.

She noted that a lot of men became unemployed during the collapse of the construction industry, and that “a lot of men are now doing a lot of homecare and maybe their wife or partner has stayed working, or [gone] back to a job where she had taken a leave of absence”, but childcare is expensive for young parents.

Interview with Minister Burton filmed and edited by Michelle Hennessy.

Read:  Better qualified staff and robust inspections in new pre-school agenda>

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