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'It's put me off having more kids': Your stories of childcare in Ireland during the pandemic

We asked parents to share their stories. Here’s what they told us.

ISSUES WITH CHILDCARE in Ireland are nothing new. However, the pandemic has helped rip bare the fractures within the current system.

We asked readers to get in contact to share their experiences of childcare since the pandemic started in early 2020 and what changes they would like to see happen.

The most common issues among those who got in touch were affordability, availability, and the mental strain that it puts on families.

Some who avail of the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE), which provides childcare for children from the age of two years and eight months, said that it is particularly challenging for them to get a place for their young child with most providers having years-long waiting lists.

Others who struggled to find appropriate childcare told us of the strain that working from home while minding children had on both their careers and mental health.

Here are their stories.

Louise: ’It’s like having a second mortgage’

“My daughter just turned one this month. Last September, in a bid to be organised I started looking for Montessori places for September 2024 when she’d quality for ECCE. You’d think with three years’ notice that would be plenty but so many places were already full or take kids from age two so couldn’t guarantee a place unless we registered her a year or so before she qualifies for ECCE.

“Additionally, very few places would show us around, even after hours, because of Covid; one place wanted a month’s deposit plus admin fee (total €1,400) before I could even have a chat with a manager. Part-time is impossible. In the end, we’ve registered her with a place starting January 2023 for €1,250/month and are using a childminder this year. It’s like having a second mortgage.

“Also incredibly infuriating is that the government frequently talks about ECCE as two years free childcare – it’s not. It’s only during term time, for 15 hours a week, which is a lot less than people need.”

Lisa: ’We’re gradually getting further and further in debt.’

“I’m a medical secretary and my partner is a delivery driver. We both work full time. My eldest child gets a bus from school, and the middle child is in preschool and after-school in the creche. My youngest is in the ECCE scheme and creche before and after.

“They are collected by 5.30pm daily. This costs me over €1,000 a month which is about 70% of my salary. That’s before tax, before rent, before car insurance, tax, repairs, before electricity bills etc. I can’t afford to work. I actually had more income on social welfare. I work hard for nothing. It’s so degrading. I know I chose to have my children. But there needs to be some help available.

“We’re gradually getting further and further in debt. Getting more behind on all bills. Can’t afford family days out. We don’t eat out or go out to pubs. We have not been on a family holiday in years. And none to come in next three to five years easily.

“Childcare in Ireland is just not on. I see families leaving kids aged 8 and 9 at home alone for this reason. I wish things could change because on top of a full-time job and family life I’m looking for weekend or night-time work just to try to survive.”

shutterstock_1273403116 Shutterstock / LE Photo Shutterstock / LE Photo / LE Photo

‘It’s put me off having more kids which is heartbreaking’

“I think we need to take childcare in the first three years of life much more seriously. It is crazy that we fork out nearly €15k a year per child to have them cared for in a creche during their first 3 years of life. Most private secondary schools in Dublin only charge €6-8k per year. You’re left on your own in this country when kids are six months to three years of age. It’s put me off having more kids which is heartbreaking.

“Covid was so stressful as I could work from home but my husband couldn’t. I felt pressure to be the best mum and maintain the same workload.

“I often worked after the kids went to bed. Imagine bringing your kid into the office with you. It’s just madness. I couldn’t get family help because the message coming from the media was that kids were going to kill our grandparents. It was a ridiculously stressful time and I have no idea how I got through it all.”

‘I had to make up hours in the evening when the children had gone to bed and make important calls during nap times’

“Access to childcare has been very difficult over the last 22 months. It particularly affected me during the first and second lockdowns. In March 2020 I was returning to work from maternity leave. My first child was being looked after by a childminder who had agreed to look after my other children when I returned to work.

All of this changed when the first lockdown happened. I ended up having to work full time along with looking after my three children. I was juggling so many balls it was almost impossible. There was no time to do either job as well as I’d have liked and felt I was totally lacking in many areas of both mothering and my professional life. My husband was also working from home at the time, but it seemed that priorities from a male perspective were that he was working and that his company expected this to continue without familial flexibility.

“During the lockdown following Christmas 2021, the situation was very similar, but my workload increased. It became necessary for me to ask my minder to come and mind my children two days a week so that I could put some fully focused hours into my work. I had to make up hours in the evening when the children had gone to bed and make important calls during nap times. It was very difficult and stressful.

“During all this time I paid my minder her full wage, therefore, making no extra savings. I feel that there really needs to be more done for mothers in the workplace and make childcare more affordable and accessible to all.

“The reductions available to parents at the moment are absolutely useless and make no difference to the actual cost of creche places. As a parent from a two-income household, we would never be able to afford the extortionate prices that creches expect. I also prefer the relationship my children and I have with their minder. The government needs to decide on a national childcare strategy that works and actually gives mothers the assistance they need when returning to work, as fathers don’t seem to face the same stresses or pressures which definitely makes it a gender inequality problem.”

boyandmotherusingtabletandlaptopwhileplayingwith Shutterstock Shutterstock

‘It is damaging my career progression’

“I had a baby last year. There was no childcare facility willing to take her before she was 12 months so I was on unpaid leave which is financially difficult, but more importantly, it is damaging my career progression in an area dominated by those without primary childcare responsibilities.

“I’m back at work now, but then the kids got covid in creche. The HSE website said they can return to childcare after seven days but the HPSC says after ten days. Try explaining that to an employer! The government needs to subsidise childcare and provide welfare benefits for those who cannot work because childcare won’t take them.”

‘Mid-terms and summer 2022 is not going to be fun’

“When the schools reopened in 2020, I had to pull my then 5- and 7-year-old from [after-school] creche as I was nervous enough about sending them to school – I thought that was enough of a risk for my family. My mother is a recent widow living alone and I had to be able to see her.

“So with no childcare over the past two years, I have had to struggle on. I would love them to go to creche now but they just won’t go. They are too used to coming home after school, so I try to get them involved instead with after-school activities that I can attend with my laptop. I am a full-time mother with a global role in one of Irelands biggest multinationals. I don’t have childcare now at all and can’t get any.

“Monday to Friday is a struggle but now with mid-terms and summer holidays coming fast, I have no clue what I’m supposed to do. I did reach out to an art class summer camp nearby, but for five days from 9.30am to 1pm they want €325 for the week for two. That’s just crazy money and it still doesn’t help me as it’s only for a small portion of the day.

“I am not alone. There are many of us and most of the time the care falls into the mother’s workload. I know for my family and my husband’s work it is with me as I work from home and my husband has to go into the plant for his day-to-day activities. So now instead of a 40-hour working week, I have a 60-hour week juggling kids and my workload. Mid-terms and summer 2022 is not going to be fun.”

shutterstock_1708800544 Shutterstock / Irina Wilhauk Shutterstock / Irina Wilhauk / Irina Wilhauk

‘I would like to see the government support childminders and the families who use them’

“I have 2 children, a 1-year-old and 5 year old. Returning to work after my 1-year-old, childcare was difficult to source. But happily, I sourced a lovely local SNA looking to change jobs.

“A childminder has always been my preferred option but I feel it is becoming something that is judged by others and not supported by the government. Childminders are not supported by official channels to easily register or claim tax. However, the childminders I have used provide a home away from home and excellent care. I would like to see the government support childminders and the families who use them more and recognise their contribution to childcare.”

‘Last year alone we paid over €12,000 in part-time childcare’

“My husband and I have 2 children: the eldest is ten, the youngest is four.

“To start, the only reason we have two children instead of three is because we simply could not afford the childcare for three. Both of us work and are on good wages, but between saving to buy our own home while renting plus childcare, more children were simply not an option.

“Beyond the issue of price (last year alone we paid over €12,000 in part-time childcare as my children were in primary school and ECCE scheme, while qualifying for no relief of any kind) I think the unregulated market creates a massive issue around quality.

My children have always been minded by childminders. We have had three so far, of mixed abilities and dedication: the first two were registered with Childcare Ireland, the current one isn’t, and to be honest, we were lucky to get her in mid-2020: I nearly went around the bend then, when it was a real possibility that I’d have to give up work for a year because we just couldn’t find anybody, let alone anybody suitable.

“What I would like to see is the kind of system in place in Denmark, or the Nordic countries: public, State partly-funded childcare with qualified carers who earn a decent wage, and payments from parents that are affordable so that people can afford to work and create the family they want, rather than being priced out of it due to the cost of childcare: an issue that clearly affects mainly women.”

‘I have never been so stressed in my life’

“We cannot find childcare for our children. We recently moved house with our two children. When we left our previous home, our son was attending a creche next to our house. I started calling local creches as soon as we went sale agreed, which was a good six months before we moved.

“All of them pretty much laughed at me, and said if I don’t have their names down as soon as I found out I was pregnant, they won’t get a place. I asked to be put on waiting lists, which some agreed to, even saying that we were more than 50 names down the list.

“When I had our second baby we kept our son in his creche three days a week when we moved. It was a 25-minute drive to the creche from our new house which is far from ideal with a toddler and new baby. When I stopped receiving maternity benefits we had to take him out.

“I recently went back to work after my maternity leave. We still have no childcare for our children, and it’s over one year since starting to contact creches. Luckily, I can work from home, so we are just about managing. With two kids and two adults trying to work, it is extremely stressful for us all.

“I have tried every creche within 10km of our house, we have interviewed childminders and we have grandparents helping occasionally. Childcare should be a right for every family in our country, when living costs are so high it simply isn’t feasible for many families to survive on one income. I don’t know how we will afford the extortionate childcare costs, but that is a worry for when we eventually find it.

“Au pairing isn’t recognised in Ireland as it is around Europe. You have to pay minimum wage, and can only deduct €50 a week for their lodging, which most will agree is far below the actual cost of having a person living in your home, and the food and electricity costs that go with it.

“I have never been so stressed in my life, and after two years of a pandemic, it feels hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. This needs to be a priority for the government before more women start leaving the workforce and we face a bigger skill shortage.”

shutterstock_397732468 (1) Shutterstock / goodmoments Shutterstock / goodmoments / goodmoments

Fiona: ‘We chose not to engage in the creche system as it stands’

“I’m a new mammy in Dublin with an eight-month-old and I’ve just returned to full-time work (from home) following maternity leave. My partner works in retail four days a week and has recently reduced to three-day weekend work, so for the moment he is home to care for our son four days a week. He decided to drop his hours because I take home the higher wage.

“We decided to take this option because when our son was born it quickly became apparent that local creches would only facilitate a minimum of four days per week (whereas we only needed a maximum of two) along with nearly a two-year waiting list and a €500 deposit to get on it.

“At the moment there is one day in the week where we need care for our son so on this day he either goes to his dad’s parents living an hour away, or I go home to my mam’s house and work from there while she minds my son. I will be looking for a childminder locally for a day or two a week in their own home if the current situation doesn’t work out.

“I also find it a bit chaotic trying to work from home with dad and baby (and dog) in the next room. The bottom line here is we chose not to engage in the creche system as it stands; it’s too expensive and inflexible, not to mention the queues of cars at 4-5pm collecting children, and obviously the expense of a four to five day week.”

‘For me as a single mother with no support, childcare causes me more stress than any other aspect of my day to day life’

“I am a separated mother of two children (ages three and one). As such, there is no way I could afford childcare without the national childcare subsidy scheme, but the system is flawed.

I had my children on the waiting list for 15 creches in the area where I live since we moved here in 2020. Eventually, I was offered places in two creches within a week of each other. I had accepted the first creche when a 2nd creche which was my preference offered places just one week later. I was informed as the first creche now had my children’s ‘chick’ numbers they could choose to withhold this funding for up to 4 weeks should I move my children. Of course, I could not afford to pay in full for two children for up to 4 weeks so my hands were tied and they remained in the first creche, the more expensive of the two.

“You get 45 subsidised hours per week on the scheme, as most employers expect employees on the premises for nine hours per day including an hour unpaid lunch, there is no allowable time to commute to and from work. As I was employed some distance from my home I could no longer work full time due to this. I informed my employer of this and they had no choice but to agree.

“The creche also had to reduce its hours due to staff shortages and has opened strictly 8am-5pm since my children started attending in August. Four out of the first six weeks my children were in creche I was called to collect them as one of them had a runny nose/temperature/seemed unwell. This meant two to three days off work each week as I awaited a PCR. As I could not work remotely in my employment this meant a loss of earnings. On one occasion, after my children were off sick they were both given an antibiotic for ear infections by the doctor.

“When the course of antibiotics was finished and they were back in creche one day, I was called to collect the younger as he was unwell. I called my GP to explain he had finished his antibiotic, the temperature had returned, he was unsettled and pulling on his ear. The GP refused to see him without a PCR ‘in case his ear infection had resolved and he has caught Covid in the meantime’. Three days and a PCR later, it was confirmed that he had infections in both ears and his throat. Of course, both children had to be excluded from childcare this entire time.

“A couple of weeks after this the creche employee who looks after my younger child was sick and the creche could not find cover. He was sent home for one week which meant another week off work for me.

“I managed to find a new job so that I can work from home as the situation was unmanageable. I began that the first week of January 2022. Due to staff shortages, my 3-year-old was off three full days the first week, both children were sent home at 2.30pm for the remainder of the first two weeks. I was informed by the creche full fees were due during this time. Luckily this week they have both returned full time.

“It is incredibly hard to find childcare, especially with two children and few options, so there is no choice but to pay in full – even if they cannot provide the service temporarily and you have lost income due to this, as with long waiting lists they can easily fill your child’s place and leave you with no childcare at all.

“My older child will be four this month and starting school next September. This will bring a whole new set of challenges around childcare as I will have to find an appropriate breakfast club and after-school club and will be dropping and collecting each child to a different location.

“I feel for the creche workers. They do a difficult job and are not paid well for it, but the system is not set up well in this country. For me as a single mother with no support childcare causes me more stress than any other aspect of my day to day life.”

‘Challenging the situation is an issue as you need to maintain the relationship with your service provider’

“While I am very fond of our creche, we have had particular challenges with service availability during Covid.

“The creche and after-school caters to children from age one to 12. Upon the initial return from the first lockdown, we were advised that pods would be in operation. This changed when the first positive case of Covid-19 arose. We were then told that the creche considers itself one pod due to its small size. I was surprised at this given there are four separate rooms; the one for the after-schoolers is even in a separate building.

“I queried this with the Tusla early years regulation section and they advised each creche was permitted to decide how many pods they should have. I think this essentially nullifies the guidance given by the government.

“So we continued with the ‘one pod’ scenario. This now meant every time there was a positive case most of the staff were considered close contacts and had to be off work. This in turn has resulted in frequent short notice closures. When closed we are advised that we have to pay full fees at all times as the staff still have to be paid. During a two week closure, I questioned why they could not claim the support scheme payment but I never got an answer to this. So we have paid for many days – I would say at least three and a half weeks in the last year – where no service is provided. When you think of it, we were paying money to be under additional pressure while working from home with very small children.

“Only last week I had to take my child out of school earlier in the day than usual as it was the only gap I had to run to the school between meetings.

“Challenging the situation is an issue as you need to maintain the relationship with your service provider when your child still attends, so we just paid. Given this, we are reliant on stronger guidance and indeed directives from government or state bodies to manage these situations better.”

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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