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Opinion: We don’t want the crumbs from the table – childcare is in crisis and we need support

Cut the bureaucracy and fund childcare properly, writes crèche operator Margaret Connell.

Margaret Connell

Childcare providers are expected to gather in large numbers at Parnell Square in Dublin tomorrow, in a protest over working conditions. They say that more than 60% of Early Years educators earn less than the Living Wage of €12.30 per hour. Here, one childcare provider outlines the pressures she and others are facing. 

AS A CHILDCARE provider of 20 years, I have seen a lot in my time.

But childcare is currently at a deadlock and tomorrow’s protest is a call for the protection of not just our industry but the wellbeing of children nationwide.

To many working parents around the country, childcare is a necessity and we the providers have played our role in maintaining the welfare and wellbeing of their children.

My own business, a crèche and Montessori school, caters for over 80 children. It is a business which employs 10 people in a rural area where jobs are hard to find, and a business that is a vital cog in our village life in north county Longford.

But that business is under stress like countless hundreds of others from Malin Head to West Cork.

It’s not working

The reason we’re struggling is the support from the government is simply not enough.

Providers employ teachers and support staff who despite being industry professionals with college educations are not being paid a teacher’s salary.

Why? The government and its departments concerned with childcare do not see early years education as warranting a living wage for its practitioners despite there being a national curriculum for the education of early learners.

The shortfall in government support for childcare educators and support staff then falls back on the providers, who must, in turn, meet the shortfall.

That, naturally, means an added cost to working parents.

ECCE programme

Under current government funding, the ECCE programme, also known as the free preschool programme covers free preschool places for the nation’s children from two years and nine months of age, for two years.

This free preschool programme provides the first step in a child’s education and in my own business the children are taught in our Montessori school.

In order to deliver this education (which is part of a national educational framework governed by the Department of Education), we must employ early years teachers who are well-trained, as well as support staff who are all college-educated.

The ECCE supplies children with free education for three hours per day for 38 weeks per year and follows the same timeframe as the country’s primary schools.

Like primary schools, our teachers follow a curriculum and providers take great pride in delivering the beginning of a child’s education.

However, unlike primary schools teachers and support staff in the nation’s childcare providers are not paid by Government for the 14 weeks they do not teach.

This lack of government support means the financial burden falls again on the providers to pay our staff their wages. In short, we must support them or they will not have a wage.

In some cases, early years teaching and support staff are not employed in the 14 week period and are forced to go on welfare support.

Can you imagine if the nations primary or secondary teachers were not paid for the 14 weeks that school was out? There would be nationwide protests and rightly so. That is the situation facing our industry right now.

Bogged down in bureaucracy

Providers have been stretched and stretched by a bureaucratic system that does not respect our teachers and support staff and in short, does not respect the early years education model that we deliver.

For college-educated early years teachers and support staff, their future looks uncertain and this uncertainty is leading to an exodus of professionals from the industry, leaving the providers without qualified staff, the children without education and parents in a dilemma.

The protest tomorrow is the first in what may be many before our industry is heard.

Already, 1500 providers have signed up in support of the protest from across the country.

When the protest was mooted Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had said that any provider who closes their childcare business to join the protest would not be paid for the day they did not provide the programme.

However, she has now backtracked on that statement saying support would be paid.
Why? Because she knows that the industry is in crisis.

I won’t be joining the protest tomorrow because I cannot shut my school as it will put too many working families in a difficult position. However, I am in total support of the protest and fully support our movement.

I have always felt that the best method of addressing injustice has been through the pen and so I write to you now to tell you about our struggle and to say that the latest policies on childcare are not in the best interests of children in Ireland.

Without support for our industry and its staff, our schools will close and a black market of illegal childminders has and will continue to emerge.

These illegal childminders currently operate without regulation, insurance and without staffing safety measures.

And yet because of a childcare system that is in trouble this black market is thriving. This black market will not provide education and is a disaster waiting to happen.

It is an issue for Saturday

Childcare has been in the nation’s mind throughout this election cycle. In urban areas, it is expensive due in part to excessive rates, crippling insurance costs and high rents.

The childcare funding model must change in order to provide for the children and staff that provide their education and to ensure that overstretched parents can know that their child’s wellbeing and learning is actually happening.

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Right now we are calling for proper recognition and proper financial support for our teachers and support staff from the Government and relevant departments.

We also need a rethinking of the bodies that govern the childcare system. Currently, four bodies overlap in our sector; Tusla, the Department of Education, Pobal and county councils.

This overload of bureaucracy needs to be streamlined and the funds directed to the people that need it most – the children and their families. In short, we need cross-compliance.

Our children are our most valuable asset and their education and wellbeing are paramount above all.

Without support, our industry will die and with it the hope of the education of the next generation and the working parents of Ireland who only want the best for their children.

We need help.

I use my pen in the hope it will be heard.

Margaret Connell is a childcare provider of over 20 years in County Longford. She runs the award-winning Teach Leanbh, Montessori and daycare centre.


About the author:

Margaret Connell

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