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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 15 November, 2019
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Debate Room: Should school start earlier to help working parents?

This is just one of the suggestions from two contributors working in the area of childcare who reflect on what’s needed to solve the childcare issues here in Ireland.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

FINANCE MINISTER MICHAEL Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin have made their decisions on what the government plans to do for families in terms of childcare. 

There will be free pre-school childcare introduced for children aged three and over until they are five-and-a-half or start primary school. As expected, Child Benefit was increased by €5 to €140 per child per month - the same rate it was when the government came to power in 2011.

In addition, there will also be paternity leave of two weeks. 

Here, two contributors working in the area of childcare reflect on what’s needed to solve the issues here in Ireland. Get involved in the comments section below with your suggestions on what can be done to improve childcare in Ireland.

John-Miles

John Miles of Sherpa Kids

Funding private facilities to help 25,000 low income families would be a progressive and realistic approach to alleviating the stresses and severe financial strain that parents suffer while trying to juggle work with caring for their children.

When I moved from England to Ireland last year, I was shocked to see how the education and support system here is stacked against working parents. Schools begin at almost the same time as most office jobs (few people have the luxury of flexible working hours), schools don’t have on-site childcare which adds a logistical nightmare for parents and childcare is incredibly expensive and disincentivising for parents.

In Germany, primary school begins as early as 7.30am, in Italy many classes begin at 8am, while in France schools can start at 8.30am to facilitate working parents making the dash from school drop-offs to work.

It’s sad but a common reality that school drop-offs and/or collections are a luxury for working parents in modern-Ireland.

Working parents who have to commute to work or have no flexibility on their starting time not only have to organise after school care but before school childcare also.

This is a challenge and a source of stress that could be avoided.

The Government could ensure that there was a blanket earlier start time for schools and/or more schools could adapt to the needs and challenges that parents’ face. At present the only regulation is that schools must be open before 9.30am to receive pupils but apart from that the start time is at the discretion of the board of management.

Sherpa kids kinsale_PR Pic 1 Pictured in Scoil Naomh Eiltin in Sherpa Kids Kinsale, a new and unique after-schools service, are Sean McCarthy (8 yrs), Rebecca Hughes (programme manager Sherpa kids kinsale) & Kevin Carpenter (7 yrs). Source: Emma Jervis

I set up Sherpa Kids here in Ireland last year as an affordable and flexible childcare service that would work in collaboration with schools.

It made sense to me that if pre and post class childcare was provided on the school site that it would alleviate the exorbitant costs, logistical challenges and stresses that parents’ face.

St Joseph’s School in Clonakilty was the first progressive school to jump on board in 2015. Two other schools in Cork – Naomh Eltin in Kinsale and the Educate Together School in Carrigaline opened their on-site Sherpa Kids last month.

The response from the principals, parents and pupils has been incredible.

It’s an effective solution to the busy modern day lifestyle and we’re proud to be bridging the gap for parents and schools alike.

We’re conscious that parents often facing huge bills for childcare costs (over €700 in some cases) and they have to commit to certain days and hours at the start of the year.

We were adamant that childcare needs to be flexible to cater for life where things happen and parents aren’t always able to pick up their children at a certain time so they can ring ahead and let us know that they’d like us to look after their children or keep them for an hour or two more.

We charge €5 per hour but yet we do not cut corners – our staff are fully qualified, staff ratios are in line with regulations and we provide children with fun, structured and educational childcare.

The service was developed in New Zealand by leading childcare experts and has been rolled out across Australia, South Africa, the UK and it looks likely to be adopted in Canada and the UAE in the coming months.

We’re on the radar of the Department of Children, which does mean something, but for us, it’s just common sense that schools and childcare providers adapt to lifestyles and the needs of modern families.

T1 Source: Colm Mahady/Fennells

Teresa Heeney CEO of Early Childhood Ireland

The government is taking a first step to what must be a planned and substantial increase in state investment, recognising the value of quality childcare to children’s development in their critical early years.

The additional investment in early years education and care signaled to parents and early childhood educators is welcome, but it can’t be a once off. We need sustained additional resources of €100 million plus every year for the next 5 years.

Only that level of investment will finally address this circular debate we have every year about the unsustainable and unmanageable situation for parents where they are paying the full cost of childcare, paying up to 40% of their household income on childcare costs while our counterparts in Europe pay 14%.  We have a long way to go on this investment pathway.

Simply topping up child benefit by €5 or €10 every year will not have the impact we need.

We wholeheartedly welcome the additional €15 million allocation to supporting children with additional needs at preschool level.  This must be part of a whole set of recommendations in relation to supporting children with additional needs at preschool level. It’s about time.

To date our members have received little or no help in this regard, with the extra time and cost of accommodating a child with additional needs falling on their shoulders, thus increasing the emotional and financial stress for families and for everyone involved.

The investment in the ECCE (free preschool) scheme with the restoration of previous cuts bringing the capitation rate back up to €64.50 per child per week is welcome, but it is the bare minimum to deliver this scheme.

As such, it leaves many childcare providers still struggling with a scheme that doesn’t cover the actual cost of delivery.  This is compounded by the shortfall in capacity in terms of people and places to deliver this expanded ECCE scheme, not to mention the struggle to attract new recruits to a sector that pays minimum wage.

So, post budget, we have a lot of number crunching to do and parents need clarity on when exactly their child qualifies, with 3 year olds who are currently paying for their preschool education now eligible for their free place, and many of those who’d put a preschool education off until next year now qualifying for the current year, based on the extended age range #devilinthedetail.

Parents rightfully expect good quality, accessible and affordable childcare for their children and that can only be done by ensuring that the capitation paid to services is sufficient to retain good quality staff and paying them a decent salary.

Most importantly, though, children must have an opportunity to thrive and achieve their potential in a high quality early childhood care and education setting.

They deserve nothing less. They only get one childhood.

What do you think should be done? Should parents get a childcare grant? Should schools start earlier? Should the government do more to allow parents stay at work and have affordable childcare? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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About the author:

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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