Calls for the Irish Government to address early years ‘crisis’

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ahead of next month's budget, early years organisation Start Strong is urging the government to invest in quality care for young children.

It says that current investment in childcare in Ireland falls far short of the OECD average, meaning parents pay some of the highest childcare costs in the world.

In its Pre-Budget Submission, early years organisation Start Strong, urges the Irish Government to use Budget 2016 as an opportunity to invest in quality care for young children. The Budget takes place on 13 October.

The coalition group concerned with early care and education in Ireland believes an extra €23m is needed to tackle the ‘three childcare crises’- affordability, variable quality and low investment.

Within its Pre-Budget Submission, which follows a report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Childcare in July, it calls for the Irish Government to increase investment to reach the OECD average within five years and the one per cent GDP benchmark within ten years.

It also recommends developing quality, affordable childcare at an additional cost of €121m in 2016. This would include increasing capitation grants for the Free Pre-School Year and withdrawing funding when quality standards are not met. As well as this, capping childcare fees, auditing the quality of early years services and investing more in support for quality– this would include the introduction of salary scales for all those working in early years services.

Other key recommendations are to lower the entry age for the Free Pre-School Year and extend the scheme to a second year, costing €20m extra in 2016.

Currently children become eligible for the Free Pre-School Year from three years, two months. However, Start Strong says many children do not take-up their place until they are four, well above the age at which the clear benefits of early care and education services for children begin. It therefore recommends making provision free from a child’s third birthday.

Start Strong also suggests extending paid family leave at an additional cost of €82m in 2016.

Ciairín de Buis, director of Start Strong, said, ‘With the Irish Government approaching its final budget before the General Election, early childhood care and education (ECCE) must be a top priority. For too long many Irish families have been left with expensive, low quality childcare that, as the 2013 Prime Time investigation A Breach of Trust highlighted, can lead to serious mistreatment of young children.

‘While we acknowledge the work of the Inter-Departmental Group in setting out a range of proposals aimed at improving affordability and quality in ECCE, ideas alone are not enough.

'As the Irish Assembly resumes, the Government must now take action to ensure the report is not left to gather dust on a shelf. By implementing the proposals laid out in Start Strong’s Pre-Budget Submission, they would show real commitment to addressing the public’s concerns over the quality and affordability of childcare.’

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