Early Childhood Care and Education: time to invest in the future

Úna Faulkner, Organiser

Úna Falkner, IMPACT Organiser.
Úna Falkner, IMPACT Organiser.

The Early Childhood Care and Education sector has been hitting the headlines over the last number of years. Sadly, not for the right reasons. The Prime Time Investigates programme of May 2013 shone a light on a sector that previously had very little media attention. Given the vast number of employments (over 5,000) and approximately 25,000 workers, it is a sector that has grown rapidly in recent years.

The reason for this is a huge increase in demand for crèches services as our patterns of work, and the complexion of the workforce, has changed utterly over the last 20 years. The debate rages on about the level of state support and investment needed to reflect this change. More services are needed and the costs for families are enormous. Yet the sector is largely overlooked by policymakers, and suffers from a lack of investment.

The Prime Time revelations were horrific. However, lost in the noise of the uproar that followed was that the behaviour of the featured childcare workers was the exception. The vast majority of childcare workers are consummate professionals, focused on the care and educational development of the children in their care.

But we need to invest in these workers too. Early childhood care and education plays a crucial role in the growth of Irish society. The sector itself is comparatively young – in the Irish context – and needs to be able to offer continuing professional development and stable, structured employment to its workforce .

Many staff in this sector are now achieving degree level qualifications, and higher, to work in this sector. Those undergraduates who are studying in this field should be able to have an expectation of a proper wage that reflects their own investment in training and professionalisation. But this is not the case.

The maximum that any professional in this sector earns is just slightly above the minimum wage. Career progression is limited, in terms of pay, while responsibilities grow throughout their careers. Basic provisions, such as proper sick pay arrangements, standardised contracts and terms and conditions are a rarity.

The state has a role to play in building the framework to standardise employment conditions in the sector, and to invest in early childhood care and education in the same way it provides for primary and secondary education. The numbers of children entering the services provided by this sector grow every year. It’s a crucial time in their development.

Today (Tuesday 17th February), IMPACT members join forces with the Association of Childcare Professionals (ACP), at a rally outside the Dáil, to highlight these issues.

Did you know?

  • More than 25,000 people are employed in the Early Childhood sector
  • The average rate of pay in the sector is less than €11
  • 48% of all services have a child with additional needs
  • Ireland currently spends just 0.2% of GDP in the Early Childhood sector, this compares to a European average of 0.7%.

Video

“Real Voices of the Early Childhood Sector” is a video campaign launched by Early Childhood Ireland identifying the key issues early childhood educators face day in day out and calling for more recognition and reward. Watch the video HERE.