Government inaction puts second year of free childcare at risk from September

Today’s March for Change starts at 2pm. The demonstration will march from the Intreo Centre, Georges Quay, Cork, to the Intreo Centre, Hanover Street.
Today’s March for Change starts at 2pm. The demonstration will march from the Intreo Centre, Georges Quay, Cork, to the Intreo Centre, Hanover Street.

Parents looking forward to a second year of free childcare provision from September may have to pay because the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has failed to agree contracts with childcare providers, according to IMPACT. The union also says thousands of childcare staff supported by the State-funded Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme are being laid off this week, with no guarantee of re-employment, because the Government scheme restricts funding to 38 weeks of the year.

A demonstration, organised by the Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP) and IMPACT takes place in Cork city this afternoon. The two organisations, which work jointly on behalf of early years’ professionals, say the event will highlight the importance of early childhood education and care, as well as the vital role played by early childhood professionals in supporting children and families.

IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan says the Government’s inept handling of the scheme means experienced staff are being laid off, while childcare providers’ ability to meet demand for free childcare under ECCE is being compromised.

Mr Callinan said: “Many parents are working under the false premise that there will be a place for their child come September. The reality is that, as things stand, no contracts are in place and there is certainly no guarantee that this will be sorted by the time parents seek to take up their entitlements in just over two months’ time. In the meantime, thousands of skilled and experienced early years’ professionals are being forced out of work for the summer because the Government only funds early years’ services for 38 weeks. That’s no use to parents, who need care for their children 52 weeks of the year. And it is totally unacceptable to the dedicated staff who will either have no income or depend on social welfare this summer.”

Marian Quinn of the Association of Childhood Professionals said: “Approximately 4,000 early childhood professionals will have to sign on this summer because they will be laid off or on reduced hours. Others will have no income at all because they are self-employed. We need our Government to commit to increased investment and a cohesive early childhood education and care strategy, so that the children of Ireland can receive the best possible foundation in life. There is a long history of underinvestment in the early childhood sector, which shows a complete disregard for the rights of the child and the professionals working with them.”

Mr Callinan wrote to Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone this week to urge her to act quickly on the issues. “There is an absolute imperative to issue draft contracts to providers immediately. We also seek your commitment that, in future, contracts will be issued in sufficient time to allow for adequate consultation and negotiation of any matters. This is vital if uncertainty is to be removed for staff, providers and parents alike,” he wrote.