This morning, I dropped my two-year-old daughter to her childminder. She ran in the door and was giving my childminder’s daughter a hug by the time I followed her into the kitchen. As I left for work, I felt very lucky and fortunate to have a wonderful woman to mind my child.
Is this right though? In this country, access to good childcare is seen as a privilege, a luxury even. We also spoke with Gerry and Susanna McCarthy about the childcare their three boys receive in Sweden. There, it is considered a right.
While Sweden is ranked as one of best countries to provide childcare, Ireland is consistently deemed to be ‘bottom of the class.’ That is because according to OECD, we invest the least amount in early years of any developed country, as a percentage of GDP. While Sweden spends 1.9% of GDP on childcare, Ireland spends just 0.3%. As a result, Irish parents are spending between €600 and €1,200 per child per month, depending on which county they are living.
According to the Government, the future is positive. Last December, Minister Roderic O’Gorman announced major reforms to the funding model for early learning and childcare services. A commitment was made to double the funding of childcare based on 2018 expenditure from €485m to €970m by 2028.
Next week, we will feature an interview with the minister about this funding. We will also have opinions from those in the crèche industry about how it should be spent.
When it comes to childcare, much discussion is focused on crèches. However, it is possible that the system would collapse if it wasn’t for childminders in rural Ireland, who are its backbone. This will be the focus of week three of our series. In week four, we will focus on children with special needs and how care is provided for those families.
This week however, we are discussing what childcare looks like right now, the reality for families in rural Ireland. Recently, we carried out a survey on www.irishfarmersjournal.ie to get the real-life experiences of our readers. 270 parents gave their experience and opinions.
The Role of Childcare
Childcare is part of the everyday lives for many of these parents, utilised by 76% of our respondents. The majority (55%) have one child in childcare but 39% of these families, are paying fees for two children. A further 5% have three children in childcare while the remaining 1% have four or more.
The crèche is the childcare choice for 56% of these families, while 28% use a childminder. Four per cent get support from a family member while 2% use an au pair. The remaining 10% cite a combination of the above as well as afterschool care.
A surprising statistic is that 77% of families state that they got their first choice of childcare. However, in the comments section (right), parents in some parts of the country are struggling to find any crèche space or childminder, never mind their first choice.
Currently, the Government offers financial support for childcare costs through the National Childcare Scheme (NCS), which is income tested and means tested. As an example, a working couple earning a combined income of €80,000 are entitled to a subsidy of €18.50 per week towards childcare costs.
Our survey shows only half of readers avail of this support. Why are so many not utilising this subsidy? An answer could be the number of registered childminders in Ireland. If your childminder is not registered, you as a parent cannot apply for this subsidy which will be looked at in more detail in week three of this series.
Within the crèche industry, there has been a lot of discussions about changes to the system since the pandemic and this also comes through in our survey. Of those that send their child to crèche, 37% have said costs increased in the last two years. 37% have also said that their providers have reduced hours since the pandemic. Even though many workers are back to the office, spending more hours commuting, crèche opening hours are still limited for some.
This is proving to be a stress for some families. That’s because parents receive financial support from the state for a combined total of 38 weeks. This includes the allocation for maternity leave (26 weeks), paternity leave (2 weeks) and parents leave (5 weeks each). All other leave is unpaid. For example, a mother can take additional maternity leave for up to 16 more weeks, beginning immediately after the end of her 26 weeks’ basic maternity leave but this is unpaid.Some mothers need to return to work for financial reasons but many cannot find a crèche that will take a baby that young.
One of the major issues in the crèche system is lack of continuity of carers and this is reflected in our survey with 54% of respondents stating that their crèche is constantly looking for staff. This is symptomatic of the very poor pay conditions that people in the sector, many of whom have Level 8 degrees are faced with. In fact, crèche owners have told us anonymously that wages are so low that some are not opting to work as they cannot afford to lose their State benefits.
This is linked to another question in which we asked about staffing in the crèche. 82% of respondents say the crèche is fully staffed, 5% say their crèche is not fully staffed while 13% say it is only sometimes. While 82% is the majority, this is a number that many will argue has to be near 100% for quality and safe care of children.
Despite these statistics, it is important to state that in the comments section, many parents complimented the quality of care provided by both those working in crèches and childminders, highlighting that the issue exists with the system, rather than the childcare providers.
Overall, this is affecting the labour force of Ireland, with 64% of parents stating that lack of childcare services has impacted their career on their return to work.
While the results of this survey are very interesting, what is even more stark is the comments from parents. We could have filled pages of this paper with these comments but here is a snapshot.