National Conversation needed on the future direction of Childcare Policy
Speaking in relation to the current looming crisis in the childcare sector, and the possibility of a 24-hour strike, Labour Party spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs, Seán Sherlock TD, has called for a national conversation on the future direction of childcare policy.
Deputy Sherlock said:
“We all know that experiences in the first few years of life really matter to how our children develop. That is why we entrust our children to well-qualified primary school teachers. But what about the crucial pre-school years?
“Ireland has a choice between two very different models of how to organise pre-school care. What we have now is a largely private sector childcare model like in the UK. Average childcare cost in Ireland (and the UK) are more than three times the EU average. Everything is operating on a for-profit basis, which means that childcare operators in turn are facing high rents and high insurance costs. Parents pay high costs for childcare but workers in the sector are on low wages.
“We couldn’t run primary schools on this approach, because it would be prohibitively expensive. That is why we have not-for-profit schools, which own their own buildings. It is also why we have a national wage agreement to recruit and retain well-qualified and motivated primary school teachers, to give our children the best start in life.
“Many European countries subsidise pre-school education, whether delivered by private, non-profit or public agencies. There is also a greater emphasis on developing children’s literacy, problem-solving skills and other learning, which are shown to give life-long benefits. This requires qualified educators, and it is a more expensive approach, but it benefits all of society, as more people can enter the workforce and the next generation are better equipped to take the economy forward. It is particularly beneficial for women who might not otherwise be able to use their qualifications to the full.
“There is no magic solution to the issue of pre-school care, but there is a real choice facing us, whether we want to continue with the existing childcare model, with the minor subsidies like the ECCE scheme, or whether we want to begin to build a more European pre-school education model. I’d like to see greater public awareness of this choice.
“Before the Christmas break, childcare providers across the country were left high and dry by the Government with a paltry financial package as the insurance industry squeezed the sector once more.
“For too long, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have supported a private sector approach to childcare that is just not working for parents or workers in the sector. Labour support a pre-school education model, but it can’t be implemented unless the public show their support for a change in national policy.”