Minister must clarify criteria for new Early Learning and Childcare funding arrangements
Reacting to new funding arrangements for the early learning and childcare sector announced by the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality & Integration today, Labour Spokesperson for Children, Senator Ivana Bacik has called for greater clarity around the continuation of funding for services that are forced to close during Level 5 restrictions.
Senator Bacik said:
“I welcome the announcement from Minister O’Gorman that services which are forced to close during Level 5 restrictions will receive 70% of the value of ECCE programme funding and 100% of funding provided under other Department schemes. However, in the Minister’s statement, it is not clear what criteria must be met for his Department to approve the closure for the purposes of receiving continued funding.
“Yesterday, in the Seanad, I raised the findings of a survey carried out by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers with the Minister. That survey of 706 Early Years and Childcare operators found that, of the facilities that had opened since January 4th, 14% had had to close either partially or fully, due to a positive Covid-19 test. This figure is staggeringly high. However, these issues have been well documented for months. In September of last year, it was revealed to the Labour Party by way of parliamentary question that a high incidence of Covid-19 in childcare settings was already forcing facilities to close; this problem is not going away.
“It is not just an outbreak at a facility that can force a closure, either. In the same survey, it was reported that 67% of respondents had indicated that staff felt unsafe attending work due to the high incidence of Covid-19 in the community. It is evident that staffing issues are already impacting facilities’ ability to stay open. Childcare workers with complex health needs, or other caring responsibilities may not be able to attend work during this period. This point is especially important to consider in the context of a workforce which is overwhelmingly composed of women, many of whom will be mothers who have had to take up the mantle at home since schools across the country closed.
“I welcome this announcement from the Minister but I am calling on him to clarify that the Department will maintain funding for those operators who have to close, either partially or fully, because of indirect reasons related to the pandemic. Parents, workers and childcare operators need certainty.”