Early Childhood Care & Education ; A Sector in Crisis?
As family’s and children’s diverse needs evolve, so too does the additional demand for childcare spaces in local Childcare facilities in County Kerry & Nationally. The demand is so great and the shortage so widespread that now we have waiting lists to 2026. Shockingly, we receive requests from parents for places for their little ones , from the moment of conception. This is a sad reflection on the shortage of Early Years spaces, both locally and nationally, for children from birth to six years old. Additionally, the demand for School Age Childcare has rocketed, with many of our Pre-school children now returning as After-school children , needing term time and non-term time care. High Quality Early Year’s and School Age Childcare Provision costs; Increased Government Investment is needed to support growth and increased capacity in the sector ; Ireland currently invests 0.2% of GDP in Childcare. The average state expenditure on Childcare for other European countries is 0.8% of GDP. This is not enough.
Our mantra is ‘Nothing Without Joy’ , and we have ensured that we are responsive to the needs of the local community and have increased spaces to meet the demands, where possible . We as a sector, still need to do more to support the evolving needs of children and families in our local community. We have noticed a change in the demographic of families and children availing of our childcare spaces and joining our waiting lists. We include many children from the Ukraine in our early years community, this is a wonderful addition to our play pods. It is so rewarding to watch children grow and flourish in our Reggio Emilia inspired settings and children work and play together.
In response to the local childcare crisis, we are fortunate that we were in a position to open our Casa Dei Bambini , launched by the Minister for Education , Norma Foley in June , 2023; Our fully Outdoor Pre-school facility at Mounthawk Montessori offers morning and afternoon spaces ;our centre at Maureen’s was able to increase our spaces by 20% , and we opened Oak Park Montessori School in January , 2023 , catering for 22 additional children, in response to local need .
Parent’s and carers need childcare spaces, to enable them to go to work; return to education and also to avail of part-time work and training opportunities. Childcare is an essential component to enable families to break cycles of poverty and increase generational opportunities for growth , sustainability and educational and career attainment. It is a fundamental and basic need and entitlement for families rather than a luxury.
We, at Mounthawk Montessori have this week registered our Nature Nook , with Tusla to offer an additional 62 After-school spaces to support families requiring part-time care and are now offering these spaces to families in the local community , with new children commencing with us this week. Parents can avail of NCS subsidies to offset some of their fees.
Challenges and Barriers to expansion and the creation of new spaces include:
- Lack of direct Grant Aid and Government funding to providers; expenses for operation of settings has risen dramatically ; insurances costs have increased ; heat and lighting costs have increased ; as well as day to day consumables. Many settings have signed up for the Core Funding agreement with the Department , and in return there is a fee freeze for parents. Core funding needs to be index linked to ensure sustainability of service provision.
- Closures of early childhood education and care centres outnumbered those opening by four to one in the latest batch of figures from Tusla. The Child and Family Agency recorded 50 closures of preschools and 12 new registrations over April to July this year, among a total of more than 4,000 early learning and care (ELC) services across the country.
- ECCE Capitation has remained at 2018 levels , which doesn’t reflect increased service delivery costs, making it unsustainable for many ECCE only providers to operate.
- Conversely , and rightly , the ERO has meant that Early Years Educators have seen a modest increase in their pay, based on the ERO Pay scales. I would argue that Pay scales need to reflect the high quality calibre and qualifications of our Early Years Teachers, and needs to increase again ; this cannot be achieved without further Government investment and increased Core Funding for settings. If we do not pay our Early Years Teachers a professional salary to reflect the professionalism of their roles ; this can only exacerbate the shortage of childcare spaces going forward ; without the early years teachers, as a sector , we cannot increase the availability of Childcare Spaces.
- Affordability for parents; The NCS Universal Award entitles parents to a reduction of 1.40 per hour , up to 45 hours per week , this needs to be increased , to support all families to reduce their childcare costs.
- The Aim [the access and inclusion model] supports children to access to three hours of the early childhood care and education, the free two years of pre-school, children requiring AIM support require this to be extended further to ensure that they have equal access to Day care and Part-time spaces as well as ECCE ; additional support needs do not stop at the end of an ECCE session ,and this must be factored in .
We look forward with anticipation and hope, as well as trepidation to the upcoming Budget ; hoping that it will address the concerns and needs of Childcare providers and the sector as a whole .Without increased investment , Childcare providers have warned that hundreds of small and medium-sized settings face closure over the coming year ,due to State funding not covering inflation, together with spiralling costs and staff shortages. It is time to support us to support families and children with a family friendly budget, said Susan.
Susan Quirke-Crowley, Director, 086-8153757
Mounthawk Montessori School & Busy Bees Nursery; Maureen’s Childcare Centre & Oak Park Montessori School, Tralee.