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Fine Gael Policy Lab proposes major re-prioritisation of Early Childhood

Well-being in early childhood and career development for staff are key priorities in new Fine Gael report on the sector.

It is time for a major re-prioritisation of early childhood in our national ambitions, with a need for increased focus on well-being in early childhood, a Fine Gael group has said.

In a new, innovative, and inclusive model of creating policy, Fine Gael established a Policy Lab to allow a much wider range of people to shape its policies. The group chose the issue of Care of the Child as its first project.

Now following a survey of almost 2,500 people and policy kitchens with more than 150 participants and stakeholders from across the childcare sector, a report has been prepared which, after further Fine Gael consideration, will ultimately go to the Department of Children.

The findings in the report are stark. The executive summary states:

‘The resounding message from this Policy Lab is that the underdevelopment of Early Childhood policies in Ireland is hampering the progress and well-being of our society. It is stifling opportunity in childhood. It is putting parents under huge stress. It is leaving providers struggling to fill the yawning gaps. It is damaging the capacity to attract and retain well qualified staff who will commit long-term to this vital sector’.

It also says: ‘We must now plan for a step change in the environment within which parents, providers and staff work in supporting early childhood well-being.’

Fine Gael Seanad spokesperson on Children, Senator Mary Seery-Kearney said: “All children in Ireland should have the opportunity to participate in a universal early childhood education and care system developed around their needs.

“The policy lab is seeking the adoption and implementation of its recommendations. They are based across three key cornerstones– parents, providers and staff – with the wellbeing of the child the overall priority.”

The key recommendations are:

Parents:

The first priority is to start to fill the yawning gaps in service which is making life so difficult. Services must be easier to access, more affordable, and offer a chance to participate in evolving policy.

  • A Campus of Services embedded in the Local Community must be the goal.
  • The National Childcare Scheme including the Universal component should be systematically extended.
  • Parental Benefit should be increased and extended beyond the very early part of a child’s life.

Providers

Existing providers, be they for profit or not for profit, are struggling to meet the growing expectations of service. Outside of the 3 to 5 age group, they receive no direct support from the government, even though that is where the greatest gaps lie. The sector must be supported by a proper sectoral development strategy.

  • Access to existing state facilities, and a systematic drive to build for emerging needs must inform Developmental Planning at local level and state investment.
  • Support for innovation, for demonstration projects, and for the start-up phase of new services must be developed.
  • A structured programme of support for development must help the sector build its services, encourage innovation and flexibility, provide an attractive career structure, and enable better recruitment and retention of staff.

Staff

The frustration of staff with their pay and career prospects is causing high staff turnover and the loss of vital skills and experience from the sector.

  • A proper Career Structure must emerge from the work of the newly appointed Joint Labour Committee, and the government must play a role in supporting that outcome.
  • Recognition for experiential learning and a proper Professional Development Programme must be put in place.
  • A structured programme of Apprenticeships must allow people to enter the sector at any stage of their career.

Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Chairman, Deputy Richard Bruton, who oversaw the establishment of the party’s Policy Lab, said Fine Gael is proposing a major re-prioritisation of Early Childhood in our national ambitions.

“Its importance must be embedded in the goals of the Government and in the Strategy Statements of every Department. It must become a prominent pillar in the Development Planning system and be prioritised in the National Development Plan. It must be a significant part of the New Social Contract, which the Government seeks to forge.

“Well-being in early childhood must be systematically prioritised and assessed. Our survey found that the development of a child’s well-being, self-esteem, socialisation and capacities is the top priority for parents and practitioners alike and ranks ahead of any other consideration in selecting a service. However, three quarters of those surveyed report that choice is poor.”

Alec Flood owns and operates Little Rainbows which provides early years education and care in north Dublin, with services in Donaghmede, Sutton and Baldoyle.

Mr Flood said, “This is not just about children and parents.

“There is no certainty about income or the availability of staff in childcare facilities. This results in a very transient business. Operators and staff can often be unsure about employment prospects or future earnings which has a major impact on choices in life.

“Even to comply with regulations and for the peace of mind for the operator, staff and parents, there has to be certainty surrounding a childcare facility.”

Nicki Morley is a party member in Longford-Westmeath and was one of the volunteers who acted as facilitator for the Policy Kitchens; she is a mum of two young children and her professional background is in Health Promotion.

Nicki said, “Choosing a childcare provider is a massive decision for parents and unfortunately it has become a huge expense in recent years.

“For many parents, the cost of childcare is like a second mortgage, and gaps in provision can be incredibly stressful. Flexible, affordable, high-quality childcare is an investment in the lives of our children and families.

“It is an essential service and support, both in terms of the wellbeing of our children and to enable parents to remain in employment or to take up further education opportunities, which in turn, supports parents to be able to provide for their family’s current and future needs. Parents need choice in childcare providers, stability of service, and they also need financial support.”

raymcadam View All

Fine Gael Councillor - North Inner City
Leader, Fine Gael, Dublin City Council
Chair, Urban Form & Planning Strategic Policy Committee

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