Opinion by Tanya Ward, Chief Executive published in the
Irish Independent, 2 October 2017
There is an elephant in the room when it comes to childcare. Placing your little one into a crèche or with a childminder requires a leap of faith. Too often, parents are in the dark about much of what happens from dropping their kids off in the morning to collecting them later.
What is the purpose of these services anyway? Who stands to benefit the most? As parents, we must make sure that it’s our children. Childminders aren’t just people to dump your child with while you’re at work. Crèches and montessoris aren’t warehouses for children.
Good childcare and education has amazing benefits for children. But bad childcare damages a child. Parents have spoken about children showing severe upset, stress and fear because of poor childcare.
Remembering the Primetime exposé ‘A Breach of Trust’ a few years back sends shivers down my spine. As a mother with two small children, I found it difficult to watch. Here, we saw undercover reporters reveal a parent’s worst nightmare.
A child’s youngest years are a fundamental window of opportunity. Good care and education in these years sets children on the right track for the future. Get it right and children will have better mental health and self-esteem. They will do better in exams and stay in school longer.
As a country we haven’t fully woken up to this truth yet.
Where do we even start? Firstly, we must invest. On Budget Day, our Government will decide how much money to put into the childcare kitty. A real measure of whether this government cares about small children will be the amount of money invested.
Right now, Ireland lies at the very bottom of the international scale investing a paltry 0.1% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in this area. The Government has begun to tackle childcare affordability by introducing a new subsidy. But the truth is that we need far more. We need to invest €125 million a year for the next five years to bring us in line with other First World countries. As parents, we should be demanding this level of investment by Government.
Second of all, we need to value this sector much more. It’s a sector in crisis. Services are operating on a shoestring. Early years educators are grossly underpaid and many are living in poverty. The trade union, Impact, launched its own budget calls this week and I heard a graduate with seven years formal education and a degree in childcare tell her story. She is not able to send her own child to the service she works in because she can’t afford the fees.
There is no question that there are thousands of qualified, dedicated early years’ practitioners doing a fantastic job. People working in this area need a range of skills in child development and early education. A good early years’ educator will spot special educational needs, behavioural or speech and language problems so the child can get help early on before a problem spirals. But without the guarantee of training, pay and conditions, there is no certainty that children will receive good quality childcare.
Good childcare contains all those things children need to blossom. Staff are valued and properly paid. Centres are regulated and inspected against standards. The physical environment is safe. We do not have all of these things at the moment in our system. Having these foundations is the only way to ensure a warm, caring environment where children are nurtured and do well.
Putting quality at the beginning means everyone will be a winner – provider, practitioner and parent. The State will get good value for money because their investment will pay dividends to society. Children will be the overall winners because they will flourish.