“The Children’s Rights Alliance urgently calls on the Irish Government to act on UNICEF’s damning Report Card No. 8 (out today), which has found Ireland to be bottom of the 25 OECD countries in relation to early childhood services. Having met only one of the study’s ten minimum standard benchmarks and having one of the lowest spends on pre-school education in developed countries, less than 0.2% of GDP compared to the EU average of 0.5%, the Irish Government must now act to ensure this trend is overturned.
The Government prefers quantity over quality — rather than investing in quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), estimated by the NESF to cost €136 million per annum, payments have been made directly to parents, through the Early Childcare Supplement, at a cost of €397 million in 2009. High quality ECCE delivers long-term dividends to children, families and society. It is about giving each and every child in Ireland the best possible start in life. Investing in ECCE is one of the most sensible things a government can do. And our Government knows this already — a NESF cost-benefit analysis in 2005 showed that for every €1 invested, a return of up to €7.10 could be expected. International research also demonstrates it is effective in reducing criminal activity, promoting social skills, and integrating disadvantaged children into mainstream society. Where educational attainment is traditionally low, and unemployment and poverty levels are high, investment in ECCE can be the key to changing the life chances of a generation.
Current regulation is solely focused on health and safety, but neglects quality. There is no specific regulation which outlines the qualifications, competencies or skills required to work in a childcare service and there is no national quality assessment or accreditation system for childcare services that would motivate providers to deliver high standards. And the existing quality standards — the Síolta Framework — are neither linked to funding, nor bedded into any national quality enhancement plan. Implementation of Síolta is currently voluntary, but if linked to funding, it would oblige providers to focus on the quality of early education services.
Delivery of the Government’s Towards 2016 Social Partnership Agreement commitment to target the early education needs of children from areas of acute economic and social disadvantage through the Delivering Equality of Education in Schools Programme (DEIS) is also essential. Unfortunately, the closure of the Centre for Early Childhood Development Education (CECDE), which was responsible for the roll-out of the ECCE element of DEIS, was announced in Budget 2009. And this was despite having a fully developed work plan for this Programme, costed at €700,000. Consequently, the very important roll-out of the ECCE element of DEIS is currently stalled.
The solutions are known and the outcomes for children and society are undeniable. Why in the world are we not doing them?”
Jillian van Turnhout
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Notes to Editor:
- For further information about the UNICEF Report Card No. 8, please call Julianne Savage, UNICEF Ireland, on 01-878 3000 or 087 669 4510.
- The Report Card series presents ‘league tables’ on aspects of child well-being in the world’s most advanced economies (countries that are members of the OECD). Report Card No. 8 complements research presented in Report Card 6 and Report Card 7 dedicated to monitoring different aspects of a child’s well-being and of child poverty in rich countries.
- A full copy and a summary of the report is available to download from www.unicef.ie
- Dr Nóirín Hayes, the Director of the Centre for Social and Educational Research [CSER], Dublin Institute of Technology, and Chairperson of the Children’s Rights Alliance, was part of the expert panel on Report Card 8.