Early Years Newsletter #4

Welcome to Issue 4 of the Children's Rights Alliance's Early Years Newsletter

The Children's Rights Alliance's is advocating that the Government develops and implements a rights-based Early Years Strategy for all children up to the age of six in Ireland. Children need this Strategy because services and supports to them and their families are disjointed, patchy and underfunded. We can do so much better for children.

Since 2012, there has been a commitment to develop an Early Years Strategy. This commitment was reiterated in Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, Ireland's national children's policy published in 2014. The Government committed to publish the Early Years Strategy as a detailed roadmap to enhance and coordinate early childhood services and supports, including early childhood education and care (ECEC), healthcare and family and parenting supports. Yet the Strategy is not published.

However, we welcome the renewed commitment by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Dr Katherine Zappone, following the launch of Report Card 2018 to publish Ireland's first-ever Early Years Strategy in 2018. The Alliance is heartened by her commitment. We also welcome that the National Development Plan 2018-2027, prepared by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, commits to deliver the Early Years Strategy in 2018 and provides multi-annual capital funding for childcare and child health services, demonstrating young children's visibility in a high-level Government investment strategy.

The Government must grasp this goodwill and momentum and deliver a 10-year whole-of-government Early Years Strategy, accompanied by a feasible implementation plan and multi-annual funding package.

Early childhood cannot be put on hold. Our youngest children cannot wait any longer for us to 'get it right from the start' for them.

Kind regards,

Tanya Ward
Chief Executive
Children's Rights Alliance


Report Card 2018 Launched: Is the Government Keeping its Promises to Children?

We successfully launched Report Card 2018 on 13 February 2018 in the Oak Room, Mansion House. Report Card is our annual flagship publication that aims to hold the Government to account on its own commitments to children in A Programme for a Partnership Government.

The Government received an overall C- grade for progress on its commitments to children. This is an increase on last year's D+ grade. Report Card is graded by an independent panel of experts, chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness.

On Rights in Early Childhood the Government received an overall D+ grade, a decrease on last year's C+ grade. 'Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care' received a D grade as the Government has yet to procure and commence the promised Quality Audit, although progress was made on reforming the inspection regime.

'Childminding' received a D grade, down from last year's C grade, because the Government has yet to deliver on its pledge to reform and support this sector. Approximately 35,000 children spend time in unregulated childminding settings. 'Subsidised and School-Age Childcare' received a C grade, a decrease from last year's B grade, due to the delay in implementing the Affordable Childcare Scheme, which was not implemented in September 2017 as promised, although we welcome that the Government delivered the universal subsidy for children under three years as pledged.

Catch up on key report card interviews with Tanya Ward on RTE Radio 1: Today with Sean O'Rourke. Read: 'Family homelessness a 'national emergency, children's rights campaigners say.' by Carl O'Brien and Jack Power, Irish Times.


Children's Rights Alliance Seminar on Childcare Support Bill 2017

The Alliance held a productive seminar on the Childcare Support Bill 2017 and Affordable Childcare Scheme on 27 February 2018. The event responded to the need for information and clarity on the Bill and Scheme expressed by our members and colleagues across sectors. The seminar was very well-attended, despite the Beast from the East!

Bernie McNally, Assistant Secretary General, and Laura McGarrigle, Principal Officer, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, provided a comprehensive and accessible presentation on the Bill and Scheme. Liz Kerrins, Early Years Manager with the Alliance responded, emphasising that childcare affordability for parents can make or break children’s access to services – affordability is a children’s issue.

Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Early Childhood Ireland, welcomed the 52-week funding model but recommended that all children should be eligible for up to 40 hours per week targeted subsidy regardless of parental employment status. Karen Kiernan, Chief Executive, One Family, expressed concern about the extent to which the Scheme can deliver its child poverty and prevention and early intervention objectives, using One Family’s services and programmes as a case study. The seminar was chaired by the Alliance’s Chairperson Tom Costello.

Listen to coverage of the event with the Alliance’s CEO Tanya Ward, Frances Byrne and Karen Kiernan, on RTE Radio 1’s Drive Time here (from 2:17:00).


Children's Rights Alliance Early Years Submissions to Government


Alliance Submission on the Childcare Support Bill 2017

The Government published the Childcare Support Bill 2017 on 14 December 2017 to provide a legal basis for the Affordable Childcare Scheme. Minister Katherine Zappone introduced the bill to the Dáil on 31 January. The Bill provides the first entitlement to financial support to parents in Ireland for childcare services.

To inform them in advance of meeting with Minister Zappone on 27 February, the Oireachtas Select Committee on Children and Youth Affairs invited the Children's Rights Alliance to make a written submission on the Bill. Our submission welcomes that the Bill enables that only services registered with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to participate in the Scheme. Tusla's role in vindicating young children's rights to safety and protection and quality is important. We also welcomed that the Bill provides vulnerable children with a needs-based access route to enhanced subsidies, as opposed to the parental employment-based route, on child development or family support grounds. Read the submission here.

Alliance Participation on Policy Fora


Working Group on Childminding Reforms and Supports

Liz Kerrins, Early Years Manager, met with Minister Zappone and her senior officials in Leinster House in February as part of a delegation representing the Working Group on Childminding Reforms and Supports. The Working Group presented its report of proposals to reform the sector. The meeting was positive and open.

The Working Group's report on proposals to reform and support the sector was launched in the Law Society on March 26th, with the Minister in attendance. You can read it here.

The Minister and her Department have committed to putting in place an action plan for implementation of the report by the end of the year with short, medium and long-term goals. The Alliance looks forward to to seeing Ireland's first-ever plan to support children in childminding settings.

Early Years Forum

The Alliance is delighted to join Minister Zappone's Early Years Forum, established as a structure for the early years sector to meet with key officials to discuss policy and operations. Alliance member the National Parents Council also joined the Forum. Alliance Chief Executive Tanya Ward attended the Forum in Farmleigh on 7 March. She was invited by the Minister to address the Forum.

Monitoring Group on Implementation of National Strategy for Women and Girls

Tanya Ward has been appointed to the Monitoring Group on the Implementation of the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, representing the Community and Voluntary Pillar. The first meeting was held in February.

The Strategy, published by the Department of Justice and Equality, includes commitments affecting young children, including family/parental leave, access to quality affordable childcare and implementing the National Maternity Strategy and the National Healthy Childhood Programme.

Early Years Policy Round-Up

Department of Education and Skills - A Review of Early Years Education-Focused Inspections: April 2016 - June 2017

In January, the Department of Education and Skills published its review the first year of the inspections. You can read it here. Only services participating in the ECCE Scheme undergo these inspections. The report states that 'much work is required to develop the capacity of the sector to deliver high quality early education experiences for children'. Challenges to quality improvement activity identified in the report include: insufficient practitioner training in the implementation of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, and Síolta, the National Quality Framework, practitioners' diverse qualifications, high practitioner turnover and part-time employment contracts.

Tusla Early Years Inspectorate Report 2016

Tusla Early Years Inspectorate published its second annual inspections report on 14 December 2017. You can read it here. The report revealed that rates of non-compliance moved from 28 per cent in 2015 to 22 per cent in 2016. However, the Alliance publically expressed concern about the extent of safety risks to children identified in the inspections. You can read the Alliance's press release on the report here.

Tusla promotes the quality, safety and appropriate care of children by robust inspection of ECEC settings. Since 2016 all ECEC services must be registered with Tusla prior to opening.

Early Years Research Round-Up

Early Childhood Ireland Barometer

Alliance member Early Childhood Ireland commissioned Red C to find out the views of Irish people about childcare. Just over 1,000 adults aged 18+ were interviewed over the telephone in January 2018.

The poll indicated strong support for paid parental leave, with almost seven in 10 adults agreeing that parents should be financially supported to stay at home for the first 12 months of a child's life and for universal ECEC provision, with 65 per cent believing that childcare should be available free to all children, like primary school. Read the Barometer here.

International Review of Leave Policies and Research 2017

The International Network on Leave Policies and Research publish an annual review of family leave policies and research in 42 countries, including Ireland. The 2017 Review is available here, edited by Sonja Blum, Alison Koslowski and Peter Moss. An interesting nugget of information for Irish policymakers is that the majority of countries provide payment for statutory Parental Leave; only Greece, Ireland, Israel, Malta, Spain and the UK make no payment.

The Irish Government has committed to introducing paid parental leave. The Social Democrats brought a Parental Leave Bill through the Dáil in February to extend unpaid parental leave for parents, drawing welcome attention to the as yet unfulfilled Government commitment.

The Alliance's Saoirse Brady was invited onto Morning Ireland to talk about the need for the Government to introduce paid parental leave. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection reiterated the Government's commitment to introducing paid parental leave on the same programme.

A Review of the Research on Childminding: Understanding Children's Experiences in Home-based Childcare Settings

Childminding is the most prevalent type of early childhood care and education service in Ireland. The Early Childhood Education Journal, March 2017 includes an interesting open access review of published international work from 1990 to 2013.

The paper concludes that there is limited information on the characteristics of the home-based childcare environment and on what constitutes quality. There is little evidence on the day-to-day interactions that occur in home-based settings focusing on children's experiences and from the perspective of children. We need more research in this area.


Free Online Childminder Training Programme

Early Childhood Ireland is seeking participants to pilot and evaluate an open online course developed for Childminders. The course aims to create a flexible pathway to learning for Childminders, having a positive impact on the quality of care provided to young children (0-6) in the home. The pilot training programme will begin on the 9th of April for four weeks.

Register at: https://www.openlearning.com/accounts/login/ or for more information contact Kelly Whitham: kwhitham@earlychildhoodireland.ie


'Access to Justice' Initiative

The Children's Rights Alliance has launched a new legal information line for children, young people and their families or people who are working with them. The launch marks the start of the first phase of the 'Access to Justice' initiative.

Basic legal information is available on 01 9020494 on Tuesdays from 10am-2pm and Wednesdays from 3pm-7pm. Queries can also be emailed to query@childrensrights.ie. More information is available from Julie Ahern, Access to Justice Manager, julie@childrensrights.ie.

Oireachtas Updates

We publish a weekly synopsis of parliamentary debate on children and young people's issues including early years. It is sent weekly to members, friends and Oireachtas members, and is made available on our website. You can sign-up to the Children's Rights Alliance's mailing list to get the Oireachtas Monitor and other updates.

Early Years at childrensrights.ie

You can peruse previous issues of the Children's Rights Alliance's Early Years Newsletter here.

You can keep up to date with the Alliance's work and progress on supporting children's early years here.

Contact Liz Kerrins, Early Years Manager if you have any early years queries.

For more information on the Children's Rights Alliance work sign up to our mailing list! Or to become a member email: members@childrensrights.ie. For more information or phone 01 662 9400.