Welcome to issue 1 of the Children's Rights Alliance's Early Years newsletter.
As you may know, our member organisation Start Strong wound down this summer. Since 2009, Start Strong's work has been incredibly successful in advancing high quality care and education as a right for all young children in Ireland. The introduction of two weeks' paid Paternity Leave in 2016 is a strong marker for Start Strong's level of impact. As part of continuing Start Strong's proud legacy, detailed in its final impact report, aspects of their work will be carried on here in the Children's Rights Alliance.
We have created a new Early Years Manager position as part of our Legal and Policy team, which is held by Toby Wolfe. Toby has been seconded to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), and Liz Kerrins has been appointed to the post. The position is funded by the Katharine Howard Foundation (KHF), with funding for a three-year period from The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Community Foundation for Ireland and KHF.
Irish policy on children's early years is at a crossroads and Budgets 2016 and 2017 were transformational for children. In Budget 2017, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone TD and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, within budgetary constraints, were successful in delivering a childcare subsidy for children experiencing and at risk of poverty. However, there is a still a long road to travel. We are nowhere close to meeting the OECD average spend of 0.8% of GDP, we don't have full parental leave in a child's first year of life, and we are still waiting for an Early Years Strategy.
These and many other advocacy objectives will be the focus of our early years work in the Children's Rights Alliance in the months ahead. Much of this will be carried out through our position as a central player on the National Advisory Council to roll-out Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People. Watch this space!
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Children's Rights Alliance
Appointment of Early Years Manager
Liz Kerrins has been recruited to this new role as part of
continuing the work of Start Strong within the Children's Rights Alliance. Liz brings twenty years' experience from previous social research, policy development and analysis roles. We know that Liz will bring the vision and ethos of Start Strong to the heart of our work. Read Liz's full biography here.
You can contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01 6629400
Early Years Advisory Group
The Children's Rights Alliance held the inaugural meeting of its Early Years Advisory Group (EYAG) on 19 October 2016. The EYAG provides a forum for consultation and advice to the Early Years Manager and Children's Rights Alliance team, and ultimately its Board of Directors, on early years policy and strategy. The EYAG combines Start Strong supporters and Children's Rights Alliance members.
For information about who sits on the EYAG, see here.
Budgets 2016 and 2017 have been transformational in:
- extending the universal free preschool year from one year to two school years
- developing and investing in the single affordable childcare subsidy (with both universal and targeted elements), and
- improving quality for children through allocating public subsidy to early years settings for non-contact time.
The Children's Rights Alliance welcomed the introduction in Budget 2017, see here.
That the single affordable childcare subsidy has been developed to make the most expensive childcare system in the OECD more affordable for parents is a milestone in the development of children's services.
Budget 2017's commitments met one of the Alliance's key asks: that, given the reams of research on the positive impact of quality early years provision on the outcomes for children experiencing poverty, if budgetary choices must be made, children at risk of poverty must get priority. Tanya Ward, Chief Executive's opinion piece in the Irish Independent to this effect was published on 23 September.
Read it here.
Another high-profile opinion article by Tanya Ward featured in thejournal.ie on 14 October, reminding us that government policy must ensure the best for our children in their early years whether at home or in an early years setting. If adults caring for and educating children are overstretched, under-resourced and stressed, children lose out. To date there has been over 15,000 views of this article.
Read it here.
On the same day, the Irish Independent printed a letter to the editor by Tanya asserting that parents must be given the necessary support to make the best choice for their child and their family, including paid parental leave.
Read it here.
Listen to Tanya react to Budget 2017 here.
Public Consultation on Single Affordable Childcare Scheme
The Children's Rights Alliances welcomes the publication by Minister Zappone and the team in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) of a policy paper on the new Single Affordable Childcare Scheme and launched an online consultation survey. See here.
The scheme, announced as part of Budget 2017, aims to make childcare more affordable for parents. It includes a universal element for children between 6 and 36 months, and a targeted element, based on net parental income, for children up to 15 years.
Minister Zappone invites everyone - parents, other family members, childcare providers, childminders and anyone interested in the issues - to share their views on the detail of the policy by Friday 25 November 2016.
The online survey can be accessed here.
The Children's Rights Alliance looks forward to engaging with the public consultation. No doubt, you will be hearing more from us on the Scheme.
Political Advocacy on Early Years Policy
Liz Kerrins, as part of a Community and Voluntary Pillar delegation that included Alliance members the National Youth Council Ireland and Disability Federation Ireland, met with Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Pascal Donohoe TD, and their senior officials, on 30 September to discuss the CV Pillar's asks for Budget 2017.
The Alliance stressed that the success of the budget on 'childcare' would depend heavily on the level of public funding allocated on budget day, and in subsequent years. She stressed that substantial multi-annual funding was necessary to provide affordability for parents - particularly those experiencing poverty - quality provision to children, and sustainability for early years services.
Ireland's first Child Summit, co-hosted by the Children's Rights Alliance and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, was held in Croke Park, Dublin on 8 September. This national symposium looked at recommendations to the Irish Government made by the UN Children's Committee following its examination of Ireland's children's rights record earlier this year. In a Summit workshop Vera McGrath, Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Sorcha Murray, Department of Health, described how the Irish Government has commenced implementation of the Committee's recommendation on supporting mainstream early years participation by children with disabilities. The programme is called Access and Inclusion Model (AIM). It offers both universal and specialised targeted supports to the child in the free preschool years.
Read Tanya's opinion piece on the Summit in the Irish Examiner here.
Arts in Early Years
A new ESRI publication Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing Up in Ireland Study by Emer Smyth, commissioned by the Arts Council, found gender and socio-economic differences in cultural participation in children's early years.
Early Childhood Ireland published research with some of its early years member organisations in September 2016, examining whether it is possible to operate a viable childcare service within the existing Irish funding model. A key finding is the lack of sustainability in community and private services, all too often on the back of low wages and poor conditions for many early years practitioners. Public subvention is insufficient and contains unintended negative consequences.Watch Tanya Ward endorse the findings of the report here.
Community Early Years Settings
Cork City and South Dublin Childcare Committees and Area-Based Partnerships published research in October 2016 on the role and viability of community early years settings in urban areas of disadvantage. The key message is that they have a unique role in family support and early intervention, but the current funding model is insufficient and does not properly support their family support work.
Read it here.
The ESRI and Trinity College Dublin published a landmark publication: Cherishing All the Children Equally? Ireland 100 years on from the Easter Rising. This book draws on 10 years of research findings from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study to assess if, 100 years on from the Easter Rising, children in Ireland have equal chances of a bright future.The book includes the chapter, 'Inequalities in Access to Early Care and Education in Ireland', by Aisling Murray, Frances McGinnity & Helen Russell. This chapter concludes that social class differences in access to centre-based care and education are evident in Ireland, partly linked to the high cost of childcare for parents: low-income families are more likely to use family care. Initial GUI data show some levelling of access to early care and education in centre-based care as a result of the Free Pre-school Year.
Paid Parental Leave
Professor Duncan McVicar, Queen's University Belfast, presented a paper on the impact of paid parental leave on the Australian labour market at an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) seminar in September. The paper illustrated that paid parental leave impacted positively on mothers continuing in the same job and under the same conditions one year after their child was born. An ESRI paper by Maxime Bercholz and John FitzGerald, Recent trends in female participation in the labour market, found that women's labour supply in Ireland is likely to increase over the next five years. However, the costs of non-parental early childhood care could impact on their ability to stay in work.