The availability and suitability of childcare places and hours must be a priority for Government ahead of the proposed return to the workplace in autumn, according to Fine Gael Senator and Spokesperson for Work/Life Balance and Employment Affairs, Emer Currie.
Senator Currie said, “It is essential that the evolving needs of parents and guardians are supported through increased choice and flexibility in childcare in light of changing work patterns. The Government must anticipate and prepare for the changing needs of childcare during the phased return to offices and beyond, as hopefully a new work culture emerges.
“From the onset of Covid-19, demand for childcare places lessened due to health restrictions and changes in parental working arrangements. But that pressure is likely to re-emerge with other considerations, such as the long-term need for flexibility.
“In the short-term, families also face the potential stressor of reduced childcare hours because of Covid restrictions. The system of pods and closure of rooms which is effective in minimising outbreaks amongst children, does increase staff hours and costs to the creche. Many creches reduced their opening hours to cope. If parents and guardians begin to commute for work again, the availability of longer hours has to be addressed.
“The priority now must be to ensure that no child, parent or guardian is left behind by ensuring there are adequate childcare places and flexibility to meet demand during the phased reopening of offices and a new normal of office-based, remote and blended work patterns.
“Before the pandemic caused so much disruption to our lives, providers reported that the early childhood care and education sector was running at near capacity, with a shortage of places in some parts of Dublin City and County like Dublin West.
“The pandemic hasn’t changed the lack of supply and choice for parents in places like Blanchardstown, Ashtown and Castleknock. There is no doubt that cost is very challenging for parents and guardians when it comes to childcare and Government must address that to ease the burden on families.
“These challenges were reflected in a recent Fine Gael survey which found that two out of three respondents, the majority of whom were parents, believe that more financial support would best strengthen the capacity of the sector to deliver better ways of supporting children in early years. Almost one in two of respondents said a crèche (community based, or private) was their preferred setting for childcare.
“Engagement by the Minister for Children with the sector is key to ensuring that this capacity can be met. We need a full assessment to determine future demand and flexibility required for early learning and childcare for future years.
“Since 2015, investment in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector has increased from €260 in 2015 million to €638 million last year. The First 5 Strategy published in 2018 commits to at least doubling spending on in the ten years up to 2028, and this investment will be essential in improving availability and affordable childcare for parents and guardians.
“Work is also underway by the Department of Children in developing a new national model of parenting support and to commence an implementation plan for each action, as outlined in the First 5 Government strategy for babies and young children.
“In the last year, we have seen the vital that role Early Years care and education plays , providing a service that enables our economy to function and we must continue to support providers and their staff in operating their childcare facilities,” Senator Currie concluded.