The first five years have a fundamental impact on the type of person we become. A happy and healthy start in life – one that provides children with positive nurturing influences – is vitally important. Our children deserve the best start and opportunities in life, to fulfil their potential.
Fine Gael in government established the first standalone Department of Children and Youth Affairs and set up Tusla, the Child and Family Agency to support children and families across the country.
In recognition of the importance of early years, in 2019 we launched the ‘First Five’, the first whole-of-government strategy for babies, children and their families.
The most important thing a parent can share with their children is their time. Fine Gael is prioritising initiatives to ensure that parents can have more time with their children.
We introduced paternity leave, we introduced and expanded Parent’s Benefit – paid leave in the crucial first year after birth or adoption – and we extended parental leave.
We have increased investment in childcare, but we know people are still paying too much. We are working to reduce childcare costs further, increase quality and capacity and support the childcare sector, including childcare staff.
Fine Gael introduced the National Childcare Scheme and, starting with Budget 2022, we are increasing the thresholds and the subsidy rates over the next 5 years. This will allow many more parents benefit and will reduce the costs they pay for their childcare. This scheme is fair – it ensures those who need most, get most.
Fine Gael Policy Lab on Care of the Child:
The Policy Lab is a work in progress. It is an attempt to make policy that reflects accurately the concerns and preferred solutions of a much wider group of citizens than is the usual practice in Ireland. For its first policy area, the Board of the Policy Lab selected Care of the Child in Ireland as they felt that this was an area of particular societal concern.
Core to the thinking of the Policy Lab is the involvement of as many people as possible in order to gather diverse and representative views. Fine Gael sought expressions of interest from people interested in the Policy Lab concept. There was a strong response to the initial call and an equally strong response to a request to people to participate in the discussions around Care of the Child.
It is time for a major re-prioritisation of early childhood in our national ambitions, with a need for increased focus on well-being in early childhood
In a new, innovative, and inclusive model of creating policy, Fine Gael established a Policy Lab to allow a much wider range of people to shape its policies. The group chose the issue of Care of the Child as its first project
Now following a survey of almost 2,500 people and policy kitchens with more than 150 participants and stakeholders from across the childcare sector, a report has been prepared which, after further Fine Gael consideration, will ultimately go to the Department of Children.
The findings in the report are stark. The executive summary states: ‘The resounding message from this Policy Lab is that the underdevelopment of Early Childhood policies in Ireland is hampering the progress and well-being of our society. It is stifling opportunity in childhood. It is putting parents under huge stress. It is leaving providers struggling to fill the yawning gaps. It is damaging the capacity to attract and retain well qualified staff who will commit long-term to this vital sector’. It also says: ‘We must now plan for a step change in the environment within which parents, providers and staff work in supporting early childhood well-being.’
All children in Ireland should have the opportunity to participate in a universal early childhood education and care system developed around their needs. The policy lab is seeking the adoption and implementation of its recommendations. They are based across three key cornerstones– parents, providers and staff – with the wellbeing of the child the overall priority.
The key recommendations are:
Parents: The first priority is to start to fill the yawning gaps in service which is making life so difficult. Services must be easier to access, more affordable, and offer a chance to participate in evolving policy.
- A Campus of Services embedded in the Local Community must be the goal.
- The National Childcare Scheme including the Universal component should be systematically extended.
- Parental Benefit should be increased and extended beyond the very early part of a child’s life.
- Existing providers, be they for profit or not for profit, are struggling to meet the growing expectations of service. Outside of the 3 to 5 age group, they receive no direct support from the government, even though that is where the greatest gaps lie. The sector must be supported by a proper sectoral development strategy.
- Access to existing state facilities and a systematic drive to build for emerging needs must inform Developmental Planning at local level and state investment.
- Support for innovation, for demonstration projects, and for the start-up phase of new services must be developed.
- A structured programme of support for development must help the sector build its services, encourage innovation and flexibility, provide an attractive career structure, and enable better recruitment and retention of staff.
- The frustration of staff with their pay and career prospects is causing high staff turnover and the loss of vital skills and experience from the sector.
- A proper Career Structure must emerge from the work of the newly appointed Joint Labour Committee, and the government must play a role in supporting that outcome.
- Recognition for experiential learning and a proper Professional Development Programme must be put in place.
- A structured programme of Apprenticeships must allow people to enter the sector at any stage of their career.
Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Chairman, Deputy Richard Bruton, who oversaw the establishment of the party’s Policy Lab, said Fine Gael is proposing a major re-prioritisation of Early Childhood in our national ambitions. Its importance must be embedded in the goals of the Government and in the Strategy Statements of every Department. It must become a prominent pillar in the Development Planning system and be prioritised in the National Development Plan. It must be a significant part of the New Social Contract, which the Government seeks to forge. Well-being in early childhood must be systematically prioritised and assessed. Our survey found that the development of a child’s well-being, self-esteem, socialisation and capacities is the top priority for parents and practitioners alike and ranks ahead of any other consideration in selecting a service. However, three-quarters of those surveyed report that choice is poor.”
See report attached: