Early Childhood Ireland research shows how Covid-19 increased pressure on ‘already struggling’ childcare sector

The Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland’s childcare sector particularly hard because of deep-rooted, long-term and structural flaws in the sector. That’s according to Early Childhood Ireland, the leading organisation in the early years sector, which today (10.09.20) published a research report, ‘Dealing with the Pandemic: The Case of Early Years and School Age Childcare Providers in Ireland’.

Early Childhood Ireland supports 3,800 childcare members nationwide, who – in turn – support over 100,000 children and their families.

The report published today is based on qualitative interviews with a sample of Early Childhood Ireland members during summer 2020, aimed at examining the impact of the closure of childcare settings, the effectiveness of Covid-19 supports provided for the sector, and providers’ plans for re-opening.

Key findings include the need for:

  • The Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme to be extended to ensure providers can retain the current Covid-required child-to-staff ratios.
  • Future government supports to take sufficient ac­count of the diversity of the childcare sector, including challenges that specific types of settings face in different parts of the country. For example, the Overhead Payment that was offered as part of the initial package of Covid-19 measures did not stretch as far in urban areas, where costs were higher, as in rural areas.
  • Fast testing turnaround times for children and staff with suspected Covid symptoms; and priority measures to address staffing challenges in the sector. Staffing remains a serious issue, and sourcing replacement and cover staff is likely to pose a huge challenge in the context of Covid, according to Early Childhood Ireland.

Commenting on the report, Frances Byrne, Director of Policy with Early Childhood Ireland, said: “Prior to Covid-19, Ireland’s childcare sector was already struggling because of deep-rooted, long-term and structural flaws. Chronic under-investment has resulted in a system where staff are poorly paid and, consequentially, staff retention levels are low; providers are under constant pressure; and parents feel they have limited choice.

“Our sector was already struggling, so Covid-19 really hit it a body blow. Indeed, the special measures introduced by government for the childcare sector in recent months amount to an admission that our sector cannot operate like other parts of the economy. Now, to address this fact, additional funding must be made available on a sustained basis.

“Covid-19 not only revealed the deep-seated flaws within childcare, but also the extent to which the entire nation is dependent on a properly-functioning childcare sector. We cannot reboot our economy and get parents properly back to work without having a fully-functioning childcare system. And we will never have a truly effective childcare system while public investment in the sector remains so low.

“Ireland is still bottom of the league in Europe in terms of childcare investment. Rather than taking a patchy, piecemeal approach to addressing this issue, the Government needs to seize the opportunity in Budget 2021 to reverse this trend. They need to commit to significantly increased levels of investment to ensure our fragile childcare system can recover, not only from the wounds inflicted by the Covid pandemic, but from years and years of neglect.”