Every morning across the country bleary eyed bundles of joy are woken gently. Some are of school going age and ready themselves for the day ahead gathering copies and books while gobbling down a breakfast.
For those too young for the educational treadmill a different day beckons, one far removed from uniforms, homework and school bells. These pre-school children are deposited at the homes of childminders across the nation.
Each day childminders, predominantly women, open up their homes and welcome two or maybe three children. The day is spent caring for each child, sometimes combined with the care of their own offspring. In the past it was an occupation carried out without any support or guidance. A feature which has now changed owing to the work of one particular woman.
Meet Mary Heavey. Wife, mother and Regional Network Officer of Childminding Ireland, a voluntary organisation which provides a structured approach for childminders. The Ballina woman’s path to her current role was circuitous, owing much to personal circumstances as to her endless reserve of enthusiasm and energy.
“Originally I started working for Leo Loftus, a solicitor’s firm in Ballina. Despite enjoying the work I decided I wanted a change of scene and left to go to Dublin and work for a semi-state company in sales.
“I’m definitely a people person so the work really suited me. At that stage I thought I was settled in Dublin and would not be returning to Ballina but I suppose fate intervened when I met my husband Barry, an art teacher who at the time was working in Ballina. So I moved back and have been here ever since,” said Mary.
The pull towards work with the buzz of colleagues and frenetic activity along with financial considerations was weighed against the desire to stay at home and watch her first born grow up. A dilemma thousands of parents face.
“When I had Jennifer I decided to stay at home with her while a few years later I had Alison followed by Leticia, the youngest of the family,” said Mary.
“At that time there was not really the same emphasis on women going back to work as there is now nor was there much information about structured childminding,” said Mary.
When she was bringing up her own children friends and family would often drop in and ask me to mind their children.
“Invariably I usually would but at the same time I thought ‘well if I am minding other people’s children I would like to become a little more knowledgeable about the whole thing’. I was anxious to know more about caring for children and you could say it was one of the reasons that sparked my interest in pursuing a course in childminding,” explained Mary.
So she did a Diploma Course in Family Day Care and while she never made a full time living from childminding she could see the potential of making a living from childminding.
“I figured that in light of the improving economic conditions that childcare would certainly become a big issue. It was something I felt passionately about and of course having children of my own made me all the more interested,” said Mary.
Childminding Ireland was established in 1986 as a voluntary association and provides a range of services for childminders. In 1999 Mary got a job with the agency, as a County Officer, with the brief later expanded to Regional Network Officer.
Her work involves Donegal in the North West along with all Western counties promoting the services of Childminding Ireland and providing a network of support to all members.
While it is not compulsory to join the organisation, participation is beneficial says Mary. Many childminders who choose to stay at home and care for children often speak of feeling isolated and alone, missing the atmosphere and solidarity of an adult work environment. Childminding Ireland aims to alleviates such problems through a support network.
“We recently held a very successful Childminding Conference in Westport and hope to hold next year’s event in Belmullet. The response we received was overwhelming. One of the great things about the organisation is the fact that childminders no longer feel alone and realise that there is help and guidance at hand. The support is there for anyone actively engaged in childminding or those who are thinking about it,” said Mary.
Long term Mary hopes that the work of Childminding Ireland will continue to grown and prosper. A woman who looks at the glass half full rather than half empty is content with the strides being made so far but is hugely ambitious for the future of the organisation.
“I would like to see more regional workers like myself to work alongside the childminding advisory officers. What we have managed to establish at the moment is progress, but of course we hope to keep moving on. Children are our present and our future and thankfully it is a very exciting time for both child and childminder,” concluded Mary.