ON THE MARCH A group of South Mayo-based childcare providers at last week’s march in Dublin, including Frank Keane (left) and Kate Keane (second, from right).
“THE incoming government needs to sit up and listen. This is an investment, not a cost. Most childcare providers are going to pull out of the industry because this is not affordable in the long term.”
That’s the view of Ballinrobe childcare providers Frank and Kate Keane, of Ballinrobe Bright Beginnings, who joined the tens of thousands of childcare providers, teachers, and parents who took to the streets of Dublin last week calling for greater government investment in the sector.
The Keanes feel they have no choice but to speak out on behalf of all the childcare providers in the area who feel they are being left behind on the education ladder and are coming under increasing financial and regulatory pressure.
They say the current childcare model in Ireland is broken, pointing to lack of funding, spiralling insurance costs and low wages.
“It’s a constant battle to keep the doors open,” Frank told The Mayo News last week. “The Government needs to spend more money on childcare.
“There is research out there that has proven that for every euro spent on a child’s early years education, you get €7 back into the economy. The Irish Government spends only 0.2 percent of their GDP on early-years education, compared to the likes of Sweden, who are admired because they spent 1.9 percent.”
The Keanes established their business in 2015. Since opening, they have seen their insurance costs more than double. Because of low industry wages (more than 60 percent earn less than €12.30 an hour), they struggle to attract staff, meaning they’re always bogged down with increased working hours.
“A lot of people are putting the industry down as child minders and not educators,” Frank said. “And the reality is that everyone in this practice is a qualified educator.
“There are people coming out of college after four years with degrees, and all they can be guaranteed is €12 an hour. People think we as business owners are cleaning up, but we’re not, we’re not getting money from the Government to pay staff.
“Everyone is struggling to attract staff for the long term, which is very important from the children’s perspective, because they benefit from a bond with their educator.”
The inspection system is another major issue facing all providers. Currently, inspections can be randomly carried out by four different bodies, and they are increasing childcare providers’ workload vastly. The industry wants the four inspection bodies to be replaced by one streamlined body.
“You’re working from 8am to 6pm every day, and then you could be hours doing admin work at home,” Kate added. “The amount of paperwork is growing all the time.
“There’s inspectors who can walk in off the street, meaning you’re forced to stop your work and look after these inspectors when you’re supposed to be looking after the children, and your [educator-to-child] ratios are then split.
“The industry needs one body of regulators because there’s a need to cut down on the paperwork and requirements. The children are more important than that.”
In a statement released by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs last week, it said that it is looking at ways to streamline the various regulatory bodies, but that the safety of children is a key priority and stronger regulation has been called for.
The statement also claimed that funding of the early-learning and school-age care sector has increased by 141 percent in the last five years.
However, the Keanes will tell you that the feeling on the ground is one of disarray and worry about an uncertain future.
“I’m sure all the newly elected TDs are aware of the importance of education,” Frank added. “And hopefully they’ll know that early-years education is not a burden to the economy, it’s a benefit.”