The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone in 2017 stated, “Our vision is for Ireland to be one of the best small countries in the world in which to grow up and raise a family”. Access to affordable and quality early years care and education is identified in the national policy framework for children and young people 2014-2020, Better Outcomes Brighter Future as central to achieving this vision. However, Ireland currently spends 0.14% of GNI* on pre-primary education compared to an OECD average which has increased from 0.5% to 0.8% of GDP. It is in this somewhat contractionary context that we highlight SVP’s policy recommendations for Budget 2019.
What a child experiences during the early years sets a critical foundation for the entire life course. Our three recommendations highlighted in our pre-budget submission, if implemented would have life-long positive outcomes for children and their families.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs need to ensure that, not only do they make significant progress in implementing the Affordable Childcare Scheme but the ongoing difficulties within the childcare sector are addressed. The Affordable Childcare Scheme must be informed by an independent review of the cost of providing quality childcare in private and community settings. Following that, state subsidies need to be sufficient to ensure children receive a quality service from their childcare setting.
The quality of childcare has been shown to be a key factor in child development outcomes. As an organisation working with marginalised and vulnerable families to empower them to reach their potential this is significant. The quality of services for young children lies partly in environmental characteristics (e.g. space, areas of interest) but above all quality lies in the interactions between children and staff. Effective early years educators nurture children’s learning and development in a number of ways by valuing children’s ideas and thoughts and extending their opportunities to learn.
Factors that affect the ability of staff to engage responsively and appropriately with young children include their professional training, the ratio of adults to children, the curriculum and the continuity of staff. At the moment in Ireland, half of all early years staff work part-time compared to a national rate of 21.5%, and a substantial proportion are only employed for 38 weeks per year. This contributes to a high staff turnover within the sector,28.2% compared to a national turnover rate of 13%.
Many children are looked after in the informal and largely unregulated childminding sector where there is no oversight or inspection of quality for children. Nearly 50,000 pre-school children are cared for by childminders every day, but approximately only 122 childminders out of an estimated 22,000 are registered with TUSLA. Therefore only those 122 childminders are subject to inspection and can sign up to the Affordable Childcare Scheme which allows for more affordable childcare to parents.
Childminders are an invaluable support to many families SVP support and they too need to feel supported in their work. The recommendations from the Childminding Working Group must be implemented which would ensure all involved in the childminding sector are spending time in a safe, secure and holistic environment.
The purpose of prevention and early intervention is to give the best start in life by providing services and supports to children and their families. Early intervention has also been found to be economically efficient. Research on early intervention programmes has demonstrated high rates of return such that the individual and societal benefits accrued from intervening early typically outweigh the costs.
Implementation of the High Scope curriculum in the US resulted in higher levels of education, employment and earnings for participating children, resulting in an estimated social rate of return of between 7-10% per annum.
Parents and organisations like SVP want to provide positive opportunities for children but they need the support from the Government. These opportunities cannot be realised for children without increased investment in quality, inclusive, affordable and accessible early years provision.