I had a strong sense of déjà vu attending the briefing session for the Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group: Future Investment in Childcare and School Age Care. SVP has been here before….. We contributed to the National Economic Social Forum landmark blueprint for early years services launched ten years ago which was duly avoided by most self-respecting politicians. They avoided it because it was ground breaking, expensive and the issue of childcare was poorly understood by those it was written for.
So here we go again…..this time round the report was launched by the Minister for Children who clearly believes in the need to invest in the critical area of early years and after school care, so that’s a good start. The report has many positives; it was completed quickly, it consulted widely with stakeholders in the sector and the general public, and its recommendations cover the critical issues of affordability, access and quality. There is much to welcome in the report: extending paid parental leave, improving coverage of the free Pre-School scheme, and simplifying the various early years and school age programmes into a single subsidy scheme. Yet there is no clarity as to how these critical reforms will be funded and implemented.
We know there is an uphill path to get traction for this report. Without strong political commitment to serious and ongoing funding, the proposed changes will not materialise and outcomes for children and parents will not improve. What is needed is a clear roadmap which prioritises what needs to happen, in what sequence, and how it is going to be paid for. What is even more worrying is the fact that there is no certainty regarding what funding is, or is not, available to begin the reforms signalled in the report.
The Minister issued a call-to-arms asking the sector to lobby for investment to implement the report. While this approach appealed to the activists amongst us, I was left with a deep sense of foreboding that we could end up slugging it out in an unseemly pre-budget brawl competing for a slice of the budgetary pie.
How demeaning that the future well-being of generations of Irish children could end up being decided in the highly politicised pre budget ,and pre-election, negotiations space where the rough and tumble of horse trading and bargaining has yet to give way to evidence based non-political decision making. The stakes are too high. We need cross Government and all party support to get this report implemented; it’s in all our interests.