Busy Bees News

Primetime to cover quality childcare agenda - Thursday 29th May

One year on from Primetime’s ‘Breach of Trust’

Teresa Heeney CEO of Early Childhood Ireland says real investment is what is required to progress the quality agenda in early childhood care and education

 

Post the RTE Primetime Investigates programme ‘Breach of Trust’, broadcast one year ago, there were calls, from every political party, for essential changes and investment to improve the quality and standards in the early childhood care and education sector in Ireland. However, the reality today is insufficient funding in the early childhood care and education sector, an ongoing delay in reforming inspections and at the same time bigger demands on the sector with no corresponding commitment to a fair level of resourcing. We can’t have top floor quality standards in childcare on a bargain basement budget. Quality costs.

Furthermore, we must look at the sector in terms of the workforce and the people charged with the education of our young children. They must be supported in terms of pay and conditions, training and career prospects. We can’t say that we believe in the importance of early childhood education for children without looking at the importance of supporting the early childhood educators.

What was revealed on Primetime last year was indefensible. But as we shine a light on the sector again it is so important to be fair to the childcare professionals up and down the country and to ask the question ‘Who is investigating the positive stories? Who is highlighting, acknowledging and awarding the wonderful stories of learning and making friends and building life skills through a quality preschool curriculum?’ Yes we must acknowledge the failures, but we must also acknowledge the successes. And we are disappointed that RTE did not engage with us in revisiting the issues, from a positive perspective. We want to contribute and bring other perspectives to the discussion to ensure that parents and the national audience have a balanced view of what is happening in the sector. We can’t have a proper national debate through soundbytes. Quality is important to all of us. However, this country’s track record of underinvestment in quality and training must be changed, and changed quickly.

Changes over the last year included:

New qualification requirements introduced - However, an opportunity has been lost in not extending the qualifications requirements into services working with children from birth-to 3 years old.

 

Support provided for educators through the Learner Fund - However, again this should have been extended for early childhood educators working with Under 3’s as well as provision of supports for people engaging in Level 7 and 8 courses.

 

Commitment to the development of a New Quality Support Service – This is about to be launched but must be spelled out in detail, including the investment fund to back it up. In addition, the first National Early Years Strategy is still not published, despite the Expert Advisory Group completing its work last year.

 

Establishment of Tusla – very positive move, along with the publication of the Better Outcomes Brighter Futures National Policy Framework.

 

Registration/Inspection - While full details regarding Registration are still not available publicly to the sector, including information regarding Registration fees, etc., we have had an introduction to the new Inspection process. This new process appears quite comprehensive but we are very concerned that this new system will cause huge delays in Inspections, given its extensive nature. We envisage that without a significant increase in the numbers of inspectors employed, delays of 2 or 3 years will occur in some areas between inspections.

 

Inspection reports online - In response to Primetime 2013, significant resources went into preparing and uploading old Inspection reports, which were not designed for this purpose and were not helpful to parents in making decisions for their children. This approach continues which is a waste of limited resources that should be targeted elsewhere in a more positive and practical way, with future plans in mind.

 

Recruitment of new inspectors - One year on, the government has begun the process of recruiting 8 new inspectors (all Public Health Nurses). There is still no commitment by government to recruit inspectors with early childhood education backgrounds for the job. Public Health Nurses are inspecting the quality of learning and education in early childhood settings. The question our members ask is ‘Would it be acceptable for early childhood educators to inspect in hospitals?’ While government is investing in graduates and in 19 Early Children Degree programmes across the country, salaries in the sector are insufficient to retain the graduates and career paths in the Inspectorate are not available.

 

Inspection Tools - The promised inspection tool has not been made available for consultation with the sector and this will have enormous impact on service provision. There is no clarity as to the criteria against which services will be inspected.

 

Garda Vetting - We are currently in a situation where An Garda Síochána (Department of Justice) and the Data Protection Commissioner are at odds in relation to vetting for students and, in some cases, multi site providers. Childcare services are caught in the middle and are currently non-compliant due to no fault of their own. This issue now lies with the Attorney General. Furthermore, we have yet to simplify and make the Garda vetting procedure faster and more efficient, despite all the calls and the real need to do so.

 

The National Standards - These have been promised for consultation with the sector and are still not available. If and when introduced they will cause services all over the country to be non-compliant because funding will be required to make the necessary changes to buildings, equipment and staff training. The standards will have cost implications for services and we fear that there will be no commitment to providing funding or support. For example, under the proposed standards, staff will be required to have information and training necessary to work with children with special needs and the physical environment must be suitable for children with disabilities. Both stipulations carry significant funding implications against a backdrop of services struggling to be sustainable. Services will also be required to implement care programmes or specific interventions as devised by other health professionals, again without any commitment to resources.

 

Capital funding (only to Community Services) - 70% of provision lies within in the private sector. These services are entrusted with the delivery of government programmes and are monitored closely by a range of statutory agencies that carry out inspections, e.g, Pobal, HSE Inspectorate, NERA. These services are a critical element of our national early childhood education infrastructure. Yet, they were deemed ineligible for a small pot of funding (€3.5m) earlier this year (April 2014). An additional fund was subsequently announced but the priorities for this fund have not yet been announced.

 

Children with Additional Needs: Despite loud calls, a strategy to support the thousands of children with additional needs in mainstream early childhood education services has not been developed. This can result in these vulnerable children being excluded from services or parents having to provide funding to cover the costs of employing additional staff.

 

Community Childcare - Community childcare facilities are in areas of disadvantage, supporting our most vulnerable families in the country. Community services are over reliant on labour market activation programmes to meet their adult/child ratios and to keep their doors open. Suitable staff cannot be recruited due to social welfare changes which is a real problem. Furthermore, the training fund available is insufficient to ensure that CE staff can access quality childcare training.

 

Over the past 2 weeks there have been stories in the public domain about the potential closure of services as they are unsustainable. Investment in the sector remains low and many of the hoped for supports from government have not materialised.

On the positive side, there are wonderful examples of best practice and great services around the country. On behalf of our 3,400 members employing 16,500 staff who support over 101,000 children and their families through preschool, afterschool, parent and toddler groups and full daycare provision nationwide, we are looking for a balanced and informed discussion on early childhood care and education.

We are encouraging members to tune in to the Primetime programme tonight and to respond with feedback via twitter, Facebook, email, to bring their perspectives to the programme. In parallel members must continue to keep parents fully informed about how their child is doing at the service, quality assurance at their service, the Garda vetting process, qualifications of staff, latest inspection reports and issues that must be or have been addressed.


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