Childcare crisis: ‘In one week I rang 24 different crèches in our area and was all but laughed at’
When Dominique McMullan and her husband spent 10 months trying to secure a place in a crèche for their son, they began to realise that a new childcare crisis is unfolding.
It’s taken me seven months to get used to my full-time job as a mum on maternity leave. But somehow, we are finally at a point where I’m just about in control. Obviously this can’t last forever, as soon enough I am due back in work at IMAGE HQ.
Honestly, just typing those words prompt big feelings in me. Two of them? Fear and guilt. Guilt seems to be part and parcel of being a mum. But would I stay at home and mind him? No, not right now. We need the income and I am looking forward to using that part of my brain again. I will be a better mum, and an example for him, when I am getting stuck into something I am passionate about.
Fear is the bigger of the two feelings. How am I going to juggle everything, still be there for him and get the job done? It already feels like a complex game of logistical Tetris. While I have that to look forward to, my biggest problem right now is the same as thousands of other mums around Ireland about to go back to work: Childcare.
We have just secured a place for our son in a crèche after an extremely stressful 10 months of trying to find one. In one week, I rang 24 different crèches in our area (D4/D6) and was all but laughed at. I was put on four waiting lists and the rest told me that either there was no space or that they were in the process of closing their baby room.
I started to talk to other mums about this problem and I quickly realised I was not alone. In fact, we are, and this cannot be understated, in the middle of a childcare crisis.
Instagram is far from a scientific tool of measurement, but a post I put up on the topic received over 50 private replies in under five hours; all of them echoing the same sentiment: “Please, help”. I spoke to so many women; worried, stressed women relying on waiting lists; women who had been let down by rooms closing; women who had to delay going back to work; women who simply couldn’t go back to work at all.
One woman even left the country; instead of paying nearly €1,500 a month for sub-standard childcare here — she could pay €670 in Spain for a bilingual specialist Montessori school. One woman actually told her crèche about her pregnancy before she told her friends. She got her foetus a future place at 12 weeks. And this story was not at all unusual.
Crunching the numbers
But let’s stop for a minute to think about the numbers, because it doesn’t seem the Government have. Maternity pay ends after six months and this is when families need childcare. But providing childcare for under-ones does not make financial sense for a business owner. Under-ones are highly regulated.
For example, a baby room must have one member of staff to every three babies, while the ratio is 5:1 for over ones. Regulations are obviously essential, however, when they come thick and fast, they need to be balanced. Instead of balance we have an under-funded industry.
The last budget saw increased State subsidies for childcare and long-awaited improved parental leave entitlements, but this is all a case of too little, too late. In fact, since the budget, baby rooms are closing at a faster rate. And it gets worse. Childcare staff are extremely difficult to find, probably because they receive minimum wage and work very hard.
According to a survey published by Siptu this year, 94 per cent of childcare workers say they cannot make ends meet. Despite this, Irish people pay some of the highest childcare costs in Europe.
So where is the money going? Mostly on prohibitively high insurance. Irish women are being pushed out of the workforce for simply pushing out a baby and no one is talking about this because new mums are already firefighting as it is. They don’t have time to complain, or indeed campaign when they are knee-deep in nappies and have to finish 68 emails. Having a baby is hard work.
New mums are vulnerable. And going back to work is the cherry on top of a pretty challenging cake. Add to that unstable, over-priced childcare and we are placing new mums at breaking point.
Is that really how we want to be treating some of the hardest working members of society? The ones who are rearing the next generation? There are so many countries around the world where childcare is affordable and accessible. In Ireland, it’s the equivalent of a second mortgage. And it’s not even tax-deductible. If women are truly valued in the workplace, and equality is something that really matters to the Irish Government, then I ask the Minister and Leo Varadkar: what is going to be done?
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