Ireland’s childcare crisis: Varadkar wants to reopen creches soon but it may take much longer

The childcare sector has suffered a major financial blow. Will it be able to sustain itself without significant government aid?


When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation yesterday, he encouraged the public, saying that schools and creches reopening as soon as possible would be best.

“The emerging evidence is that among the safest things that we can do over the next couple of months,” Varadkar said, “is to reopen our schools, to re-open our childcare facilities to allow children to return to education and return to normal life.”

However, the recent cancellation of the government’s childcare scheme for healthcare workers has raised massive concern, asking if the childcare industry’s rapid reopening is even a possibility.

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Childcare scheme for frontline workers cancelled

Launched last week, the childcare scheme called on childcare providers to have volunteers babysit for frontline workers. 

However, the scheme fell through after only six providers signed up their services. 

This was due to a variety of reasons including concerns about health risks, allowances for breaks during shifts, lack of protection for staff and the availability of insurance cover.

It seems the biggest issue was the lack of communication between the State’s Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Irish Midwives and Nurses Organisation (INMO).

Speaking to RTÉ, the INMO said it was not consulted on the proposals for the now-cancelled scheme, and is seeking constructive engagement in the coming days.

“A key lesson from this process is that there should be constant engagement with unions and stakeholders in the design of these schemes,” said INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha.

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Starting over

The Irish government is back to the drawing board on coming up with a solution that benefits all parties involved, as the childcare sector continues to struggle financially.

When creches were initially closed in March, a Federation of Childhood Providers survey found that 53 percent of childcare providers said they wouldn’t survive closing until mid-April.

Now that economic reopening dates have been postponed even further, we can only assume this number has increased, and that a majority of creches will be unable to bounce back without significant aid from the government.

Costly changes

If the remaining childcare facilities reopen soon, as Varadkar advised, new policies and costly modifications will have to be installed to keep with health standards.

This will most likely mean lowered capacities to allow for a more equal staff to children ratio and effective social distancing measures.

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Spaced out play areas, plexiglass dividers, required face masks — these are all possible costs that creches will have to consider before reopening.

Irish Socksciety

Also, a lowered capacity could mean higher prices for parents, who are on reduced incomes already, so the affordability factor plays a key role as well.

A confidential Department of Children and Youth Affairs document leaked to The Irish Times validates these growing concerns about childcare availability and affordability.

It also raised the issue that Covid-19 related illness and social isolation may lead to a decrease in the number of qualified childcare professionals available when restrictions lift.

The document said staff numbers may be insufficient “given ongoing likelihood of sickness and self isolation, reduced adult-child ratios, low wages and poor working conditions”.

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Hopefully, the government will heed INMO’s advice and announce a new childcare scheme for frontline staff soon, one that comes after frequent communication with the parties involved and benefits providers as well as parents.

 

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