Below is a letter I have written about action that can be taken regarding the protest on the 5th February
This morning I attended a meeting with Lucan Early Childhood Providers which was arranged to brief election candidates ahead of the scheduled protest on 5th February next.
It emerged that the State has been using the sector for the ECCE, and seems providing below cost funding.
In a nutshell Early Childcare Providers were invited to join the 'free' pre-school year scheme at a standard rate of €64.50 per week subsidy or €75 for those with level 7 or 8 qualifications . One provider explained in reality they had no choice, if they refused they would have no business. But they subsidized their income by taking children outside the scheme and offering 'optional extras' .
However, in September 2016 a second pre-school year was introduced and so they could no longer subsidize their income due to capacity.
The 2018 budget brought the rate up to €69 per week or €262.20 per month over the 38 weeks or €80.25 per week at the higher level.
From September 2019, the DCYA insisted that optional extras were not allowed.
In October 2019 the Federation of Early Childhood Providers was formed. On 5th February they will be protesting to demand that the next government
Double investment in ECEC over lifetime of next government
Reduce fees for parents by introducing a new funding model
Ensure the financial sustainability of services
Improve pay for Early Years Educators.
Our Manifesto (page 29) refers to expanding the ECCE scheme from 38 to 40 weeks at a projected cost of €17.2m but it does not clarify whether there will be a review of criteria for payment so that providers are paid for those two weeks if parents opt out of some or all of it because other children in the family are off school for holidays. The principle that providers should be paid for providing the service even if the child is sometimes absent needs to be clarified with the DCYA. When the child is absent, the cost of provision remains.
At present, we have a declared intended strategy to ensure the financial sustainability of services ( the €10 m relief fund from commercial rates, page 30) which is interrelated with improving pay for Early Years Educators.
I suggest that the funding of ECCE scheme should be reviewed urgently as the impact of the second 'free year' seems to have had an inadvertent and hugely negative impact on the financial sustainability of the sector. The DCYA should be asked to explain how the subsidy figure was reached and real costs should be agreed with representatives of The federation Of Early Childhood Providers. Greater transparency is needed.
Below, is a letter I received from Helen Dowling, Kidstart Pre-School. I think this is a good summary of what is happening in childcare. I got Helen's permission to send it forward to FF head office for urgent action. This effects thousands of families and we need to act on it now. Helen was keen that I should put it on my web-page because it is such an important issue.
19 th January, 2020
As you are probably aware a protest demonstration has been arranged for 5th February by employers and employees in the Childcare Sector. The fact that so many childcare providers have come together out of concern for the sector is huge and has never happened before. Apart from the national comradeship, a group of providers from Lucan met last Wednesday in Lucan library to discuss the issues and whether we were all prepared to close our business for the day in order that we could attend the protest. Because of the nature of our businesses, we are all very upset to be disrupting the parents who use our services but we have been pushed too far. The biggest issues are funding and respect.
I run a sessional service in Finnstown and have done so for 17 years. Thirty children attend my service each day and I employ two Childcare Professionals to assist in the service. I will put into perspective, from my viewpoint as a small provider, the issues that we face in Early Childhood. When my youngest daughter attended montessori in 2002 I paid a fee of €300 per month and thought nothing of it as that
was the going rate at the time. In 2010 we were ‘invited’ to join the ‘free’ pre-school year scheme. In reality we had no choice as if we refused the €64.50 per child, per week, subisdy, we would not have a business. However, we could still subsidise our incomes by taking children who were not yet eligible for the ‘free’ pre-school year. We could also offer ‘optional extras’ that parents were free to opt for.
In September 2016 a second pre-school year was introduced so we could no longer supplement our income from children who were not eligible for the scheme.
The 2018 budget gave us a 7% increase in the Standard Capitation rate - the first increase since the inception of the scheme in 2010. This brought the standard rate up to €69 per child, per week (averaging out at €262.20 per month over the 38 weeks. The higher capitation rate went from €75 to €80.25 per child for those of us who self-funded our education up to Level 7 and Level 8 degree level (at a personal cost of approx. €4000). Even with the higher capitation we are receiving a mere 1.5% increase on the fees of 2002.
With effect from September 2019 the DCYA insisted I was not allowed to charge a €27 per month ‘Optional Extras’ fee, despite parents writing to express their disappointment in not being able to decide for themselves. In my case one of my biggest options was a photo usb key, which was updated monthly with casual photos of children as they played, worked and formed new relationships with their peers. Parents really appreciated the effort that went into these usb keys after the doors closed at 3pm. The photos, as well as a lovely keepsake for children to look back on in years to come, was invaluable for working parents, parents of children who struggled with speech and language or for whom English was a second language. For me, this was the last straw in our private businesses being totally monopolised by the government.
The average hourly pay rate for childcare educators is now €12. Providers are paid for 38 weeks per year. Out of this we pay our staff for 4 weeks statutory holidays. Childcare Educators have to sign on for the summer months and find it impossible to get mortgages.
We are given €13 per hour for Access and Inclusion support staff to help the children who require additional support but we pay for their Public Holidays and statutory holidays. In those years since 2010 we have jumped through so many hoops and taken on so much paperwork with Aistear and Siolta, AIM, Dept of Education inspections etc.
In terms of respect, we are no longer viewed as Educators and recent developments have seen the “Education” part of our ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) taken away. Surely helping children transition into our services and separate from parents in September, helping them with self-regulation, promoting their self-help skills, developing fine and gross motor skills,encouraging sharing and turn taking, promoting language development, encouraging listening and communication in Circle Time, ensuring their well being, fostering an interest in letters and numbers etc etc. counts for more !!
Many service providers, including myself, have come to the idea that we can no longer satisfy the requirements of Tusla Inspectors who have something new on their tick list with every inspection. Recent Tusla inspections in many services resulted in non-compliances being issued for having a toilet brush in the toilet, not having a record of when the window was opened and closed to allow air exchange, children having their lunch boxes on the table when eating lunch or using tea towels in the service. For the past 17 years I’ve not been aware of or enforced these issues and I’ve never had an inspector comment on them (except for the toilet brush which got a mention last year and has now been
removed). Now they are all featuring as big issues. Non-compliances are not weighted on importance so not having a lid on the bin in the bathroom (for used paper towels) is as serious as having the water scalding hot – a tick in either of these non-compliant boxes
results in an over non-compliance in Health and Safety.
Another issue we have is having DCYA withdraw funding where a child is absent for 20 consecutive days or missing the same day on a number of consecutive weeks. In our case we had a little boy this year who was in hospital for the full month of October. He was one day short of the 20 days so we escaped on foot of submitting role call records for the month in question. However, he attends hospital each Monday for chemotherapy and, based on the DCYA ruling, we stand to be deducted for this payment on our next Pobal inspection and that child may be reverted, retrospective, to 4 days (with no chance of us filling his place for one day per week). There are also many families who return to their families country of origin during out of peak periods. Such trips are very expensive on families and parents have no option but to take their young children out for 4 weeks to make the trip worthwhile. We also have children who miss a lot of days through illness. For all these children we await our inspection and have to be prepared to take a big hit where children were absent. This is grossly unfair as primary schools are not penalised where children are sick or on holidays.
With regard to re-registration, I registered my service in 2002. In 2016 we were advised we would now have to re-register our services every 3 years. This didn’t cause a problem in 2016 as it required a few tick boxes. Naturally enough we all assumed re-registration in 2019 would be the same. Apart from the way Re-Registration was pounced on us (despite the notice Tusla claim to have given us). We were first requested to submit applications before 31st December, then it was brought forward to 12th December and then to 5th December. Realising the unrealistic expectations services were being put under, the
registration process was divided in two parts. Part B has to be submitted for June 2020. Part B pertains to Planning and Fire Certification. In my case, this is how Fire Certification and Planning Permission requirements will affect me.
Fire Certification: I have a Fire Cert for my service so I didn’t think it was going to be a big issue. However, I had to get an Architect or Engineer to give me a letter to verify my Fire Cert was in order, although I had made NO changes to my building or service since 2002. The architect’s fee to inspect the service was €738. His recommendation will cost me a further €1500 approx.
Planning Permission: I have submitted a pre-planning application and am awaiting recommendations on same as I had originally been given planning for 13 children in any one day. If I fail to get permission to have 28 children (2 sessions) or if the application and/or subsequent financial contributions prove too costly, I will, unfortunately, have no choice but to close my service. I already have my numbers for Sept
2020 and 2021 and my morning class for Sept 2022 is also full. In any case I will have to provide a letter verifying compliance with Planning Permission which my Architect has quoted me at €1,100. I know from speaking to others that I am not the only service in Lucan that may have to close because of Planning and Fire Regulation costs – I know of two who are definitely closing.
In October 2019 the Federation of Early Childhood Providers was formed to represent Early Years Providers throughout the country. It began as a WhatsApp group and has grown to upwards of 700 members. The Early Years Alliance is a coalition campaigning for sustainable, high quality, affordable Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services delivered by professionals paid a decent wage for the valuable work they do with young children. Members of the Alliance include: Association of Childhood Professionals, Federation of Childhood Providers, National Community Childcare Forum, SIPTU, Seas Suas and the National Childhood Network. In recognition of the chronic underinvestment
in the ECEC by successive Governments, the sector finds itself in the midst of an
ever-deepening crisis of affordability, low pay and sustainability. On 5 th February we will be protesting to demand that the next government make ECEC a priority and:
Double investment in ECEC over the lifetime of the next government.
Reduce fees for parents by introducing a new funding model.
Ensure the financial sustainability of services.
Improve pay for Early Years Educators.
These are just some of the issues we are experiencing in the Early Years sector. We would welcome any support you can offer on your election and would be happy to discuss these issues with you further if you so wish.