Hundreds of community creches in disadvantaged areas nationwide “have reached breaking point”, according to a childcare expert.
Seven Cork creches that look after vulnerable babies and toddlers aged 0-3 have said they are on course to close in September because, under regulations, they can no longer rely on untrained community employment workers any longer.
The community creches already use qualified staff but say their tight budgets can’t stretch to hiring additional qualified childcare workers at €24,000 each.
Childcare consultant Susan Brocklesby said: “As the 2015 Breaking Point report on community creches in Cork and South County Dublin highlighted, these early years community settings are unsustainable at current levels of funding and are operating at financial risk.
“They have remained open by keeping expenditure low, relying on low-paid staff, volunteerism, CE, and under-resourced key positions. Payroll costs are too high relative to funding, with some over 100% of their overall income.”
The report showed 28% of the Cork and Dublin creches were spending 80%-120% of their income on staffing — this was before regulations were updated so that only trained staff can be included in the all-important child/childcare worker ratios.
Cork City Childcare Committee co-ordinator Kathryn O’Riordan said: “It is crazy that there isn’t targeted early intervention funding scheme for this group of vulnerable young children.
“The single affordable childcare scheme is a great development in general but it isn’t designed for these children as they have far greater needs.”
Over half of the children in the Breaking Point creches came from a house that did not have an adult in employment, a figure twice the national average.
Another 34% are lone parents, again twice the national average.
“Intervention in the first three years of a child’s life is the most valuable and by default and design, these creches play a real role in family support,” said Ms Brocklesby.
“Yet they are not being funded for this function. The Deis scheme operates in primary and secondary schools and it should be extended to community creches in disadvantaged areas.”
A small number of Deis primary schools nationwide have early years services attached.
These are being funded at €9.42 an hour per child because of the complex needs of the young children.
This is twice the funding that community creches will receive under the single affordable childcare scheme.
Cork Early Years Alliance is asking that this higher level of funding be extended to their services.
“Research has shown that children from disadvantaged areas that have full-time access to quality childcare have social and emotional advantages over kids that don’t,” it said.
In a letter to the Cork Early Years Alliance, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said Minister Katherine Zappone “has committed to make sufficient additional money available to each service after analysis of their individual financial situation to ensure that they can meet the cost of replacement staff until September 2017”.
“After this, these services should be in a position to fund these places through their own income; but this will be kept under review,” said the letter.
“No service will be forced to close.”