Group airs concerns for future of childcare for hundreds of Cork kids

The Cork Early Years Alliance, which is made up of 13 services in Cork City, have aired their concerns about changes in childcare regulations, reveals Irene Halpin Long
Group airs concerns for future of childcare for hundreds of Cork kids
EXTRA SUPPORT: Some children must receive more support from the government, to ensure they can access a future of equality, say the Cork Early Years Alliance. Picture: Stock shot posed by models.

IF one assumes that we are all born equal, then each of us starts from the same position in life.

However, each of us is born into varying social and economic circumstances. What about the concept of equity, whose goal is to create conditions that allow everyone to reach their full potential, to ensure the just and fair inclusion of all citizens by giving more to those who need it?

The Cork Early Years Alliance (CEYA) is made up of 13 services from the city area who work with disadvantaged children. A sub-group of this Alliance foresaw that a change in regulation regarding the ratio of qualified staff to number of children in the zero to three-year-old childcare setting would cause financial and sustainability issues for community-based services in disadvantaged areas across the city.

Such services could no longer make up their ratios with community employment (CE) workers. The ratios had to be made up of qualified staff which bear a higher financial cost.

Whilst the Alliance welcomes the change in regulation as a move towards better quality childcare, members are of the opinion that this should not be paid for by the most vulnerable in our society.

Niamh Sheridan from Togher Family Centre said: “When the Department for Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) changed the regulation, we couldn’t use CE students to make up our ratios. The ratios had to be made up of qualified staff. From January, 2017, early years services would not have been compliant unless they hired additional staff members. Most services could not afford that.

“CEYA member organisations have a higher percentage of children who require additional support and we already provide a higher level of support than private settings.

“Because of the qualification issue, we still have to pay an extra staff member that we did not have to pay for before the regulatory change.”

Niamh added: “The Cork Early Years Alliance have worked very hard to champion this issue for the 325 children in Cork who will be affected if services close. We are trying to highlight how a small change in government legislation will affect the futures of hundreds of children in Cork.”

The Department for Children and Youth Affairs acknowledged the funding issues that community-based centres would face due to the changes in regulation and agreed that transitional funding would be allocated to services in order to make up for the CE staff that would not count in the ratios.

All three centres received €2,000 each but have yet to receive the remaining funds promised.

June Hammill from Before 5 Creche in Churchfield said: “I asked, ‘when is the money going to come’? We were told, ‘probably the end of January’. We needed to employ a person to open in January. We were allotted €15,700 as part of that, €2,000 was administration and advertising costs. We employed a worker in January. We were already highlighted as unsustainable.”

That worker was contracted until July 29.

The creche has received no money, bar €2,000.

Members of the Alliance work with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the city.

“We support the family to become better at being a family,” says Bernie Buckley from An Cliabhàn, Ballyphehane.

Niamh, from Togher Family Centre, explains: “Predominantly, the Cork Early Years Alliance members work with children and families who are experiencing disadvantage. Often, parents are working hard but are on a very low wage. Many parents have no wage”.

“In an area where there is a higher level of need, then services like this are needed more.”

June adds: “We pride ourselves on being a prevention and intervention service.”

The More Affordable Childcare Scheme is to be rolled out in September, 2017, by the DCYA. Every child aged six months to three years is eligible to receive a universal subsidy and start a free early years programme.

Members of the Alliance maintain that this universal approach will make their services unsustainable and affect the most disadvantaged children in the city.

“The DCYA have stated that the new ‘More Affordable Childcare Scheme’ will alleviate the funding crisis for community services. In a recent analysis of this scheme by the CEYA, it has identified that this scheme will, in fact, exacerbate, the funding difficulties and increase the likelihood of service closure”, says Niamh.

According to June, from Before 5 Creche in Churchfield: “The allowance under the Affordable Childcare Scheme is €4.40 per hour, per child. We’ve requested that for community-based services, that needs to be doubled to €9.20.”

Bernie added: “The Affordable Childcare Scheme does not take into consideration the family support element of our work.”

June believes that community- based services require funding that is similar to DEIS band funding (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools). DEIS sets out the Department of Education and Skills vision for education in communities at risk of disadvantage and social exclusion.

“The contradiction is, we have children in our creche and our preschool whose siblings are in the DEIS band 1 school next door. The DEIS band 1 school gets extra resources because of where it is based as the area traditionally has had difficulties. We are thirty yards down the road and we get no extra support.

“Community-based centres like ours do not need universal funding. We need project specific or children specific funding.”

The early years child care sessional facilities for the next year start in September 2017.

Each centre has had to make changes to provide the service.

Bernie explained: “We have reduced our hours for September, 2017, so we can still be there to support our parents because we believe, if we withdraw the 0 to 3 facility, there’s no one going to replace it. Where would our children go that are referred here? Where would the families go that need that start in communities?”

According to June: “We have increased our fees for this coming September but we can’t charge exorbitant prices here because people genuinely cannot afford it.”

“Our creche numbers are being reduced by a third.

“A bigger aspect of our work is family support. We can no longer do those extra bits of family support.”

Is the Department for Children and Youth Affairs cognisant of the fact that some children need more resources and support and that community-based services are struggling financially to sustain themselves in the long term?

Niamh said: “The CEYA member services work with disadvantaged families and children. These children are entitled to access the same funding stream as children who do not experience disadvantage. The government is pursuing a universal policy in which each child is seen as equal and should receive an equal share, however, we know that to ensure that all children can access a future of equality, some children must receive more support from the government. This is certainly the case for families who experience wage inequality or must subsist on social welfare entitlement.

“The issues made by the CEYA members are valid and the DCYA have not adequately addressed these issues in their new scheme. Other organisations are forming in different parts of the country to voice these concerns.”

June says: “It’s nationwide. It’s started in Sligo, Mayo, Galway. It’s happening in Kilkenny and Wexford. If it is nationwide, there is a problem”.

THE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs said they are aware of the impact that the regulation change may have on community childcare providers.

Two phases of funding, totalling €1million, was made available in the 2017 budget to community childcare providers to ensure regulatory changes did not impact services; phase one related to HR and recruitment support, phase two will follow a detailed financial analysis of services.

They are of the understanding that all the affected services in Cork have signed and returned contracts in respect of the first phase of this funding and have now been paid.

City/County Childcare Committees (CCCs) are working with 67 services across the country to make submissions for once-off funding under the second phase.

In April, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone announced the introduction of the Affordable Childcare Scheme would not commence this September as further work is required on the development of a robust IT system and legislation to underpin the scheme.

Changes have been made to the existing CCSP* and TEC** schemes aimed at making childcare more affordable for parents. These changes include both universal and targeted elements.

The universal element of the CCSP scheme will deliver a non-means tested subsidy of up to €1,040 per year towards the cost of childcare for children attending full time registered childcare. The targeted element of the CCSP and TEC schemes has been adjusted to deliver significantly greater subsidies than previous years. By increasing the subsidy available, the level of co-payment required of parents reduces significantly. This improves access to services for families on lower incomes, whilst also decreasing the need for services to seek this funding directly from parents. It is hoped that because a greater proportion of childcare costs for these children will be directly funded by the DCYA, this will improve the sustainability of these services.

€3m has been made available to services wishing to expand the services they provide, within the 2017 Early Years Capital Programme.

From June 29, 2017, €14.5million in additional funding was made available to early providers, in the form of a ‘non-contact payment.’ This is intended to make a contribution towards the costs involved in providing quality childcare, incurred through non-contact work and administration activities.

The Department say they remain committed to addressing sustainability and quality issues, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

*CCSP: Community Childcare Subvention programme: Under CCSP, disadvantaged parents can avail of childcare at reduced rates

**TEC: Training and Employment Childcare programmes.

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