FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin has warned that urgent action is needed to avert a childcare crisis in Cork following the introduction of new regulations.
His concerns were voiced at a presentation organised by the Cork Early Years Alliance in response to news that some 200 Cork children may be prevented from accessing early years care.
These include kids from the Togher, Ballyphehane, Mayfield and Churchfield areas.
Changes in Tusla regulations mean that seven creches will now require increased staffing levels coupled with stricter rules around professional qualifications.
At a meeting in the Imperial Hotel yesterday, fears were raised that many early years facilities could be facing a reduction of services and in some cases closure.
Mr Martin said: “This will have a devastating impact on the provision of childcare in Cork. The providers simply do not have the resources or income to replace Community Employment workers with paid full-time staff members."
"The net effect will be a reduction in the number of childcare places available in the city, and possibly the closure of some facilities.” He outlined the devastating effect such upheavals could have on parents."
“We cannot have a situation where parents who have children already in situ in crèches or nurseries are told they need to find alternative arrangements.
Accessible, and affordable, childcare is essential to allow new parents get back into the workforce.If the Minister is unwilling to provide additional funding, derogations must be offered to community child care providers to allow them transition into the new criteria.” Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath said he hopes the message will resonate with government.
“Today's meeting was a cry for help from people at the frontline providing vital services for very young children. It's vital we ensure the government has heard this message. There are other groups outside of the designated disadvantaged areas where we have community childcare subvention schools who also deal with low income families. It's important they are not left behind as we try to get the overall sector of childcare for very young children put on a sustainable basis.
“Seeing these services close when children are most in need of them would be an absolute disaster. We need to do whatever is necessary to prevent this problem from transpiring.” Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ólaoghaire said he remains committed to the issue.
“I first raised this issue in the Dáil last Summer and it is one that has been coming down the tracks for quite some time,” the TD said. “Changes to regulations are making it difficult for community childcare providers to facilitate a service for zero to three-year-olds. Ultimately it's going to mean taking on extra staff which non-profit organisations simply can't afford. Additionally they are located in disadvantaged communities so increase fees are not an option. It's well established in terms of battling disadvantage that these years in a child's life are crucial.” June Hamill, Coordinator of Before 5 Nursery and Family Centre in Churchfield stressed that their battle is only just beginning.
“This storm has been gathering momentum over the last number of years. Community based services have highlighted this difficulty to all statutory agencies, TDs and government agencies but sadly to no avail. Community based family support centres are the bedrock of prevention and early intervention services for children experiencing disadvantage.” Others in attendance at the meeting included Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Mick Barry.