THE FACT OF THE MATTER
The childcare crisis continues, with 789 providers now having closed since 2017, according to the children’s agency Tulsa.
There are currently some 4,700 providers but industry leaders say many more will close unless the Government, despite promises in the last five years, “significantly rethinks” its input to subsidise the sector.
At the moment, €69 is given for each child for each week. However, those running creches say at least a total €100 is needed to offset the cost of living.
Elaine Dunne, who heads up the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, which represents some 1,500 services for 90,000 children, says many of her members say they are going to close because business is no longer viable. “I think hundreds will close,” she says.
Her organisation is calling for a minimum €76.
Aontu leader and Meath West TD Peadar Toibin says: “No matter who is the minister in charge, childcare in this country seems to be perpetually in crisis. For working people the cost is equivalent to a second mortgage, while providers are underfunded to the point of ruin.”
Says Claire, 37, a working mother of two: “The childcare crisis seems to be like a hidden crisis — unless you’re in it, I don’t think the extent of it is really felt. We’re lucky that we’ve grandparents covering my three-day week role. There were no crèche places or minders available to suit the three days. And I know many who can’t get a place until 2024.”
And Rebecca, 35: “Minders need to be regulated as an industry. I’m paying €1,500 for two children on a four-day week — my mother-in-law does the fifth day because, quite simply, we couldn’t afford to pay the minder a fifth day. It’s not that [our minder] doesn’t deserve it — but it’s at a point where the Government needs to regulate it and subsidise it.
“The crèche places were even dearer and we couldn’t get a spot for our second child so this was a better solution. I’ve €500 a month left in my wages after paying the minder and petrol for work but that €500 goes a long way towards our food bill. At this point I do wonder if I’d be better off quitting work.”
Childcare for two can now cost as much as an average Irish worker earns in a year. A recent survey of more than 150 crèches nationwide found costs can be as high as €25,200, with the national average more than €19,600 for two children under the age of three. Some contend costs are 20% up on that.
In 2020, some 964,000 people earned less than €28,500 before tax.
Where you live can have a direct bearing on the standard of your local crèche. Pre-school centres in the West are reportedly reaching higher standards than in Leinster, allegedly due to better rates of inspection by Tusla. An analysis of such inspections shows big variations in standards, with crèches in some counties enjoying a much cleaner bill of health.
Meanwhile, Laura Erskine, owner of consultancy firm The Parenting Experts, says the subsidies offered to the parents are “just paltry”. Successive Governments have failed to address the issue. “It doesn’t change,” she says. “It’s constantly that second mortgage.
“We’ve had numerous governments in power in the last 10 years, all of them have promised to reduce the cost of childcare for parents and also to reform the system. It seems they have put all of the money into an IT programme to administer subsidies to creches rather than to parents.
“The actual subsidies are meaningless. I have a three-year-old in creche full-time. The subsidy is just paltry when it comes to the actual cost which for me is more than €1,300 a month.”
Ms Erskine says it is particularly difficult for parents to source part-time childcare. “Lots more still needs to be done by the Government. The costs are just rising and, unfortunately, they are rising at the same time as our cost of living.”
With crèche costs prohibitive for many, we consistently have a small army of grandparents up and down the country minding children, while parents work. Many are happy to do this, many more feel obliged. Some are rewarded, others not so.
For many parents it is “just not worth it” to return to work until children start school.
If we purport to cherish and value our young, childcare costs must be adequately addressed. And addressed now.