Clarity needed for childcare sector as 31st January draws closer

25 January 2021

Ivana Bacik

Highlighting the need for clarity regarding the childcare sector, Labour Seanad Group Leader and Party Spokesperson for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Senator Ivana Bacik has said,

“With fewer than five working days until the Government is due to give an update on the status of the current lockdown restrictions, there is an urgent need to give clarity to parents and providers alike.

“If there will be a re-opening, childcare operators must be informed of what public health criteria will apply and they must also receive robust guidance on who can be considered an ‘essential worker’ for the purposes of providing childcare. Similarly, parents need to know if they will need to make alternative arrangements or take time off work to look after their children.

“In recent weeks, the Government has announced various policy ‘u-turns’ concerning the pandemic by way of press release on a Friday evening or without warning in a media appearance. Surprising people at the eleventh hour is fomenting frustration and anxiety for everyone. There is a palpable consternation right across the country because of poor communication. It’s through engagement that these concerns can be allayed; not by keeping people in the dark.

“The complexity of the pandemic underlines the need to maintain regular contact with childcare operators, trade unions and parents. There must be genuine engagement on an ongoing basis as the public health crisis develops.

“A survey of 706 Early Years and Childcare providers published last week by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers found that, of the facilities that had opened since January 4th, 14% had had to close already, due to a positive Covid-19 test. This figure is staggeringly high. However, these issues have been well documented for months. In September of last year, it was revealed to Labour by way of parliamentary question that a high incidence of Covid-19 in childcare settings was already forcing facilities to close.

“Parents and staff are at the end of their tether – the Government must act decisively to develop a plan for the sector and stakeholder groups, such as the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, SIPTU’s Big Start Campaign, Early Childhood Ireland, Seas Suas and others must be included in this process.

“Tomorrow, Tuesday 26th January at 10:30am, I will ask the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to comment on the findings of the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, and to commit to maintaining funding for facilities that need to close for reasons arising from the pandemic.

“I also reiterate my calls for antigen testing for staff in the sector, and for childcare workers and those working with school-age children to be re-prioritised in the Government’s vaccination rollout plan.”

ENDS

Commencement Matter for Tuesday, 26th January 2021

The need for the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality & Integration to make a statement on a recent survey carried out by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers which found that, of Early Years and Childcare services that opened since the 4th January, 14% have had to close, fully or partially, due to an outbreak of Covid-19; to clarify that, in light of these findings, where services are forced to close due to a Covid-19 outbreak, staffing or funding issues arising from the pandemic, that they will continue to receive Government funding.