The goal is clear: time for action on childcare
Published 23/07/2015 | 02:30
Every child knows a goal without a plan is just a dream. And the goal of affordable, quality childcare will remain a dream unless the Government implements long-overdue plans to ease the childcare burden of parents, especially parents whose children have disabilities.
It could also turn into an election nightmare for parties seeking to curry votes from hard-pressed parents already grieved by the imposition of water charges.
Ireland's prohibitive early childcare costs, as well as a national imbalance in access to quality and affordable childcare, is playing havoc with the current needs of parents and the future needs of the economy.
We have one of the strongest birth rates - despite, or perhaps because of, the economic crisis, Irish women continue to be the most fertile in Europe - but Ireland is also home to some of the highest childcare costs and lowest rates of investment in early years compared to our peers.
Yesterday the Government published its Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Future Investment in Early Years and School-Age Care.
Critically, parents who were surveyed as part of the consultation process identified the all-too-familiar restrictions that they experience in accessing employment or training as a result of childcare arrangements.
Parents said that childcare is acting as a barrier to employment, identifying restricted working hours and having to turn down or leave a job.
Others said they were prevented from looking for a job because of issues relating to accessibility and affordability of childcare.
We need a national conversation on how best to direct strategic investment in childcare - whether that is directed to tax credits, subventions or means testing of child benefit - and learn from international best practice how to cost the model we choose.
We also need to look at alternatives, including the provision of career breaks, job sharing and extended paternity and shared leave to support all families.
The goal is clear - and there will be a high political price to pay if we don't support parents to help pay for childcare.