Preschool operators are having to "police" parents who want to take holidays in term time because they lose the capitation fee if a child is absent for more than 20 consecutive days.
roviders feel they are being unfairly penalised by having to return the State capitation fee they receive for a child who is on a free preschool year, but absent for more than 20 consecutive days.
Evelyn Reilly, owner and manager of Kidz@Play in Maynooth and Kilcock, was among a number of preschool operators giving evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which is investigating childcare costs.
She said the financial penalty facing providers if a child misses more than 20 consecutive days was putting both the staff and parents under pressure.
"This element of the scheme is unworkable and not fair, putting services like mine in the position of 'policing' families who take holidays, visit families abroad or have children in hospital."
She said the ECCE scheme, which pays weekly capitation fees of between €62.50 and €73 per child, had been a positive step but was at risk of becoming unworkable unless it was changed.
"It is not paying me enough to deliver the scheme. And I'm not the only one. The sustainability of my service, and services across the country, is dependent on an increase in capitation to cover salaries and running costs."
The current model covers 15 hours of contact time with children. She said: "While non-contact time to plan, document, evaluate, reflect, meet parents, hold team meetings are all essential to ensure quality - it gets no extra funding.
"Yet this is critical work in delivering the scheme. Current capitation has to be stretched to cover non-contact time and holidays. That is an absolute must and we are depending on this committee to get that message across loud and clear."
She also believed the ECCE scheme let down children with additional needs.
"We've seen an increase in children attending with many additional needs, some diagnosed, some undiagnosed. The lack of support for these children is so unfair.
"There is no availability of special-needs assistants. These children are entitled to their ECCE place but not supported in taking it up and it is in breach of children's rights. We all know that early intervention is key but, as much as we'd like to say 'Yes' to every child, services like mine supporting children with additional needs with additional staff is not always viable."