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Sunday 18 August 2019

'Fewer places and higher costs' under new rules

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Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

The childcare crisis is set to worsen - with older children in after-school care affected.

New regulations on staff ratios requiring one staff member for every 12 after-school children have meant many childcare providers are now reducing the number of places for older children.

Others are increasing fees for those who remain, as they have to recruit more staff.

The Irish Independent revealed how parents are facing a severe shortage of crèche places for babies and toddlers because of the success of the free pre-school programme for three to five year olds.

However parents of older children are now being hit by the introduction of the staff ratio for after-school services.

The 1:12 ratio comes into force from August 18 next, with the result that many crèche operators are reviewing their arrangements.

Parents around the country have been informed in recent weeks that their crèches' after-school services are being scaled back. Some operators are hiking fees for after-school care at a higher rate than for other types of care.

The shortage of places and rising costs are putting pressure on full-time working parents to reduce their hours or give up work altogether.

The most recent figures show there are 34,810 children enrolled in after-school with providers around the country.

This area of childcare has seen growth of 20pc in recent years and there are around 1,600 providers of after-school care out of 4,000 early years settings nationally.

The Department of Children admitted in 2017 that "we need to be planning to support a growing demand for after-school places".

However Frances Byrne, director of policy and advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland, which represents childcare providers, said its members are concerned about the impact of the regulations.

"A severe and ongoing staffing crisis means many services are unable to recruit and retain the staff needed in order to meet regulations and, most importantly, to ensure quality provision for children. Low pay and poor working conditions are at the root of this crisis," she said.

Under the National Childcare Scheme, due to be rolled out in October, parents of school-aged children in childcare will be eligible for a means-tested subsidy provided their child attends a Tusla- registered provider.

Georga Dowling runs an after-school club at her crèche in Newbridge, Co Kildare. She said while the Government's move to fund after-school care is welcome, the new ratio will force operators to reduce places or hire more staff - thereby pushing up costs.

"I'm afraid parents are going to lose out. Parents won't be able to afford it," she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said the 1:12 ratio was decided having listened to experts and following advice of the School Age Standards Working Group. "The 1:12 ratio brings us into line with best international practice. It is the best and our children deserve the best. If parents are coming across increased or excessive fees, or difficulties accessing Government schemes they should let us know."

Irish Independent

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