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‘I feel like 11 years of study and work are down the drain’ - childcare costs forcing too many young women to choose family or career

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Victoria Mulholland and husband Sean with children Ted and Nell. She fears she won’t be able to return to work at the end of her maternity leave

Victoria Mulholland and husband Sean with children Ted and Nell. She fears she won’t be able to return to work at the end of her maternity leave

With childcare fees among the highest in Europe, parents are likely to continue to struggle: Stock Image

With childcare fees among the highest in Europe, parents are likely to continue to struggle: Stock Image

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Victoria Mulholland and husband Sean with children Ted and Nell. She fears she won’t be able to return to work at the end of her maternity leave

Young mothers forced to give up their careers due to Ireland’s childcare crisis are experiencing a “loss of identity” and struggling financially as the cost of living soars.

A lack of available places in creches has resulted in some parents being unable to return to work, while others have decided not to go back because their salaries would not cover extortionate creche fees on top of rent, mortgage repayments, utility bills and living expenses.

“Women are having to choose between a family and a career. I feel like 11 years of studying and working my way up the ladder are now down the drain,” said Michelle Morphew, who quit her job because the cost of childcare for her twins was more than her monthly salary.

Ms Morphew (31) lives in Trim, Co Meath, and was working previously as a deputy manager in a creche. Her twins are two years old and most creches in the area do not take children aged two or under.

She was not entitled to much financial support under the National Childcare Scheme, so it made more sense to leave her job.

“I wouldn’t have been able to afford the commute, never mind the fact I would be working for free, basically. The price I was quoted was with a staff discount as well, so it would be even worse for those not involved in the sector.”

As someone who worked in childcare, she believes mul-
tiple factors are contributing to high costs, including rent for creche buildings, insurance and keeping up with administrative work.

“With some creche owners there’s an element of greed also,” she said.

“The Government’s attempts so far to address the issue have been pathetic. There needs to be a cap on the amount creches can charge as well as putting a limit on how much fees can rise and how often.

“I probably won’t be able to return to work until the children are in school, and even then I’ll probably have to look for somewhere I can work term-time, maybe as a Montessori teacher, but it will never be viable for me to return to a creche full-time.

“A lot of my colleagues are in the same boat. No wonder we have a major staffing crisis in the sector.”

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Victoria Mulholland (35), who is originally from Banbridge, Co Down, is in a similar position. She moved recently to West Cork to be closer to her husband’s family and was unaware of how dire the childcare situation is in the Republic.

The nearest creche is 35 minutes away, in Clonakilty and she has been unable to find a suitable childminder.

She previously worked as a health and safety manager in construction but now fears she will not be able to go back to work when her maternity leave ends. Her son is two-and-a-half and her daughter is eight months.

“I feel like I’m experiencing a loss of identity and don’t know who I am any more,” she said.

“I’ve always been independent and worked very hard to get into construction. It’s an area where there are very few women working.

“I also feel people from older generations don’t understand and don’t have much sympathy for people in this situation. It’s so hard to live off one salary with the cost of living here – it’s impossible. We sold our house in the North and we’re renting down here but there are no houses to be got.

“I definitely wouldn’t have moved if I knew the situation. I didn’t realise how big an issue it would be.”

She has been interviewing for other jobs to get a feel for the work-life balance, but feels “it is pointless” because she cannot currently commit to working full-time with no childcare.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between having a family and work. I love my kids, but I love what I do as well,” she said.

“I had a childminder when we lived in Banbridge who was excellent and could do the hours that suited my job, but I haven’t been able to find that here.

“I want to also be able to leave my children with someone who I know is trained in first-aid and who has all the relevant insurance and documentation, but in some cases people are only doing it as a way of getting some extra income.”

Emily Hackett, from Limerick city, has also looked into getting a childminder, but found it worked out just as expensive as a creche.

The mother of three previously worked in a call centre and decided not to go back because it would not have covered the cost of childcare.

“It would cost me €300 a week on childcare and I’d only be making €480 before tax,” she said.

Even if she could afford it, there are waiting lists of up to two years for creches in the city. Her family live more than two hours away and both her parents died when she was 16, while her husband is an only-child and his mother also died, so there is no immediate family around to help out.

“Me and my husband had a conversation about whether it’s harder for women or men, and, to be honest, I think men in his situation have it harder as there’s a lot of pressure to provide financially for the family. It puts a lot of stress and strain on families.”

Her husband is a member of the Defence Forces, where poor pay has been an issue for years. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was working extra hours as the Army was deployed to testing centres and his pay situation improved, but this resulted in other support payments being taken away.

“It was classed as an extra income so we lost the right to the Working Family Payment as he was barely above the cut-off point. That puts a big strain on us. The only good thing is we weren’t going out spending as much due to the lockdown.

“There’s going to be no family holidays this year. The kids don’t understand and we don’t want to tell them why as we don’t want them to worry.

“I want to go back to work, but financially it isn’t worth the while of many parents when it comes to childcare costs.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said it was “continuing to monitor capacity” in creches in light of the recent lifting of restrictions, while it said the Government was committed to introducing affordable childcare.

“The recommendations of an expert group to develop a new funding model for early learning and childcare were adopted by Government in December. This marks a new departure in State funding of the sector and is a significant step towards ensuring high-quality, afford-
able, sustainable and accessible services.

“The new funding model also recommends a new approach to fee management. This will start with a requirement for providers to maintain fees at or below September 2021 levels to access a new funding scheme in 2022.”

However, with childcare fees already among the highest in Europe, parents are likely to continue to struggle.


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