Wednesday 21 March 2018

Not enough places for free childcare promise

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs James Reilly
Minister for Children & Youth Affairs James Reilly

Emma Jane Hade and Philip Ryan

A key budget promise on free childcare is already in doubt, with major concerns about the sector's capacity to cope with the sheer numbers involved.

The Coalition pledged additional months of free childcare for children from the age of three until they start school.

But childcare providers are warning they will be unable to meet the Government's ambitious proposals. Professional bodies representing thousands of créches last night said the extension of the programme could end up being a "disaster".

Children's Minister James Reilly's spokesman acknowledged the warning - but insisted the scheme was extended with the sector's concerns in mind.

The Early Childhood Care and Education scheme currently provides 15 hours of free care for 38 weeks of the year.

It effectively offers the parents of three-year-old children one free year of pre-school.

A new Budget measure, which the Government claimed will be worth an average of €1,500 for the parents of young children, extends the scheme.

But while this was welcomed as offering relief for working families in principle, childcare providers have already raised serious concerns.

Teresa Heeney from Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), which represents 3,500 childcare workers, said there "are definitely not enough places in the sector to deal with this at the moment".

Fianna Fáil children's spokesman Robert Troy claimed the public had been "hoodwinked" by the childcare package.

Irish Independent

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