Melanie Finn: 'I was number 41 on childcare waiting list and told not to hold my breath'
The lack of childcare places for under-threes is nothing short of a disgrace. This Government has sat back and watched the situation spiral out of all control while doing nothing to tackle it.
Notwithstanding the exorbitant cost of pre-school childcare in this country, which is often the same as a second mortgage, the lack of planning with regards to the impact of the ECCE scheme has thrown the system into chaos.
Staffing problems, tight regulations and high costs to run baby and 'wobbler' rooms in crèches have led to huge numbers closing down their facilities for under-threes or enforcing ridiculous waiting lists, which mean you have to put a baby's name down before they're even conceived.
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And why bother at all, when they're guaranteed the business once a child is eligible for the ECCE scheme? The Government loves bragging about the success of the scheme, but at what cost? Clearly it's had a worrying knock-on effect where women have been unable to return to work on their desired date after maternity leave due to a lack of places for babies. Plus, we all know the longer an employee is out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in.
Unfortunately, I experienced this growing crisis first-hand when I started looking for a place for baby number three. Like many others, I felt odd about putting TBC (to be confirmed) down on an enrolment form asking for a baby's name and date of birth.
But I didn't expect the stone-walling I encountered when I inquired in our area (Dublin 3). One facility told me Patrick would be number 41 on their waiting list, so I needn't hold my breath for a place.
Another openly laughed when I asked if they would have a free space in nine months' time when I was hoping to go back to work. I talked to other mums in the area and they all told me the same thing: no availability, having to look outside the catchment area and minimum two-year waiting lists. We looked at the option of a childminder, but with three kids, it was working out at least €100 a day. I would literally be paying to work. And instead of concentrating on my newborn baby, I was trawling around childcare facilities with a growing air of desperation.
As the date I was due to go back to work loomed large, I became increasingly stressed about what we were going to do with regards the baby. I had to make an embarrassing phone call to my line manager to explain we still hadn't sorted out childcare and could I extend my leave.
Eventually we were thrown a lifeline in the form of a relative offering to take the baby in the morning while I got a childminder to collect our two boys (aged four and six) from school. I was late going back to work but I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Yet I was horrified by the lack of support for women returning to work, and there's countless others in the same situation.