The idea that childcare providers have to return the capitation grant to the Government if children availing of the ECCE scheme miss more than 20 consecutive days just makes my blood boil. It is petty, patronising, patriarchal, bureaucratic nonsense.
It is disrespectful to childcare providers and it is insulting to parents. 'We will gift you and your children 15 hours of pre-school a week,' it says. 'But you must use it exactly as we say or we will take it back'. A nanny state that has absolutely no respect for the nanny.
Let's just think for a moment about the logistics of this. Parents register a child for ECCE with a childcare provider, but for some reason the child has to miss 20 days.
The family want to take advantage of the fact that their child has not yet started school and take a long holiday during term time, when fares are significantly cheaper.
Or the child suffers an illness and has to miss 20 days of preschool on the trot.
There are myriad legitimate reasons, as childcare providers pointed out to TDs at an Oireachtas committee yesterday.
Now, let's look at the position it puts the childcare provider in. Childcare providers are already working on very tight margins and can little afford to rescind the capitation grant - which, by the way, covers only the 15 contact hours and not any of the administration work that is required to have a child on the premises.
Therefore, they must police the parents and quiz them about when they plan to take holidays. And are they supposed to encourage parents to bring sick kids in if they're risking the 20-day rule?
Plus, what exactly is this rule trying to prevent?
Presumably, it is aimed at preventing fraud or the misuse of Government funds.
By whom and for what? Parents don't make any money from this and the childcare facility hardly makes a massive profit, as they get a mere €73 a week per child.
So where is the scam? And ultimately, what difference does it make if the odd child is absent for a couple of days here and there?
The way people working in early childhood education are treated in this country is an absolute disgrace and this disrespectful clawing back of the capitation grant epitomises this.
Well-educated professionals with a passion for their field are being paid, in some instances, barely the minimum wage. I personally know a woman who was an excellent Montessori teacher and loved her job, but couldn't afford to continue to do it if she wanted to put even a modest roof over her head. We need to completely rethink the way we look at education in this country. We need to reduce the emphasis on the Leaving Cert and stop ignoring early childhood development.
The Government should take complete responsibility for preschool education and early childcare, as it does for primary and secondary, and give it the funds, the support and the attention it deserves.