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'I had to close - but it felt like we failed parents'


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Income drop: Jamie Connor, who is a childminder in Knock, Co Mayo. 
Photo: Keith Heneghan

Income drop: Jamie Connor, who is a childminder in Knock, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Income drop: Jamie Connor, who is a childminder in Knock, Co Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan

"I think it was one of the worst days I've ever had in my life," admits crèche chain owner Therese Murphy.

Last Thursday, Ms Murphy faced the unbearable task of laying off her entire workforce.

The owner of Spraoi Early Learning Centres, a chain of crèches in Galway and Clare, is among hundreds of childcare providers across Ireland who face an uncertain future.

"Immediately after word went out we were closing, parents let us know there was just no way they could afford to pay the fees," says Ms Murphy.

"There were some parents that did offer to pay but I just couldn't see any way that we could charge some and not others.

"I think the worst part was the feeling that we failed them all.

"The hardest part was sending out the email saying 'you relied on us, you've been loyal to us for so long and now we are telling you we have nothing for you'.

"I know people will say we should have had a reserve but we used what money we had built up at Christmas upgrading fire certs and dealing with insurance issues.

"I am concerned about starting again because we are six years established and now we are going back to day one levels of loans."

Meanwhile, in a letter to parents, Links Childcare in Dublin said that while Government subsidies were continuing to be funded, that "does not go anywhere near what it takes to pay full-time staff in a full-time daycare setting".

Jamie Connor is a self-employed childminder in Mayo, and although she is not required to close, she has seen her income drop by 60pc.

She is uncertain, too, if she will qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

"After some initial confusion, Childminding Ireland confirmed we could stay open as long as we were in line with HSE guidelines," she said.

"I obviously have concerns about the health of my own three children and my husband, so I'm taking temperatures daily and increasing handwashing for all of my own family and the children.

"I thought about closing but I felt a responsibility to the parents who I've built up a close relationship with."

Jamie minds three preschool children and one after school on a full- and part-time basis but now she is down to two.

"I immediately lost my full-time child. Now a week on I've lost another.

"I could have charged these parents to hold spaces for them in the hope that things would settle down soon but how could I when this situation had also impacted them financially?

"I know other childminders have chosen to close but I felt that I would be able to continue to provide safe, badly needed childcare. One of my parents is a nurse and I'm sure she was worried that I may not be able to continue.

"At the moment there is uncertainty as to whether childminders like us are entitled to the new Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

"We are also not allowed to claim loss of earnings from our insurance company, as we haven't been directed to close down our business by the Government.

"I worry about how this will all end.

"I worry that I will lose more children and, in turn, more income.

"I'm worried that it will affect my loved ones too.

"But I suppose I am the same as many others in this country. I will keep trying."

Irish Independent