A DONEGAL childcare provider has said the government must act urgently to provide much needed funding and resources into the sector, or face up to the consequence that children will suffer.
Sharon Graham Porter is the owner of Kid Kare Créche and Montessori in Donegal Town. On Tuesday, seven of its staff were among the thousands of childcare providers and supporters who added their voices to a rallying protest action outside the Dáil to demand increased funding for the sector.
It was the first day of three consecutive protests and a large number of childcare providers across the country are also expected to close for three days to protest over what owners describe as a shortfall in Government funding.
Organised by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, the rally heard calls for enhanced investment in créches and reforms to the State’s core funding model.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Sharon said childcare providers are being shown “a lack of respect” and called for the funding of all services equally.
“In a nutshell, one of the issues is the lack of respect for what we do. We have a curriculum we need to follow, therefore we are being treated like a school but not in terms of funding.
“The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme started 13 years ago. The scheme provides children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school. But there has been no increase in funding in 13 years.”
The facility has 204 children on its books. Sharon said she hopes the protest action has made a difference.
“There were a lot of good speakers, and one of the things that was said loudly was the crucial need for more support for children with additional needs.
“We have children who are here for eight or nine hours a day in some cases. We need more resources and more funding. Our children are aged from nine months until school age and we also have an afterschool programme as well. Early intervention starts straight away, and in order to ensure early intervention, we need government support.
“Children are at the heart of everything we do, this is for them and to ensure they have the best start and continued care.”
Sharon said the issue is having a huge affect on families locally and around the country.
“We have the support of parents because they know what we are doing is for the betterment of their children in the bigger picture.
“I was 24-years-old when I went to the bank and got a mortgage by myself and built up this facility by myself. It has been open for 21 years, but if things don’t change I can’t say it will be here in another 21 years
“We are following a curriculum and regulations. We are expected to do the work without the resources or funding.”
Meanwhile, Mary Crawford, Manager of Wonder Years Childcare in Rossbrackan and Letterkenny spoke of the abundance of admin work childhood educators have to submit on a weekly basis.
“I am very lucky that my sole job is management office work because a lot of services can’t afford to hire a separate manager,” she said.
“In a high percentage of services, their manager also works in a room.
“Every Monday, we submit a return to the government on the portal of how many hours each child attended crèche.”
With over 300 children in the Rossbrackan service alone, Mary said she has to count the amount of hours each child attends the crèche per week.
“If a child went home five hours early one day, the government take that subsidy off you which increases your fees for that week.
“They are penalising parents.
“A parent could come to me and say granny and granda are over tonight, I am going to pick the children up early.
“I have to make sure they don’t do this frequently, because if they do I have to notify the government which means their subsidy is deducted and their fee increases.
“They are penalising the parents for actually wanting to spend their spare time with their children.
“Counting hours is one of the big things most services want rid of,” she said.
Like Sharon, Mary also spoke of the crucial need for AIM support to be extended.
“We can request an additional adult in the room for a child who has profound needs.
“But, the government only give it to you if the child is ECCE age, which is the year they turn three and they only get that support for three hours a day.
“The government only thinks that child needs support for three hours,” she said.
Despite Mary longing for change, she fears that if it doesn’t come a lot of crèche’s will have no other option than to close their doors.
“I would say the ones who don’t, if there are no changes in the upcoming Budget, will opt out of core-funding.
“Which means fees will go up for parents and it is not the way anyone wants to go because I don’t want to be charging my parents big rates.
“There is nothing worse than a child being with us for maybe six or seven years and then all of a sudden their parents can’t afford it,” she said.
Unfortunately, Mary said parents are now enrolling their children anywhere they can get a space, rather than somewhere they want to send them.
“I have parents calling me all the time asking me if I have any spaces, I could open a full crèche again with our waiting list.
“At the minute, the government have all the control and all the say.
“Providers who own their own services are just hoping to get by each day.
“Every one of us is hoping to be on par with some of the best Early Year Services in the world, but at the minute our government is looking for us to be the way we were 10 years ago,” she said.