Rural childcare nightmare
Mums unable to work due to shortage of minders
Thousands of young mothers across rural areas of Northern Ireland are unable to work because childcare is so scarce, a childminders' organisation today warned.
And the Executive must take urgent action to tackle the growing shortage, which is seriously affecting parents in the country.
So says NICMA, which is lobbying Executive ministers to provide £300,000 a year for measures that would attract people into setting up childminding enterprises.
Among the parents hit by the downturn in rural childminders is single mum 41-year-old Rosie Campbell who was forced to turn down a waitressing job at Arthurs Coffee Shop in her home town of Cushendall because she couldn't find a registered childminder to care for her two-year- old son Daire.
"I tried all six registered childminders in the area and every one of them is full," she said.
"Much as I love Daire, I really hate sitting at home all day just waiting to go to the post office to collect my income support cheque. I want to be back in work; it's a really soul-destroying situation."
Rural childcare is a subject close to the heart of Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew who has set up a task force to tackle the problem, but this is not expected to report back until early next year.
NICMA director Bridget Nodder said: "The problem is really a simple and stark one. Too few individuals are starting up careers as childminders and too many drop out within the first year of registration.
"In many rural districts with scattered populations, like the Cushendall area, childminders are often the only viable childcare option, particularly where pre- school children are concerned.
""We have good reason to believe that there may well be thousands of women in Northern Ireland who want to work but are unable to because of a lack of accessible and affordable childcare."
Mother-of-two Theresa McCaughey (26) from Cabragh, Co Tyrone, was forced to give up her job 18 months ago due to a lack of childcare.
She is so determined to get back into employment that she has just registered as a childminder herself.
"My sister, who's also a childminder, had been looking after my kids but then she moved away from Cabragh. There were simply no other registered childminders with available places in this area and I had to leave my job," she said.
"It's been pretty tough financially but I also find it really embarrassing and demoralising being on income support. It's not what I want for myself or my children.
"I'm looking forward so much to being a working mum again and doing something I know I'll love. And of course this move will solve my childcare problems."
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Crossgar mum Ciara Dobbin faces having to give up her part-time job at Belfast City Hospital because she can't find care for her children Caitlin (3) and Fionn (1).
"Over the past weeks I've tried no less than 16 registered childminders in the local area and they're all full up," she said.