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Guidelines to reopen childcare services ‘confusing and conflicting’

Around 1,800 child care providers are expected to reopen on Monday, with a further 2,700 operators due to open at the end of August.

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Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland (Oireachtas/TV)

Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland (Oireachtas/TV)

Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland (Oireachtas/TV)

Information and guidelines to reopen childcare services has been “confusing and conflicting”, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The Department of Children provided guidelines ahead of facilities reopening next Monday which included information about children and adults being grouped into “pods”.

However Paula Donohoe, a childcare provider in Co Cavan, said that guidance was made available in “drips and drabs”.

“The information has been confusing and conflicting regarding pods. We first heard about it when it was mooted by the Minister for Children. Although remains confusing though we are getting clarity,” she told the special Oireachtas committee.

“When I started phoning my parents I was at almost 40% uptake and the more information I had and reassured them and explained how the new normal was going to look, our uptake has risen to between 60 to 70% over the summer.

“The information has come slowly, it’s come in drips and drabs, it’s been on a backdrop of misinformation out there.

“We are very slowly getting clarity but we would have liked to get that information a lot faster. We would have liked to have had access to help lines which were closed down during this entire phase.”

Around 1,800 child care providers are expected to reopen on Monday, with a further 2,700 operators due to open at the end of August.

Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, said she is “very concerned” staff will leave the sector if they cannot maintain the entire workforce over the coming months.

She said: “We need our staff to be available next Monday and in September and in 2021.

“There is reason to be concerned about services – the confidence of parents and operators and staff is absolutely required. There is a lot of anxiety out there, so seeing how many people arrive back next week and July 5 will give more confidence, but I think there will be huge sustainability issues for the next number of months.”

Frances Byrne, director of policy at the Early Years Ireland, told the committee that children have been “very invisible and voiceless” and hugely impacted by Covid-19.

Ms Byrne said the speculation that the Department of Children would be combined with another government department is “unthinkable” and would send out a “bad signal”.

Marie Daly, the CEO of the voluntary organisation Crann Support Group (Crann), said the idea to amalgamate the department with another will set childcare back by 20 years.

She added: “It will be a bigger insult to the childcare sector where they are struggling to do the best they can.

“That would show us where we stand in relation to their (government) priorities. I think that would be a massive mistake.”

Meanwhile, the committee also heard that childcare organisations were not consulted about the doomed scheme to offer childcare to frontline workers.

The Minister for Children Katherine Zappone was forced to scrap the scheme after only six providers applied to participate.

Concerns about infection risk and insurance issues were among the reasons cited for the low uptake to an initiative.

Marian Quinn, chairwoman of the Association of Childhood Professionals, said they were not consulted in relation to the emergency scheme.

Ms Daly also said her organisation was not consulted.

“We were willing to open our services and operate family pods, however going into someone’s home to look after their children presented itself very problematic for HR reasons and insurance reasons,” Ms Daly said.

Fianna Fail TD Norma Foley said: “There was absolutely no consultation with the service providers or with what would be service users in relation to this announcement on May 1. That utterly and totally defies logic.

“It is no surprise that it failed.”

PA