Sustainability of childcare sector 'must be new Minister's top priority'

Regina Bushell, the Athlone woman who chairs Seas Suas, the representative body for independent early learning and care (ELC) providers, said the longer term sustainability of the childcare sector needs to be a top priority for the new new Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman.

A statement issued by Seas Suas today (Monday) said a survey of their members found that as few as one in four children were registered to return to services this week.

The survey, conducted among 44 childcare providers, found that 86% were planning to reopen today, while 15% will remain closed. Almost 30% (28%) will not be in a position to bring all their staff back today due to the reduced demand.

When asked about the situation come September, 68% said they would bring all staff back then, while 29% said they were unsure due to a lack of clarity with regard to the demand for services.

Of those surveyed, just over 20% employ 10-15 people, while 24% employ 50 people or more.

The survey found that one-quarter of providers have only 25% to 35% of children registered to return in July and August, while only 10% of providers have seen 75% of children registered.

Almost eight in every ten providers (78%) were concerned about the viability of their service from September if the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is not replaced with other supports for the sector.

The vast majority of providers (85%) said meeting the costs of reopening was the biggest challenge in organising their care centres to open today, while 43% of providers have incurred costs of €10,000 or more in preparing to reopen.

Former Minister Katherine Zappone announced a funding package worth €75 million to support early learning and care (ELC) providers in the initial reopening between June and August, but Seas Suas estimates that support in the region of €130 million is needed for the sector over the next six months.

Seas Suas Chairperson, Regina Bushell (pictured above), said: "We wish the new Minister all the best in his new role and look forward to engaging and working with him as he takes up this portfolio as such a pivotal time for the sector.

"We welcome the decision by the new coalition to maintain a portfolio dedicated to putting the best interests of our children first, yet cross-Government cooperation with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure will be critical to providing a robust and comprehensive approach to what is predominantly a financial crisis.

"We must invest well now, in order to maintain a high-quality, professional ELC sector into the future.

"As many childcare centres are due to reopen their doors this morning, Minister O’Gorman must put sustaining these services beyond August at the top of his agenda, if we are going to ensure that these providers can stay open as we operate in a COVID-19 environment for at least the next six months."

Ms Bushell is the managing director of Grovelands Childcare, which operates facilities in Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar.

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