On Wednesday 5 February thousands of childcare workers went on strike to march in Dublin in protest at the crisis in childcare. Independent Left members fully supported this action. Yes, it was a challenge to arrange alternative childcare for the day but action was urgently needed and the march was a necessity. Not only did the protest show how powerful and united is the sector, but it was met with a hugely positive public response as we all know how the sector needs radical changes.
The state needs to follow the example from the rest of Europe and subsidise childcare, treating it as an essential service, not a for-profit sector.
The march was organised by the Early Years Alliance an organisation facilitated by SIPTU and consisting of workers, providers, unions and parents.
I spoke to a childcare worker who participated in the action and shared our childcare policy with her. Her description of her daily life provides a powerful illustration of why this strike was necessary.
My husband starts work at 7.30 a.m. so it’s my job to get the kids up and to school. I have two boys, eight years and three years. I drop my eight-year-old off at the school gates at 8.30 to hang around until 8.50: no other way to get him to school and me to work. I got stuck in traffic on the M50 on my way to work as a childworker. I’m very lucky that my three-year-old attends the same creche as me, so only one drop-off for me.
Today, I got to work with five minutes to spare; I’m usually fifteen minutes early, I have to be. Planning needs to be done, the classroom needs to be set up, etc. I bring my son to his classroom where two staff are already setting up the room, completing planning sheets and general organising of the room for the children’s arrival at 9 a.m. Their shift doesn’t start until 9, we only get paid from 9, yet they’ve been here at least twenty minutes setting up. They are very kind to take my son five minutes early so I can get to my classroom and begin my set up.
As the day goes on, we have a first aid incident. We have a child protection concern. I am organising a Together Old and Young visit to a local nursing home. I speak with a parent who is concerned about her child’s development, all within the first hour-and-a-half. We are told we are short staffed today and full time staff need to take a shorter lunch to accommodate. This is not a bad day, just a regular one in this line of work. I also have to discuss the upcoming protest with parents.
Overall, they are very sympathetic to our cause and those who are able to will arrange other means of childcare for Wednesday 5 February to alleviate some staff to attend the protest.
My shift finishes at 1 p.m. and I go to collect my son. But as usual I don’t leave my room on time because someone always needs something: a hug goodbye, a form signed, a conflict between children that needs resolution or even a staff member who needs to go and use the toilet!
I collect my son and he is full of smiles and chats about what he has done that day. He says a fond goodbye to his teachers as if they were his friends!
All of this is so important in our society and I am sick and tired of feeling the way I do in this sector. Yes, I love my job but hugs and smiles and a child’s positive progress doesn’t pay the bills… never even mind the cost of childcare.
Upon reading your article, admittedly, I had a chip on my shoulder, ready to read about ‘tax breaks’ and ‘extended ecce’. I was nicely surprised. It’s nice to see childcare workers being mentioned more than once and in a positive manner.
Zappone says I should join a union if I have a grievance… my problems are not with the management team of the creche, it’s with the state and the ridiculously high expectations they are putting on me and my colleagues.
Sixteen years I’m working in this sector and I’m losing faith.
Everything that is in the link you sent me is true. The whole sector needs an overhaul, childcare should never be for profit! In all the different positions I’ve had, the worst practice I’ve seen has been in private centres and it is not through the fault of the staff.
Change needs to happen it MUST be done in collaboration with the people who are actually on the ground working directly with the children. All these new schemes sound amazing, but when they are put into practice it just pushes us further and further to breaking point.
Thank you for giving me a bit of hope for the future of my profession.
Councillor John Lyons expressed his full support for the strike.
Parents shouldn’t be paying such high costs for childcare and staff should be given increased pay and a proper career path with full training. This campaign can win and the protest on 5 February is the right way to go about forcing the new government, whoever is in power, to listen and to respond.
Interview with a community childcare worker ahead of the strike of 5 February 2020
In advance of the strike by childcare workers, I spoke to ‘Anne-Marie’ who works in a community childcare centre.
NMcD: Why are you going on the protest?
A-M: I’m going on the protest to support the early years professionals in the community and private sectors who for years have been under huge pressure, who are not treated as professionals, who are expected to hold the rest of the country by looking after and educating the children; for children with additional needs; for afterschool clubs; for everybody.
For all these years we’ve got very little extra funding, we’ve got more people coming an assessing us and making sure we are doing our jobs. We have, I think, eight different government bodies that come in at the drop of a hat to see what we’re doing and to make sure we are doing everything right. And that’s fine, we’re all about good governance and transparency but it’s just constant.
Then there is new childcare funding, which came out in November, is making it even more difficult for parents and for services to be sustainable. Every couple of years funding gets changed and we never know from one year to the next year if we can be sustainable and continue to run the community service that we run. It’s not good.
We’re a community. So we are middle of the road paid, compared to the girls that are on ten Euro-something an hour but it’s below the Living Wage and it’s not good enough.
NMcD: It’s a community creche that you run here. We’re in an area of economic deprivation in north Dublin. Can you tell me the kind of service that you provide and support you give to families in the area and why it is important that we need to fund community creches?
A-M: This community service has been running for a long time in this area. Like all the other community services out there, particularly in areas with disadvantage, we have children with a lot of additional needs, not just official additional needs but because of their lifestyle and home circumstances. We’ve a lot of homeless children; children whose parents have experienced addiction; who are in recovery; young parents who have left school early. A lot of single mums. And that just puts extra pressure on the children, because of whatever’s going on at home. The children all come here and get a breakfast; they get a proper home-cooked meal. Not everybody is going home to a cooked meal with fresh fruit and vegetables every day. They are really cared for and looked after here. It is the home from home, well that’s what we want it to be. But it’s very difficult to provide that when your funding and constraints are there.
I think in an area like this it should be like a DEIS service, where we have additional staff to provide the care and support that the children need. We have a lot of parents that would come to the office looking for different supports, whether it’s things going on at home. It’s more than just drop your child and run out the door. We provide additional supports: we have a lot of children that are referred to social workers, public health nurses, Focus Ireland. We do support the whole family. We do refer children on to psychologists, speech therapists for additional supports. It’s constant it’s full on.
When you look at the funding over the last few years, for example, the ten years since they put up the ECCE scheme (that’s the three hour sessions per day for the pre-school groups), that’s for thirty-eight weeks per year. When that started ten years ago it was €64.50 per week per child, ten years later it is €69. So that’s an increase of four Euro fifty in ten years. That’s the equivalent of forty-five cent a year. Now we give the children breakfast, we give the children lunch, we have to pay the staff when they are on holiday because it is not covered by the funding, these staff possibly have to go and look for jobs in the summer or sign on in the summer, so that’s a lot of women – predominantly – who are signing on through the summer. We want permanent jobs, proper wages and we want support from the government to make that happen.
NMcD: In an ideal world, how would you like government support to run to make life easier?
A-M: At the moment the inspectors and regulation people that come out to see us are TUSLA, Pobal, Department of Education and Skills, Department of Health, the Revenue, Workplace relations, Building Control and Fire Control. So all these people can come at any point through the day when you are trying to support and look after children. Any of them can come in and look for a huge amount of paperwork. We need one government body to run us and support us and understand. There’s overlapping, so they are looking for that and then the next week someone else can come in the look for basically the same thing. We all want the same thing: we want children to reach their full potential.
Early intervention is the key. We have six children here with undiagnosed additional needs. We won’t get any AIM support staff to support these children until they are three. We have six children that are under two that, in our opinion, have additional needs. That puts extra pressure on staff in the room. Two members of staff with ten children in the room and there could be three or four children with additional needs. Nobody is recognising it. We all talk about early intervention but it’s not happening. If we had an extra member of staff in the room as the DEIS model, we could provide better care for the children.
NMcD: Would you say the waiting lists for children seeking early intervention affects your work as well?
A-M: Definitely. If we’ve got a child and the parent has maybe said, ‘I’m a bit worried about her speech’, it’s fourteen months on the waiting list, depending on when they go on it, then they have to go in for an assessment, then it could be another six months before they are seen and go through a stage of intervention. That child is nearly two years older at that stage. So if you saying it at two, two-and-a-half, that child is nearly at school before they are getting any intervention.
NMcD: And the formation of language is vital in the first three years?
A-M: The first three years is just massive for every area of the development of children. It gives them the bottom of the pyramid. It gives them the basic skills to build on over the years. People think that their child starts their education at school but they start during pregnancy and certainly during the first three years. That’s why it is essential. We have over a hundred children on our waiting list at the moment. We are a seventy children service. Most of those on the waiting list will never see the inside of this building because people stay for four or five years. We are one of the only services in this area that takes children under two. We take children from six months. That’s the early intervention that they need. We need extra staff in each room because the biggest cost to childcare is the staff, and even though they are paid way under what they should be paid, that’s the most important part of your money because ninety percent of your money goes on staff.
NMcD: A final question, how has the feedback been from the parents when they know you are closing on Wednesday for the protest?
A-M: A couple of them are disappointed because obviously they want continuous good quality care for their children. But most of them have been supportive because they understand, because they know us, know what we provide and how essential it is for their children’s development. Also for their own time, headspace and development. So some of the parents will be coming and marching with us. Which is great.
If the new government that forms after the election on 8 February does not respond to the sector, then another day of strikes and protests will be necessary.
Large strikes in Ireland as elsewhere are the most effective form of protest we have.