I welcome the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the crisis in child care and the impact of the child care regulations and inspections on the number of child care places available in the Dublin area and throughout the country. Yet another child care campaign has been launched today. There have been over 20 years of campaigning to try to put the issue of child care on the agenda.
I was told by the Minister, in reply to a parliamentary question some time ago, that 1,720 inspections of child care places have taken place throughout the country. It is absolutely clear, from information on the ground, that there is a reduction in the number of child care places. There is concern that not enough child care places are available to meet demand. People are calling child care services on a daily basis, asking where they can find a place and what supports are available to them as parents. The lack of places affects those who work full-time and part-time outside the home and those who work full-time in the home. We know from research that child care is used by families where parents work inside and outside the home.
A nursery owner told me today she no longer operates a waiting list because there is no point in having one. Another owner told me she receives queries every day from frantic parents asking whether child care places are available. A mother and father who recently returned to this country told me they are considering seriously leaving again because of the lack of child care places. Another couple who returned recently from England told me they had supportive child care services available locally in England which were of high quality and affordable. They checked out 18 crèches in Dublin and were unable to find a place. When they eventually found a place they were not satisfied with it.
I want to bring it to the House's attention that this situation is placing great stress on families. The Irish Pre-School Playgroup Association said today that 2,000 places have been lost recently. We are facing a serious situation. If this were an agricultural, fodder, training, industrial relations or any other sort of crisis, the Government would not be as complacent as it appears to be.
Providers must get support to implement the regulations and grants. These grants should apply to those who have already made the effort, as well as to those who have not yet brought their crèches to the standard rightly demanded by the regulations. Compliance with the Act costs money and the industry and parents can no longer afford full compliance.
As the Minister of State knows, there are issues of concern with regard to child care at present, namely, quality, quantity and qualifications. There is a major problem finding staff willing to work in this area. Training is also a problem. We must address this urgently and seek consistency of standards in the area. Many crèches have not yet registered with the health boards.
Quality child care in this country, particularly in the Dublin area, is moving beyond the reach of many parents. The consequences of this are extremely serious, particularly for children. If parents have to move children from quality child care to other services with low standards, as they are doing, we can imagine the consequences and scandals we will have in years to come. This is at a time when we say we care very much about children and in light of the experiences of the past.
About 600,000 Irishwomen are in paid employment today. About 46 per cent of children under four years and 25 per cent of full-time working mothers use child care facilities. It is projected that a further 218,000 women will rejoin the labour force in the years ahead.
The Child Care 2000 campaign asked today for a number of points to be considered, including an allocation of £3 million for the establishment of national and local co-ordination of child care; a national child care committee; county child care committees – which were first recommended by the Commission on the Status of Women five years ago; £2 million for the upgrading of premises and an information campaign to help providers. These issues must be seen as a priority. I ask the Minister of State to get the Government to agree to introduce an emergency package of measures to deal with this crisis. That is the least that is called for at the moment, given the scenario I have outlined.