I bring to the attention of the Minister the crisis in the not-for-profit community childcare sector. She will be aware of this issue because I have forwarded her considerable correspondence from the groups concerned not only in Carlow-Kilkenny, but also in the neighbouring counties. In addition, there is an issue in respect of Pobal investigations into childcare and audits which have taken place, but also with investigations into community care units throughout the country. Public meetings are being held. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, who sits at the Minister's side, attended one such meeting. The critical need for finance and funding in this area and the need for an understanding of how these services are delivered were outlined for us at this meeting. These are the most marginalised communities in the country. A childcare facility in one community has told me that it will not be able to re-register 49 children because of what Pobal said in a recent audit.
It is also true that these facilities are dealing with parents and families, some of which are dysfunctional and some of which have great difficulties. As a result of that, children may arrive late or go home early. The centre, which is usually a family resource centre, has to engage with the families and has to encourage them along the route to childcare and after-school services. That has be understood. The system must be flexible if it is to allow all of the services to be delivered. If numbers are lost in the not-for-profit sector, staff will then be lost. The sector is currently losing staff because much better pay is available in the private sector than in the not-for-profit community sector. Despite this, those in the not-for-profit sector are doing an extremely good job. They are certainly having a positive impact on the communities they serve.
They are allowing families to get out of a cycle of unemployment or, in terms of school attendance and so on, neglect.
While Pobal has a duty to audit, we as politicians, and the Minister in particular, have a duty to suggest to Pobal that there is a need for flexibility. Humanity can be a messy business and, therefore, rigid accounting rules often do not fit easily with the care and attention that family resource centres provide to children in the most deprived areas of the country.
I ask the Minister to remember that these services are being delivered at a value-for-money cost. Those being paid to deliver them are actually being underpaid per hour compared with the rate in the private sector. They do far more in the community sector than just their hours, for example, administration and dealing with the level of bureaucracy imposed on them. At the public meeting I attended, a great deal of anger arose from the fact that they had not been fully consulted. They made the point that, when establishing a Government-private sector contract, there would be negotiation, everyone would be around the table and something would result from it. In this case, all the stakeholders were not around the table. They feel particularly aggrieved about that.