I thank Senators and Deputies for allowing us to make this presentation. The Fingal County Childcare Committee is a key element of the Government's co-ordinated strategy to develop quality child care. The need for available, accessible and affordable child care was identified as a key priority by the committee in its strategy for development. We have made great progress in achieving our targets to date and we have highlighted the successes of the EOCP programme and some of our achievements in a more detailed paper. However, like the county development boards, county child care committees are still struggling to provide integrated service delivery because they are, at present, dependent on single source of funding. This is partly due to the fact that other agencies and Departments are not being challenged at national level to provide more funding or support. While we have good local working relationships with some agencies, it is still the case that CCCs are seeking assistance to implement their plans, rather than being considered as active planning partners.
A detailed census and assessment of child care services for Fingal was collected and a report launched in January 2005. This is a valuable tool in directing us, in the most appropriate way, towards improving and developing child care locally. As a result, we are in a strong position to put forward concerns and issues facing child care and its development for all in Fingal.
Today we will be addressing five points: population projections and resulting challenges; community child care in Fingal; who pays for child care; development of quality child care locally and nationally; and Government supports and incentives needed in planning for our future child care needs.
The 2002 census confirmed Fingal County as the third fastest growing county and the youngest. In Fingal, some 10,996 children are aged under four years but there are currently only 4,600 child care places. Based, therefore, on the current population of children aged up to four years, there is still a huge lack of adequate provision for those who may want and need child care.
Fingal has a labour force participation rate of 64.8%, which is higher than the national average of 58%. Female labour force participation grew by 12,337 to 42,164 between 1996 and 2002. At 54.5%, Fingal is well above the national average of 47% for female participation in the labour force. For the first time in history, more married women in Fingal are at work than those who are not. This highlights an unswerving and affirmative necessity to provide affordable and accessible child care to meet the needs both of single and married parents.
Fingal is unique in comparison to other counties as its population is young and fast growing and it has a strong economy. There is a strong mix of rural and urban communities in Fingal and there is only one designated RAPID area in the county. It is estimated by the Fingal County development board that the population has already grown by 30,000 people in just three years to 2005. The population is expanding in an extraordinary manner, highlighting the unique challenges facing us, as an organisation, in developing existing and future high quality child care provision in line with this growth.
The increasing number of families with young children settling in Fingal County, the increased birth rate and the likely increased demand for child care highlight the need to ensure that all future service development is matched to areas with such specific requirements. Schools should be opened up after hours for child care and youth organisations to avail of and future school developments should include purpose built child care facilities. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that any future increases in capacity must be undertaken carefully on a holistic basis, working closely with the planning departments and with service providers to avoid duplication and displacement.
Matching the establishment of new facilities to definitive areas of need is a challenge for us. According to our census data, the number of full child day care facilities has doubled since 1999 but that will need to double again, at least, in the next four years. Consequently, we face a big challenge and this is an opportunity to plan ahead. We need to consider child care provision with long-term vision. The barrier to this is that EOCP funding is short-term in nature and committed only to 2006, so we need to plan ahead.
How can we support community-based child care services in areas where communities have yet to be built? EOCP funding is primarily aimed at supporting community-based groups in disadvantaged areas. For a county like Fingal, this acts as a deterrent rather than as an incentive to develop child care.
As already stated, population projections for the county are growing at 10,000 per year. In an era of rapidly expanding spatial development and suburbanisation, the places people live are increasingly becoming a blurred mixture of housing estates, neighbourhoods, parishes, villages, towns and cities. From where then does the sense of community, which is crucial to community development, come? The reality is that a sense of community will only begin to develop after the actual physical environment is in place. This, however, takes time to achieve. It may be possible in the long term to work with local authorities and developers to physically supply the premises where child care needs are identified but, as matters stand, we face a number of problems.
Equal funding should be available to all child care facilities, whether community or privately owned, on the basis that they integrate all children, regardless of social background. Appropriate fee paying structures should be adopted to ensure integration across the board in Government funded child care facilities. Parents should be provided with financial supports, either through tax credits or increased child care benefits. Tax relief for new child care providers should be introduced as an incentive to develop child care.
There are problems in regard to voluntary management committees. The Government has very high expectations of these committees to run these sustainable businesses and that is another challenge we face. Post-funding responsibilities, recruitment, training and management are all voluntary activities. There is a lack of ongoing support for these committees and the position needs to be improved. We have issues about the sustainability of child care in disadvantaged areas in regard to the business versus the social model and also in respect of staffing, which is very dependent on community initiative employment.
The high cost of child care and the low level of subsidies and staff salaries remain a serious concern. The high costs are extraordinary. There are fees of €184 per week, with amounts of €9,557 per annum. For two children, one is talking about €17,879 per annum. I remind the committee that the average industrial wage for females in 2003 was €18,392. This is a challenge for people with two children but there is a balance of €1,000. Current costs continue to act as an obstacle to the participation of many parents in the labour market, in training and in availing of supports.
We also have concerns about subsidies. Of the 4,600 child care places available in Fingal County, only 331 places are subsidised. This accounts for a mere 7.1% of all places. In that regard, I refer to health board, FÁS and VEC places.
Staff salaries are another major concern and an issue in regard to affordable child care. Almost 10% of staff continue to work more than 41 hours per week with the majority on low pay earning below the annual average industrial female wage. All part-time staff and more than half full-time staff earn less than the female industrial wage and 96.4% earn less than the male industrial wage. The issue of poor pay needs to be addressed at local and national level to ensure better staff conditions, better satisfaction and higher levels of staff retention over long periods.
The development of quality child care locally and nationally must be centred around the child. As many people have commented on that today, I will not go into too much detail. However, we advise a holistic approach to developing child care.
Parents need to be supported. Their time is valuable and the majority of parents prioritise their time with their children outside work hours, so this needs to be looked at because they are being called on to become involved with voluntary committees and networks. They may have an interest and want to make a difference but they do not have the time. We recommend tax credits, increasing benefits, employer contributions to child care costs and the implementation of work-life balance policies as possible supports for parents.
There has been a significant increase in training and only 17% of staff working in child care facilities in Fingal are not qualified. There has been an improvement but we have a higher target and are doing everything to support the improvement of training.
After-school child care facilities are a challenge for us in Fingal as there are no child care guidelines, regulations or legislation in respect of these services. There is a significant need but schools are not available and suitable premises are an issue. The majority of after-school services charge between €100 and €110 per week for child care in Fingal.
Child-minding was not raised this morning. Legislation on national standards is needed for all child minders. We believe tax credits for parents who use notified registered child minders could be implemented. Extra supports, tax incentives and grants for child minders should be introduced and it should be recognised that different services are required to meet the different needs of families as we have a huge population of zero to four year olds who are being cared for by families or child minders.
Inclusion and diversity is another challenge with which we are faced. In regard to the EOCP guidelines, we are very happy with the work which has been done but a number of issues remain. However, it is a start. The presentation today from Planet will discuss in detail the EOCP staffing grants and will inform the committee of the serious outcomes to all concerned if cuts are made. We agree with the issues raised today and supports must be maintained.
There is a need to review the administration process for EOCP funding and funding application as there are difficulties on the ground. Private providers have expressed concerns about the difficulty and the detail in application forms. Perhaps we could work together to make them somewhat more accessible for people. Equal funding should be available to all child care facilities, regardless of social background. The development of the sector should include the existing knowledge and structures of the CCCs and NVCCs. Long-term funding is needed for the child care sector.
We are all responsible for the development of child care locally and nationally, so let us work together. As with a jigsaw, it will take all parts of the puzzle to fully complete the job successfully because, in the case of child care in Ireland, many supports need to be joined together in order to achieve the desired result. I thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to express our concerns.