Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ceisteanna (576)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

576. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the estimated number of additional childcare staff that would be required to meet existing demand for childcare services. [47209/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

Based on extrapolated figures in the Pobal Sector Profile Report for 2017/2018, there were 29,555 staff working in the Early Learning and Care sector. Of these, 25,893 work directly with children which represents an increase of 2,006 staff or 8% on the previous year. This increase matches the number of children enrolled in childcare which increased by 9% from 186,190 in 2016/2017 to 202,633 in 2017/2018.

Services are required to operate within regulatory minimum adult-child ratios. While I understand that some providers may be experiencing difficulties in recruiting staff, the figures do not suggest a shortage of suitably qualified staff. However, there may be difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff due to low wages and poor working conditions. I have implemented a number of initiatives to attempt to address these issues.

In Pobal’s latest Early Years Sector Profile Report (2017/2018), the staff turnover rate stood at 24.7% which while still too high, represents a 3% improvement on the previous year. However, data from previous years suggests that half of those contained in the 24.7% figure have left the sector, with the other half joining other services.

The basic qualification requirement to work in the sector is a qualification in early childhood care and education at Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications. When this requirement was introduced, unqualified staff who planned to retire in the coming years were given the opportunity to sign a 'grandfather' declaration. These declarations remain valid until September 2021. Those who wished to upskill to meet these minimum regulatory requirements were able to access a Learner Fund which provided financial support.

A Level 6 qualification is only a requirement for room leaders delivering the ECCE programme. The Pobal 2017/18 survey indicated that 65% of those working in the sector in mid-2018 then had a relevant qualification at Level 6 or above, indicating that there were enough staff qualified at this level to meet requirements. However, I acknowledge the challenge many providers are reporting in retaining staff and recruiting new staff.

The most recent data on pay and conditions indicates that the average hourly pay in early learning and care and school-age childcare is now €12.55 (as of May 2019), which represents a 3% increase on last year. As the State is not the employer, my Department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings, and I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for these staff. I am, however, doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector. My support for improved pay and conditions for early learning and care professionals has been explicit, as their role is critical to supporting children’s development and delivering better outcomes for children and families.

Budget 2020 saw a 9% increase in investment in early learning and care and school age childcare. Additional investment of €54.5m will bring spending to €628m in 2020, a 138% increase in investment over five budgets. Specifically, I secured increased funding for the Sustainability and Sectoral Employment Order Support Fund for the sector. This will see funding to support sustainability rising from €1.7m to €2.2m per annum.

Recent initiatives which may improve the recruitment issues include the drafting of a Workforce Development Plan which will aim to raise the profile of careers in the sector and to ensure sufficient numbers of staff at all levels within the sector over the decade ahead, and the appointment of an expert group to examine the current model of funding for early learning and care and school-age childcare and its effectiveness in delivering quality, affordable, sustainable and inclusive services.

Other recent measures I have taken to assist employers in improving the attractiveness of working in the ELC sector include: a 7% increase in ECCE capitation in 2018; higher capitation payments for graduates and Inclusion Coordinators; support for school-age childcare which will make it easier to offer full-time, full-year employment contracts; and a pilot measure to fund participation in CPD.