It’s just over two years since tens of thousands of parents and childcare workers took to the streets of Dublin to protest against a huge childcare crisis. At the time, many parents were struggling to secure childcare, there was a severe shortage of baby and toddler places, and there were long waiting lists for many creches and playschools.
Little has changed since. Today childcare is one of the biggest challenges being faced by parents returning to the workplace after the pandemic. Many parents have had to postpone returning to work due to waits of between a year and a year-and-a-half for a place in a creche. For those who can secure and afford a place, with fees of €1,000 a month or more, childcare costs are like a second mortgage. Those who can’t afford childcare fees are often forced to choose between having a career and having a child.
So if you’re a parent who needs childcare, how can you navigate the post-pandemic childcare crisis?
1 Book as place when you are pregnant
You could have to wait between a year and a year-and-a-half for a place in a creche today, depending on the age of your child and how busy the creche you have in mind is.
“It is certainly advised for parents to book in a baby when they find out they are pregnant,” said Deirdre Bushell, operations manager with Grovelands Childcare Plus, which runs six creches in the midlands.
“The waiting times for babies and toddlers are longer than for preschool children due to the differences in [the number of] spaces available. For example, in our service, we would have only six baby spaces versus 27 spaces for two- to three-year-olds and more than 80 preschool spaces.”
Summer 2023 could be the earliest you may be able to secure a place for a baby or toddler if you book today, depending on the creche. For example, three of the Grovelands Childcare Plus centres cater for babies and toddlers.
“We have a waiting list in all of those,” said Bushell. “In our Tullamore centre, we are fully booked until July 2023 in our under-two’s rooms, and until about March 2023 in our Athlone centres.”
In Dublin, you could find that September 2023 is the earliest you can secure a place for a baby or toddler – if you book the place today. It is a similar situation if you want to hire a childminder.
“Overall childminders are very busy,” said Mairéad Hurley, head of childminding services with Childminding Ireland. “As soon as the parents know they will need a childminder, it would be wise to start the process of looking locally for a childminder.”
2 Prepare for the deposit
You could have to pay a deposit of as much as €1,000 to book a place for your child. With some creches, the deposit could be half the monthly fee and so the deposit could be in the hundreds. Some creches have a flat-rate deposit of a few hundred euro.
Deposits are typically refunded if you take up the place – though an administration fee may be deducted from it first. However, deposits are often non-refundable if you later decide not to take up the place.
This increases the stress faced by, and the financial pressure on, parents – particularly those who are unsure if they will still be living or working near the creche when the time comes to send their child there.
Paying a deposit before your baby is born is also a risk. Check what the creche’s policy is around refunding that deposit in the unfortunate event that you lose your baby. You generally don’t have to pay a deposit if you’re simply adding your child’s name to a waiting list – though expect to pay a deposit once availability and a start date are confirmed.
Regardless of your circumstances, read your contract with the creche before paying a deposit and signing that contract – so you’re fully aware of the rules and conditions of using the service and know where you stand around the refund of deposits.
3 Put your name down regardless
Don’t be put off by the length of a waiting list for a creche or childminder if you are sure that you will use that service once a space becomes free (such as if the creche or childminder is near your office or permanent home). You may get a place sooner than you think due to cancellations freeing up spaces.
“Even if a childminder is full on your first enquiry, share contact details in case vacancies arise in the meantime,” said Hurley. Your own circumstances may also change – you could find you don’t need a space as early as initially envisaged.
You will of course likely have to come to another arrangement as a stopgap until the service you want becomes available. Remember, you could lose your deposit if you don’t take up a place with a creche after putting a deposit down. Should you be using another creche as a stopgap, note that you may need to give it one or two months’ notice (or more) if your child is leaving the service. Failure to do so could see you having to pay fees for the notice period you were required to give.
4 Expect to struggle for a part time place
“As many people are still working remotely (for some or all of the week), they’re often not looking for a place for five days a week,” said Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).
However to secure a place for their child, some parents are paying for five days of childcare rather than the three or four days they may need – simply to secure a place for their child, according to O’Connor.
You may also find it difficult to get after-school care.
“Coming out of Covid, there seems to be less after-school places available,” said O’Connor.
Lack of flexibility in childcare settings is an issue which parents have brought to the attention of Aoife Lee, a parent coach with Parent Support (parentsupport.ie).
“You may need a part-time place but find only full-time places are available,” said Lee. “It can sometimes be a case of all or nothing with some of these services.”
Parents who believe they will need a part-time place in creche should start looking for a place early, shop around and get advice from other parents who use childcare.
Contact your local city or county childcare committee (myccc.ie) for advice if struggling to secure childcare (whether it be part-time or full-time).
“The flexibility which creches can offer is very limited – as ultimately they could lose out on a [full-time] fee if they offer a part-time place,” said Frances Byrne, director of policy, advocacy and campaigning with Early Childhood Ireland.
“Give as much notice as you possibly can [when seeking a place] and have a bit of an understanding that it’s not the fault of the provider if you cannot get a place – or if the provider is unable to offer flexible childcare arrangements.”
5 Siblings help
You may not have to wait as long as first-time mums for a place in a creche if you already have a child attending the centre. So if you’re pregnant on your second child and you already have another child in a creche, you may be given priority when seeking a place for your second child. All the same though, check what your creche’s policy is around this and book your second (or any subsequent) child in early.
You may also get sibling discounts if you’re sending two or more children to the same creche or childminder. Sibling discounts are usually around 10pc with creches.
6 And in the future
From this September, more funding will be available to childcare services that cater for younger children – where the costs of delivery are higher than they are for older children, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Children. This is due to a new funding model which is being rolled out in September. Hopefully this will see more baby and toddler places become available, but many argue that it will not be enough.
“We need a public system of childcare,” said O’Connor. “Childcare places and flexibility cannot be guaranteed when it’s a private system.”
Ireland continues to be one of the most expensive countries in the world for childcare despite various childcare initiatives.
In parts of Scandinavia, monthly fees are less than €300.
Can we dare to hope that childcare costs will ever be that manageable?
What help from the State is currently in place
2 years free pre-school
All children are entitled to two years’ free pre-school under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme. Children can start ECCE when they are two years and eight months of age and continue until they start primary school – generally as long as they are no older than five-and-a-half years at the end of the pre-school year. So to be able to start preschool under ECCE this September, for example, your child must have been born between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019.
For each of the two free ECCE years, you can get three free hours preschool a day for five days a week over 38 weeks and the programme typically runs from September to June each year. You may need to pay a deposit to secure a place for your child under the ECCE programme and service providers are allowed to request such deposits – as long as they refund the deposit by the end of the October of the year your child starts. You’re unlikely to get your refund back if your child doesn’t take up the place.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) offers to two types of subsidies which will bring down the cost of your childcare if you’re eligible for them: a universal subsidy and a means-tested subsidy.
The universal subsidy is currently available to all parents who have children between the ages of six months and three years in childcare. Children over the age of three who have not yet qualified for the ECCE are also eligible. The universal subsidy is worth up to €1,170 a year and is not means-tested. It pays a subsidy of 50c an hour for each hour of childcare used – up to a maximum of 45 hours a week. From September 2022, the universal subsidy will be extended to children aged up to 15 years.
You may be eligible for a higher subsidy – known as a means-tested subsidy – should your income fall below certain limits. The means-tested subsidies cover children between the ages of six months and 15 years. To be eligible for a means-tested subsidy, your family must have a ‘reckonable income’ of less than €60,000. Your reckonable income is essentially your family income – less tax, PRSI and certain other allowable deductions.
Your childcare provider must be registered with Tusla for you to be eligible for subsidies under the NCS. Your subsidy is paid directly to your childcare provider who then subtracts it from your childcare bill. You can get more details on the NCS on ncs.gov.ie.
You may still be able to get childcare at reduced rates through the Community Childcare Subvention Plus (CCSP) saver programme if you’re a parent or guardian who is in a low-paid job; who is in job training, school or further education; or who is on social welfare. Although this scheme was closed to new applicants on November 15, 2019, it is still available to those who were registered on it before that date. The subvention is only available to children attending a community creche that is taking part in the CCSP scheme. You cannot get the ECCE and the CCSP at the same time.
The average cost of a full-time childcare place in a creche could be as much as €12,472 a year – or €1,040 a month, according to the latest Government report on the early years sector, the Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report, which was published last June.
The price of childcare varies – largely depending on the centre itself, the location and the age of the child. Monaghan, for example, is one of the cheapest counties for childcare – at a cost of €7,824 a year, or €652 a month, according to that report. The costs recorded will likely be higher by the time the next report is published in a month or so.
The national average cost of hiring a childminder is currently €5 per child per hour, according to Childminding Ireland. Costs vary considerably countrywide. It could cost €10 or more an hour per child to hire a childminder in some areas. A childminder may charge a daily rate.
A childminder may be a more flexible option than a creche, though this will depend on the terms of your arrangement with the childminder. Most creches require you to pay a fee for 52 weeks a year (assuming your child is attending for the full year) and these fees must still be paid even if your child is absent due to sickness or holidays.
Career vs kids?
“What a parent is earning on a monthly basis versus the cost of childcare could prompt some to ask if it is worthwhile returning to work,” said Aoife Lee of Parent Support.
Be sure to think through any decision to take a number of years out of the workplace – or to give up your job entirely – to care for your children. Taking time out of the workplace to care for children will give you more time with your children when they are young – and few parents will dispute the value of that. Taking a step back from your career will also remove the pressure of juggling work with children.
Looking after children full-time in the home can be a huge challenge for many parents though – particularly children of pre-school age or with special needs. Giving up your job entirely so you can be a full-time parent has a lot of financial and other repercussions too – including the loss of a regular wage and financial independence, the loss of a work pension, and the loss of career and promotion prospects. A more balanced approach, such as part-time work or a career break, could be the better option.
https://www.independent.ie/business/personal-finance/working-your-way-through-the-minefield-of-childcare-from-hefty-costs-to-hard-to-get-creche-places-41489075.html Working your way through the minefield of childcare from hefty costs to hard-to-get creche places