Thursday, 15 October 2020
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Early Years Sector
228. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the staffing crisis in the early years sector in County Meath; the steps he is taking to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30845/20]
I acknowledge that many early learning and care and school-age childcare services are reporting staffing and recruitment difficulties, with increased pressures as a result of Covid-19. There is no official data on the extent of staff shortages. However, officials in my Department have been actively monitoring the issue and have sought data and evidence-based proposals from sectoral representatives on the Covid Advisory Group on Reopening, which has been meeting regularly over recent months. In Pobal’s latest Early Years Sector Profile Report (mid-2019 data), the staff turnover rate stood at 23%. In County Meath the staff turnover rate was 21%. The figure remains unsustainably high.
I am committed to supporting providers in responding to current challenges. For example, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is available to the early learning and childcare sector, with a full exemption to the turnover rule, to assist them with staffing costs. Specifically in relation to recruitment difficulties, it is important that any measures considered are proportionate to the problem they seek to address and that wider impacts would be carefully considered.
Staffing and recruitment difficulties are being caused not by insufficient supply of qualified personnel, but by high levels of turnover and attrition. This is predominantly down to poor terms and conditions in the workforce, with for example the average pay being €12.55 per hour, and half of staff only being able to access part-time contracts. It is expected that poor terms and conditions will be addressed in the medium to long term via three plans currently being pursued by Government: a new funding model, a workforce development plan, and additional investment. Short-term measures are more challenging to find and, as stated above, the Department continues to work intensively with sectoral representatives to examine what might be possible. One potential solution that has been proposed by the sector is being given active attention at the moment by the Department of Education and Skills and my Department.
In that regard, it is important to stress that the minimum qualification requirement to work directly with children in an early learning and care service (Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications) was introduced in 2016 in order to improve the quality of provision and to achieve better outcomes for children. (There is currently no minimum qualification requirement for staff working in school-age childcare.) To remove this minimum qualification requirement could be contrary to the best interests of children and the vision for the sector that is outlined in First 5, the whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. Such a move could be a significant backwards step in efforts to improve quality outcomes for children and could only be considered if there were a very strong evidence base requiring a change.