All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare hears from childcare providers

The All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare, chaired by Chris Lyttle, MLA (Alliance Party) met remotely today (Friday 22 January) to hear the experiences of childcare providers, and their views on how we can ensure the future sustainability of this vital sector. The meeting was marked by constructive and meaningful engagement from almost 40 stakeholders from across the childcare and early education sectors, elected representatives and departmental officials.

The group heard an update from Early Years – the organisation for young people on phase two of the Childcare Support Fund which includes three funding streams for the period September – December 2020. Members of the group who have received this funding highlighted how the application process is easy to use and money has been distributed quickly. Department of Education officials are working on a further funding package to support the sector for the period January to March 2021, and hope to announce further information in the next few weeks.

The group also heard informative and engaging presentations from:

  • Francis Loye, Giggles Daycare
  • Jess Eadie, YMCA North Down
  • Suzi Douglas, Registered Childminder
  • Kathy McMahon, Registered Childminder

Childcare providers who have been on the front line in caring for and educating our children during this unprecedented time shared powerful testimonies and highlighted the challenges they face due to Covid-19 – both personal and financial –  as they continue to deliver high quality provision. In particular, providers outlined the additional costs they have faced, how they have had to adapt quickly to new and changing guidance to ensure their setting is a safe environment for children and staff, and in some cases support children through ‘home schooling’ due to the current restrictions. Children’s well-being and development remains a top priority and delivering what is in the best interest of children was emphasised by each speaker. It was clear from each of the presentations that, for these early years professionals, their career is a true vocation, and they are passionate in providing a high quality service.

Discussion also centred on supporting the sector to achieve longer-term sustainability, an issue which requires much focus in the recovery from Covid-19. It was recognised that the current Minimum Standards are due for review, and an official from the Department of Health confirmed their commitment to this when possible, as soon as current pressures from Covid-19 have eased.

There was a call for the childcare and early years workforce to be included, alongside those working in education, in phase 2 vaccination prioritisation, reflecting that childcare and early years staff continue to provide a vital service to children and their families, and the nature of the role means that social distancing is not always appropriate or possible. Departmental officials reported that engagement is ongoing across all four nations of the UK on this issue, and that the views of key stakeholders will continue to be put forward.

The group welcomed an update from the Department of Education that plans are underway to hold a Strategic Insight Lab, facilitated by the Department of Finance. This will involve a series of meeting and events with elected representatives, departmental officials and relevant stakeholders, and it is hoped that this exercise will be completed before the end of June, as part of a roadmap working towards the delivery of a new Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Commenting on today’s meeting, Chair Chris Lyttle said: “It is a privilege to chair this important group, working in partnership with our outstanding early education and childcare sector and statutory bodies. Childcare providers have sacrificed much to sustain provision throughout Covid-19 and the progress outlined today on planning towards a new Childcare Strategy is welcomed”.

Looking ahead

 The All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare will continue to meet on a regular basis, working constructively with the Departments of Education and Health and other key stakeholders to ensure progress on these vital issues. It was agreed that the next meeting, which will focus on policy, funding and legislative developments in other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, will be scheduled for March 2021.

Employers For Childcare provides the Secretariat for the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare – correspondence to or 028 9267 8200.