Employers For Childcare welcomes recovery package for childcare sector, but calls for longer-term investment

Employers For Childcare welcomes the Executive’s Childcare Recovery Support package, which will see £10.5 million allocated to childcare locally, to assist in recovery and building capacity across the sector. The funding scheme has opened for applications this week (Monday 27 July) and all forms of registered childcare who re-open, or remain open, in the period 1 July to 31 August are eligible to apply.

Commenting on the scheme, Aoife Hamilton, Policy and Information Manager at Employers For Childcare said: “This £10.5 million will provide a lifeline to many childcare providers and will help some closed settings to re-open, as well as assisting those who are open with putting in place the necessary measures to deliver safe, high quality childcare, in line with the guidance around COVID-19. At the same time, we recognise that for some providers, particularly registered childminders, this support will simply not be enough to safeguard their future without a commitment to longer-term investment.

Aoife continues: “So while we welcome a focus on recovery and reopening, it is important that we recognise that the entire sector needs support in the longer-term to deliver a service that is sustainable, affordable and accessible for the benefit of parents, children, employers and society as a whole. The childcare challenges around the return to school in late August are already looming large for many parents and our helpline has been inundated with parents fearful for how they are going to balance, and afford, part-time schooling and increased childcare needs with home learning and work commitments.

“It is frustrating to hear this week, in response to an Assembly Question, that the implementation of our much-needed and long-overdue Childcare Strategy could take ‘a number of years’ to deliver. While there is recognition that the full Ten Year Executive Strategy will require significant new and sustained investment by the Executive, parents simply cannot afford to wait any longer. With our last full Childcare Strategy having been published two decades ago, this generation of parents and children need to see progress now.

“Many providers in Northern Ireland were struggling to be sustainable before COVID-19 and parents have already been calling for financial support on a similar level to other parts of the UK for years. We all watched the First and Deputy First Ministers speaking during the pandemic reinforcing the vital importance of our childcare sector. Childcare providers played an essential role in ensuring our key workers across all sectors could go to work – but we need to see more than warm words from this Executive. At a time of unprecedented investment in key infrastructure to assist in our economic and societal recovery from COVID-19, we also have an opportunity to actually deliver the vital investment our childcare infrastructure needs. If this pandemic has shown anything, it’s that Governments can take action quickly and efficiently where it’s needed, and that’s exactly what is needed here – urgent action to invest in our childcare infrastructure, which is of critical importance to enable economic recovery.

“It is not good enough that for many families here it costs more to have their children cared for while they work than it does to keep a roof over their heads. Nor is it right that providers, delivering high quality care, are struggling to make ends meet. Neither parents nor childcare providers here should have to wait any longer. Employers For Childcare will continue to work with key stakeholders from across the sector, and in support of policy-makers, to achieve the changes that parents and providers have been telling us, for a long number of years, is needed – and ensure this is underpinned by a comprehensive, fully costed Childcare Strategy which actually delivers.”