Northern Ireland Assembly debates important childcare motion

On 10 March 2020, the Northern Ireland Assembly debated and passed a motion proposing to introduce a Childcare Strategy supported by legislation and provision for 30 hours free childcare for 38 weeks a year for 3 to 4 year olds.

Employers For Childcare provided a written brief to all MLAs, that was referenced throughout the debate, welcoming the proposal of the motion which recognises the vital role childcare plays both in terms of empowering parents who want to get into, stay in and progress in work, and in relation to child development. However, we also noted some aspects of the motion that we believe need further examination:

  • The affordability of childcare is not just an issue for parents of 3 to 4 year olds – we know that many parents struggle most when their children are in the 0 to 2 age bracket, when costs can be highest. This can impact particularly on mums who are trying to get back into work. We also highlighted that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are a critically important time in terms of child development.
  • The 30 hours scheme elsewhere in the UK has been tailored in each devolved jurisdiction and each scheme differs in terms of eligibility (for example, only working parents can access the scheme in England whereas in Scotland those in education or training will be eligible). Duration of the scheme also varies (for example in Wales, families will be able to access 30 hours for 48 weeks per year but in England provision is calculated over 38 weeks per year). We advocate learning from the best of all these schemes to introduce something that is appropriate for Northern Ireland.
  • A shortfall of funding has been identified in England where 30 hours of free childcare has been rolled out, which is putting a strain on childcare providers. It is vital that we learn from the experience in England to make sure this does not happen here.
  • Consideration should be given to whether this support scheme will apply to all childcare providers, including childminders, to give families the flexibility that they need and ensure there is investment right across our childcare sector.

This is the first key debate on childcare provision since the Assembly was restored in January 2020 and we anticipate many more as childcare was identified as a key priority in ‘New Decade, New Approach’. MLAs from across all the parties recognised the vital role of childcare in supporting child development and in helping parents- particularly women – to get into and stay in work. Important issues raised included provision in rural areas, support for families who have a child with a disability and the need to ensure any proposals are properly funded. Several MLAs, while welcoming the motion, also reflected their view that it does not go far enough and referred to the aspects we have set out above.

MLAs referred to previous Northern Ireland Childcare Surveys as evidence, reflecting the importance of this research series and the need for you to share your views. We will be using the findings from this year’s Annual Northern Ireland Childcare Survey – which is currently open – to inform development and delivery of childcare and will also be presenting this evidence to the Committee for Education later this year. Please complete this survey to share your views on childcare and to have your voice heard!

Parents: To share your experience of using childcare, and to be in with a chance to win an overnight stay at the luxury Galgorm Resort & Spa in a two bedroom cottage, with breakfast and access to the Thermal Spa Village:

Click here to complete the Parent survey

Childcare providers: To share your experience of delivering quality childcare, and to be in with a chance to win a £100 Boots voucher:

Click here to complete the Childcare provider survey

Thank you very much for your time!