- Childcare for All
Ambition needed to ensure new Childcare Strategy delivers for all
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
The Department of Education is currently working on a new Early Learning and Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland. A Stakeholder Engagement Forum is about to launch, an independent review of childcare services is underway, and costed options for the Strategy are due to be ready for Executive consideration by March 2023. This is long overdue, and much needed, so progress is welcome. But having waited for so long, and with families and childcare providers increasingly struggling to afford and deliver this essential infrastructure, we need to ensure the final Strategy is both ambitious in its aims and sufficiently funded to actually deliver on behalf of the parents, employers and childcare providers we work with.
Our new Childcare Strategy must meet the needs of children, families, childcare providers and those working in the sector, as well as our wider society and economy. We need a Strategy that invests in delivering a childcare system that is affordable, accessible, flexible, high quality, and which supports children’s education and development. One where childcare is available to, and suitable for, children of all ages, those with a disability, and those living in a rural location. Where childcare provision enables parents to get into and stay in paid work or education and training, and importantly where the value of childcare work is recognised with decent pay and terms and conditions.
And that’s what drives the Childcare for All campaign. This is the vision set out in the Childcare for All Charter, developed by the wide range of organisations working within the sector who came together in 2018 amidst shared frustration at a lack of progress, combined with a strong determination to see childcare at the top of the political agenda, securing real and meaningful investment in this critical sector. And a lot has been achieved so far. Childcare featured prominently during the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May this year. Since Childcare for All was established, the All Party Group on Early Education and Childcare has been set up, and the progress on a new Childcare Strategy is promising, albeit slow.
But much more is needed. Childcare providers are coming under increasing pressure due to rising costs, while more and more parents are being priced out of affording the childcare they need to work. We’ve spoken to parents, and to providers, who heard the recent announcement that the childcare budget in Ireland will reach €1 billion next year and are asking – why are we being left behind, and why isn’t childcare valued in Northern Ireland?
It should be inconceivable that, more than two decades after the last Childcare Strategy was published in Northern Ireland, we are still waiting for a new one, and for the investment that families, providers and our economy so desperately need. Yet here we are.
This is a critical juncture. There is a generationally significant opportunity to secure the ambitious Childcare Strategy, and major investment, that is so sorely needed. This can’t be an opportunity wasted. Years of work – including more than a decade of research from Employers For Childcare, through the Northern Ireland Childcare Survey – have paved the way.
And critically – political instability cannot be allowed to stall progress. We are still without an Executive, and it is uncertain what is in store over the coming weeks and months. The time for warm words alone is over. The promise of a Childcare Strategy, without the institutions in place to deliver it, simply isn’t good enough.
So Childcare for All will continue to press for real momentum, building on all the work of the last few years, to secure a truly ambitious Childcare Strategy and significant funding that really delivers for families, childcare providers and our economy and society as a whole.
If you would like to get involved with Childcare for All, or find out more about our work, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services
Employers For Childcare