A number of community based childcare providers in Waterford city and county have expressed grave concerns at the fact that they are set to receive a greatly reduced grant (subvention scheme) towards their staff costs from January next.
The organizations say the end result of the proposed cuts will lead to an unavoidable situation where increased fees will have to be charged to all parents who use their services. The worst hit will be those parents with low income jobs who are not on social welfare.
Sinn Fein Councillor, David Cullinane, said this week that there would be ‘huge problems’ with the new scheme and predicted that it would cause the closure of childcare facilities in disadvantaged areas.
Under the previous scheme the services received a grant as a contribution towards their overall staffing costs but the new scheme will only provide a contribution to those families in receipt of specific welfare payments.
Creche spokesperson Mary Byrne explained that the change would impact on approximately 700 children in Waterford city and county. “Even with funding being made available for certain families under the scheme, the costs for all families are set to double if the services are to remain viable. For example, weekly rates for full time childcare could rise from €120 to €200 and sessional care could rise from €45 to €90”, said Ms. Byrne.
The community based childcare providers say their organisations have relied on the commitment and experience of local volunteers to manage and develop the services and estimate that the significant shortfall in grant aid will lead to a cutback in services, reduction in staff and a significant hike in fees to parents.
Loss of quality
Further impacts of the cuts will be an increased administrative workload, the loss of the positive impact for the community as a result of less integration of children from different backgrounds at the childcare services and also a reduction in the overall quality of the services being offered.
The Network of Providers in Waterford County and City are particularly angry that the Office of the Minister for Children has had no consultation with them on this new scheme. They are calling on the Minister to re-think this policy decision which may ultimately result in childcare services which were built with grant aid being forced to close their doors. This will leave many children and families without the high quality childcare services they have come to rely on.
The Childcare providers with the support of the Childcare Forum intend to send a detailed submission outlining their concerns with back-up case study information to the Office of the Minister for Children and the Local City and Co Development Boards, local Politicians and the local Partnerships companies.
All providers affected are calling meetings for the parents who use their services to provide an opportunity to discuss the possible impacts of this new scheme.
The Childcare providers outlined a further concern in Waterford City for the future sustainability of the five newly developing childcare services which have been grant aided to the tune of €5,600,000.
These services will not be sustainable into the future with the reduced levels of funding to be made available under the subvention scheme. In addition, in rural areas where there are smaller population numbers, there will be insufficient numbers of families falling into the categories which qualify for the new grant.
Councillor Cullinane says the new childcare funding scheme could lead to closure of community creches and he is concerned that the new scheme for funding community childcare could have negative consequences.
“Having spoken to community childcare providers, I foresee huge problems with the new scheme, resulting in the closure of many facilities. I know that these concerns are echoed throughout the State.
“Minister of State Brendan Smith and his Department are failing to recognise the very negative impact of the far-reaching changes to funding now being put in place. These concerns are being raised widely by the community childcare providers who will be required to work the new scheme.
“There is huge concern in the community childcare sector that, far from assisting the disadvantaged to gain better access to childcare, the new scheme will actually close facilities in disadvantaged areas.
“The new scheme requires community childcare operators to work a tiered fee system according to the income of service users. Services will receive subventions to enable reduced fees to be charged to disadvantaged parents. But these parents must be in receipt of social welfare payments.
“Many of the families using community childcare facilities are on low incomes but do not receive social welfare payments. Without a sufficient number of welfare recipients on their books community crÃ¨ches will be forced to close or raise the fees for those not qualifying for the subvention. Thus low-income families (and many more in already stretched circumstances) could be actually forced to pay more. This makes a nonsense of the claim that the new scheme will be better for the disadvantagedâ€ , said Councillor Cullinane.