Won’t somebody please think of the staff?

New regulations have recently been published in relation to early childhood care in Ireland. While I welcome these wholeheartedly I do wonder again where this leaves childcare staff. One of the regulations is that all staff now must have at least a level 5 qualification in childcare. This is a big step forward as it is now law that anyone not reaching this standard cannot work with children. Surely a welcome change. However, I would ask what is the benefit to staff?

Having once worked in the early years profession I can honestly say its a very tough gig with very little pay or benefits. So while I am glad that government is taking steps to create a safe, educational and fun place for children I am concerned that staff are continuously being over-looked. Early years education and care starts with good, motivated and passionate staff members. While good staff will always remain committed to their work they can hardly be expected to continue to remain motivated or passionate working in a sector so under-valued by society.

It is, as a staff member, your responsibility to keep on top of your training and your qualifications. You pay for most of this up-skilling yourself while working on very low pay. The minimum wage now stands at 9.15 an hour and most childcare workers do not make more than this despite being highly qualified and maintaining an interest in professional development. Meanwhile Lidl signed the Living Wage Agreement back in October 2015 and pledged to pay its workers a minimum of 11.50 increasing incrementally to 13 euro per hour over a period of two years. That means you can train and work for years in childcare and still make less than someone who has just started a retail career with Lidl. This does not seem very fair to me.

Many childcare centres today are privately run and these owners struggle to meet overheads such as rent, electricity, heating etc. on top of paying staff. There are no government resources to help and often management cannot afford to pay much more than minimum wage despite wishing to reward staff for their hard work. Quite often highly qualified and committed professionals end up leaving the sector as it just doesn’t pay the bills and they need to put their own families’ needs first. When I first started in the industry I had no idea how badly paid and undervalued it was and if given the chance again I would follow a different path. I would advise against childcare as a solid career path. This saddens me,

I loved working with children. They are so full of life and energy and new ideas. They live life fully in the moment and are such a joy to work with. Nevertheless it is also a stressful profession working for little pay yet one must meet various demanding roles and juggle a number of balls. You teach, you care, you observe, you communicate, you research, you plan….and so on. It’s tough and demanding and no way is all this work represented in your pay packet.

We trust childcare staff with our most precious resource, our children, but clearly don’t value them enough to pay them for their time, experience and training. It is time the government took note and awarded childcare staff the respect and wages they so clearly deserve.

Lidless Beakers – now I’ve heard it all!

Today I discovered that Tulsa (the Irish Child and Family Agency) have announced that lidded beakers are no longer allowed for children once they reach the age of 12 months. Any service found to be offering lidded beakers to toddlers aged one and up will be found to be non-compliant. My first thought was – seriously?? With all the issues facing the childcare sector and childcare professionals Tulsa is choosing to focus on this? What’s next? Services will be considered non-compliant for offering bibs to one year olds? This is ignorance at it’s very best! Let’s ignore the real problems here and get rid of those dangerous lidded beakers. Obviously these are having such a detrimental effect on children’s development!

To my mind what is having a worse effect on children’s development is having inspectors who are blind to the real problems faced by childcare staff. The staff who work in these services are under-paid, under-resourced and under-valued. Yet, everyday, they don their uniforms and do their very best for the children in their care. They put themselves under enormous pressure creating exciting yet educational curriculums, introducing new activities and teaching children basic social skills like toilet-training and making friends. They do so much more than their job descriptions would have us believe. Why exactly are Tulsa focusing on lidded beakers while ignoring the very real problems of staff?

Perhaps because they are not really bothered to find a solution? Childcare staff do not have a strong powerful union like Siptu in their corner so their problems can easily be overlooked without too much uproar. Parents are struggling to find money to pay for childcare but staff are struggling to survive on the low wages they are paid. This cannot be allowed to continue. I fear, though, until a strong union of childcare workers is formed things will remain much the same and Tulsa will continue to care more about beakers than staff.

On a less serious but no less important note it is surely parents who decide what type of beaker they want their child to drink from. It is not Tulsa’s place to tell us what type of cup our child should be using. As the parent of a wobbly toddler I would  not approve of her using a lidless beaker – my laundry hamper is full enough than you very much! If a Tulsa inspector would like to do my extra laundry for me work away but this announcement has made me very grateful my daughter is attending a childminder once a week and not a crèche. I can only hope parents who do have children in creches do not feel obligated or forced to comply with this ridiculous new rule.