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.