Despite increased demand for childcare for babies and toddlers under two, the number of spots for these young children in childcare and crèches is falling.
The State's ECCE scheme supports children over the age of three, however, little ones under two are not aided in the same way, despite them needing a high level of care.
A survey of childcare providers conducted by Seas Suas, who represent independent early education and childcare providers, found that a number of issues have affected the provision of places for younger children.
A lack of funding, staff shortages, and changing regulatory requirements have led many crèches to reduce the number of spots they provide for children under two.
“Staffing shortages is now also a huge problem for our sector," noted Regina Bushell, Chairperson of Seas Suas, "Without qualified staff, providers will be forced to reduce their capacity, at a time when expansion is required."
44 percent of childcare providers reported that they currently have staff vacancies at their facilities, the Irish Examiner reports. 30 percent said it can take up to four months to fill each vacancy.
This has a tangible impact, as 65 percent of survey respondents said that the staff shortage issue was affecting their services. As well, 68 percent of providers said that this issue meant that they had to decrease or not expand their services.
Childcare facilities are required by the government to meet certain staff-to-child ratios, and 58 percent of childcare providers said they were concerned that staff shortage may put them at risk of not meeting these regulations.
A number of solutions were put forward in the survey, such as an apprenticeship scheme that would include on-the-job training as part of qualification (supported by 16 percent of respondents).
15 percent of those surveyed supported the broadening of qualification requirements so that prior experience and education can be considered.
The most popular option, with 69 percent of respondents supporting, was the introduction of a specific State subsidy that would boost the wages of staff in order to recruit and retain people in this field.
Regina Bushell, Chairperson of Seas Suas, said of the survey's findings: "The survey confirms a lot of what we have been hearing from providers on the ground. Many providers are finding it increasingly challenging to cater for babies and toddlers - those under two years of age, as part of their service offering.
"The absence of sufficient State supports to providers to care for this age category, is making it unsustainable for providers to continue to offer this service in a scenario where costs – staff, overheads, rents - have all increased.
"Ultimately, any reduction in services impacts on families, employers and our wider economy because available, affordable childcare services is crucial for parents to get to work," she continued.
“It will also impact on services for vulnerable children and parents returning to education."
She noted that Ireland's rate of female participation in the labour market is below average. In fact, Regina said that only 40 percent of Irish women return to work after having kids.
“It’s clear that a long-term Strategy for our sector is now long overdue," she told the Irish Examiner, "This Strategy must map how the sector must develop for the coming decades, how this will be funded and above all places our children at its heart."
Are you surprised by the survey's findings, mums?