Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Why Changes To CE Will Only Threaten Childcare Services


A visit to the Clare Family Resource Centre is an inspiring experience  – a dedicated team delivering the highest standards of childcare allied to a state-of-the-art premises on a par with the best in Europe. 
You see at first hand a community model that works – affordable, high quality childcare in a warm, caring
environment. Staff cater to a diverse range of 110 children, including children with special needs and children
who are vulnerable. 
General Manager, Maureen Keane, explained: “Ever since the centre was set up in 1994, we have been
motivated by the need to cater for those who are not in a financial position to avail of the services provided
by the private sector. Community Employment (CE) has been central to the success of this project.”
There are currently 24 staff, all progressing to FETAC levels 5, 6 and 7 qualifications over the course of
one to three years before moving on to work in the childcare sector. Three of this team are seconded to
Clare Haven Services which provides support and accommodation to women and children who have experienced domestic abuse.
Maureen told  Liberty: “All of our Room Leaders started off as CE workers – this  shows you how
important CE is to our operation. Our people are always very sought after by other employers because
they are so well trained.”
Magda Bola Ogunniyi is an example of this successful approach.  Originally from Nigeria, Magda
came to Ireland 14 years ago. She began her career at the centre 12 years ago as a CE participant, worked
her way up to Room Leader and has been the scheme supervisor for four years now. She said: “Working here is fantastic – CE gave me a lifeline to build my career.”
Presumably this is just the type of model of childcare that Minister Joan Burton had in mind when she
called recently for the setting up of “a system of safe, affordable and accessible childcare, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries”.  Indeed Maureen Keane spent time in Scandinavia when researching
best practice for the design of their premises in Ennis which was opened just three years ago.
So it’s hard to believe that since last December’s budget there has been increasing concern over future
funding for the centre.  Materials and training grants have been slashed leading to cutbacks of
€25,000 in funding which was used to pay for equipment, toys, heating, electricity and phone costs as well as
core FETAC training. 
This is in addition to the cut to the specific skills training fund – a loss of another €9,000.
Maureen added: “Courses in first aid, lifting and handling, fire and safety and food hygiene are mandatory, and that’s before you move on to the rest of the FETAC course contents. All of this costs money but we
will no longer receive funding for this unless things change.”
As a direct result of these cuts, a sister company to the centre – the
Clare Training Resource Centre – is being forced to close permanently in July, with the loss of a part-time
administrator, and the withdrawal of FETAC recognised training in childcare for the local community.
Maureen claims changes to lone parent payments have piled further pressure on the Centre.
She said: “We depend on new participants joining our CE scheme –
many of whom would have been lone parents, but budget changes mean lone parents will now receive
just €20 a week as an additional payment.  “This is supposed to cover their own costs of transport and childcare.Not surprisingly, the result has been a dramatic reduction in lone parents applying to join the course.”
And there is another cause for concern amid speculation that the Government’s review of Community
Employment will recommend that workers will be restricted to just one
year of CE. “It takes time to learn childcare and continuity of care is very important,” explained Maureen. 
“The quality of care must always come first. Restricting CE to one year might work in other scenarios but it
won’t work in childcare.”
All of these factors are causing great worry to Maureen and her team who are now facing an uncertain future. ““As things stand, I don’t see us being able to run a training scheme next year, but I hope that we can. I am particularly concerned about the impact these cuts could have on our support for the Clare
Haven Services.”
SIPTU Organiser, Diane Jackson, hailed the Clare Family Resource Centre as a template for community childcare of the highest order.  She told Liberty: “The Department of Social Protection should recognise
the damage that is being done by these cutbacks, recognise the huge value of schemes like the Clare
Family Resource Centre and act now to ensure the security of its future funding"

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