Cork East Fine Gael TD, David Stanton, has welcomed confirmation from the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD, that his department is actively working to address shortages in childcare places in East Cork as a result of creche closures caused by Storm Babet.
Raising the matter with Minister O’Gorman in the Dáil chamber, David Stanton said: “At least two crèches I know of have closed. One may not open at all; the other will not open until April or May. Well over 100 children are involved and now have no place to go. This is an emergency. Some parents have told me they may have to give up work because they cannot continue while others have taken unpaid leave.
“A number of premises have been identified in the area that could be used on a temporary basis. One is attached to a large childcare facility already. They have a room they can use but it needs to be registered. That takes time and time is what the parents do not have. Many of these families also had their houses destroyed. They are not only dealing with getting their houses back in order. They are also trying to go to work and find a place for their child.
“This is linked to another issue, which is that many developers are building large schemes and are supposed to put in crèches. The crèche is the last thing they put in and then they walk away and forget about the crèche. I have been telling the local authorities to get them to build the crèches first and then build houses. This is critical across the country but where there is a difficulty in finding childcare places, especially in East Cork, and with Storm Babet on top of that closing down crèches for a long period, the Minister can understand the pressure and stress parents are under”.
Responding to the matter, Minister O’Gorman said: “I am aware the Cork childcare committee has been engaging with the impacted services to ensure all assistance is in place to support the families and the services affected by the flooding. The childcare committee is proactively engaging with early learning childcare services to identify unused capacity and explore the potential for services to increase capacity to meet the early learning and childcare needs of families in the immediate and wider surrounding areas.
“Families are being encouraged to contact the Cork County childcare committee directly to gain support in meeting their particular childcare needs. All families impacted by the floods can have their child’s registration for ECCE transferred to a new provider. Funding will not be affected. Similarly, any families currently registered with the NCS will be able to transfer their childcare identifier code key, CHICK, to a new provider. In normal circumstances, people need to give four weeks’ notice for this, but that requirement will not be applied in these circumstances.
“I will also look for clarity from the childcare committee and from Tusla’s early years inspectorate that all due haste is being given to ensuring potential new venues are inspected. Those inspections must be done. We cannot put children into an unsafe place, even in desperate circumstances. My department cannot stand over that. Where there is an emergency situation, however, I am sure we can move things rapidly. I will work with the Deputy to achieve that.
“The Deputy made some wider points about capacity. I brought a memorandum to the Cabinet yesterday on the measures we are taking to improve capacity nationally, which we will launch later in the week. The memorandum also covers the planning issue whereby developers are either not building a childcare facility along with the houses, or they are building it and, lo and behold, it looks exactly like a house and, three months later, they come back with a planning application to change its use to housing, or they say there is no demand because they will not let any childcare service make a bid to open a facility. We are working with the Department of Housing to revise the 2001 regulations on the delivery of childcare facilities alongside new housing developments”.
Concluding David Stanton said: “I thank the Minister for his comprehensive and very positive response. It would be a great Christmas present for these parents if they were to have a childcare or after-school place for their baby or child before Christmas.
“I acknowledge the endeavours being made by other childcare providers in the area to identify premises and expand their services to look after the parents and children impacted by the floods. I know of at least two large providers that are working hard to achieve this. They need the co-operation of Tusla and the childcare committee and they need the support of the Minister.
“I am really impressed that the Minister has put his finger on the bigger point, which is the need for more childcare premises to be built and built to plan rather than being built as a house and then flipped. That is hugely important. I am a bit more hopeful now that things will happen. We will, of course, be monitoring the situation closely”.