Opinion: The government is beginning to recognise that the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial

Adults need to step away and put children back at the centre of childcare, writes Tanya Ward of TheJournal.ie

ANY DISCUSSION CENTRED on how to raise children is going to be fraught, and this week has been no exception.

The cost of childcare in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe, yet as the government makes important first steps to support parents’ choices by offering a childcare package that is both universal but also offers targeted supports to those most in need, the rhetoric has been about pitting ‘squeezed middle’ parents against low-income parents.

Now we hear that the government is ‘forcing’ parents to use childcare centres rather than recognising and supporting parents caring for their children in their home.  Suddenly, the idea that all parents would get some financial help with the high cost of childcare has turned into an argument between stay-at-home versus working parents.

We all know what can happen when adults fight – children can get caught in the middle; become invisible; lose out. Adults need to step back and put children at the core of this debate. Currently, professional childcare in Ireland is extremely variable; lack of regulation and support means that the standard of childcare is extremely dependant on the family’s location, financial situation and lifestyle.

What children need

The government needs to set up a structure that facilitates quality of care for children who are at home, in childcare and in school. Encouraging childcare providers to register will enable a structure where those working in childcare will be Garda vetted and know how to look after a child’s health and safety needs.

Children develop and learn best with a variety of experiences. They need to play and explore, have structure and flexibility. There are many ways to provide this, but giving children access to affordable, high-quality childcare opens a door not just for them, but also for their parents to decide how to balance the way children spend their days. The new childcare system being introduced is adaptable. It offers subsidies for up to 40 hours per week, because that is the level of support many families need. However, this isn’t a requirement and nor is it pushing parents to spend less time with their children.

The government has already committed to bringing in paid parental leave for the first year of a child’s life, in recognition that children do best with access to parents at these earliest stages. This would bring us into line with our European neighbours, and when implemented will give parents even more options for how they care for their children in these crucial early years. Beyond this, we need flexible employment that allows mothers and fathers to balance time at home and in work without always having to make difficult choices. The introduction of paid paternity leave was an important first step but we can’t stop there. Paid parental leave has proven benefits for both children and parents alike……

Read the full article on TheJournal.ie