A report has been issued by the Department of Children and Youth affairs, outlining a whole-of-government strategy to develop previously implemented government services.
In the plan, Minister for Children and Youth affairs Katherine Zappone writes: “This first national strategy for early childhood. The first five seeks to ensure babies and young children have a strong and equal start… This is not the responsibility of one Department or one Minister. It is the responsibility of the whole-of-government and whole-of-society.”
The strategy includes five ‘steps’. The first is to provide access to a broader range of options for parents, to facilitate an easier balance of working and caring. This involves the development of a new parental leave scheme, which will deliver extended entitlements to paid leave for all parents.
The second step is to improve the existing parenting supports, which involves cooperation from a range of Government Departments and State Agencies. The aim for this step is to provide better information and guidance for parents. A new Parenting Unit will be established by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to look over these plans.
The third step is to develop a health workforce focused on children’s health and particularly in areas of high population and at a disadvantage. The Strategy also aims to set new measures for promoting positive health behaviours and the mental health of babies, young children and their families. This is hoped to enhance the National Healthy Childhood Programme and to be led by the Healthy Ireland Office.
The strategy’s fourth step is to reform the Early Learning and Care system, including introducing the Affordable Childcare Scheme, move toward a graduate-led profession Early Learning and Care workforce, and to extend supports to paid childminders and school-age childcare services. This is to go alongside a new funding model for the system.
The final step in the strategy is to tackle early childhood poverty. Measures include expanded access to free and subsidised Early Learning and Care, extension to the Warmth and Well-Being and Warmer Homes Schemes, Community Cooking Programmes and the introduction of a meals programme to some Early Learning and Care settings.
In September this year, the Chief Executive of Barnardos Fergus Finlay, now retired, said Ireland is no “Republic of opportunity” for the many thousands of children in poverty. This came after the annual report showed a record high number of children and families who had sought the help of Barnardos last year.
Barnardos provides practical and emotional support to children and parents. “Ireland does not invest in services, especially ones such as early years,” Finlay said.
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