Over 260 childcare centres face closure next year, leaving families of up to 5,800 toddlers looking for a new pre-school place. The warning has been issued following a Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) members’ survey about the State’s new €221million Core Funding model. The 264 providers struggling to keep their doors open are ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) scheme operators, who charge no fees to parents and are directly funded by the State for three-hour sessions of pre-school care, offered over two years. They say the funding does not reflect current levels of inflation, or pay for the hours they spend on paperwork, training, parent meetings and other work aside from direct teaching hours. An extra €10 per child is all it would take to save the services, which cater for up to 22 children each, the FECP has said. One Dublin operator who asked to remain anonymous said she would prefer to work next year at a loss, rather than close.

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She said she has to subsidise the service herself, without any wage. This is after sick pay, staff redundancies and the rising cost of living are taken into account. ‘It would make financial sense for me to close in June, but I wouldn’t do that to them [the families],’ she explained. ‘There wouldn’t be time for them to find a good place. ‘I’ll open again in September, and I’ll close next June, but I am heartbroken about it.’ Mary Magee, who owns the Red Door Montessori in Trim, Co Meath, said she would remain open – but that she feared the closure of many ECCE services would leave parents with little choice in childcare providers.

‘We are not allowed to charge parents, so we need to increase capitation so we can continue to provide quality services, and support the parents and children who need it.’

Elaine Dunne, chairperson of the FECP, told the Irish Daily Mail: ‘We had a meeting with ECCE providers, and they are just totally disheartened. They just don’t have enough funding to get across the line. They are feeling so defeated. The Department of Children has accounted for inflation of 2.1%, but unfortunately inflation is running a lot higher at close to 7%, and therefore, there is a real problem with the viability of these businesses.

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Unless that changes they are not going to be able to remain open.’ She said the federation welcomed the work done by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman and the department on the new financial supports, due to take effect from September 1 this year. However, she said there were some services that were negatively affected, like the ECCE providers, who could not make up the shortfall by charging parents. In response, the Department countered that there was ‘no evidence to suggest that services will face closure as a result of the new Core Funding package’.

In a statement, it said: ‘The vast majority of services will see an increase in funding, and around 1% of services will see no change.

‘No service will see a decrease in funding. For any service that does experience financial difficulties, a Sustainability Fund will be in place.’ The Department also said that ECCE services have the highest levels of income in excess of costs compared to other types of provision. It added that the Government was committed to increasing investment in early learning and care and school-aged childcare.

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It said €173million of the €221million Core Funding package was new investment. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar recently pledged that increased subsidies would be paid by the Government next year, to reduce the cost of childcare to parents. The Tánaiste said: ‘The focus of additional subsidies this year has been on paying staff better and improving quality.

‘Next year, increased subsidies should be used to reduce costs considerably for parents. ‘This will increase disposable family incomes and make it more attractive for parents to return to the labour market thus helping to fill vacant positions and moderate wage inflation.’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has also said that there is a need for universal access to childcare.