Face masks, pods and nappies – The life of an essential early years educator
In February 2021 Celine Govern spoke to The College View, DCU’s newspaper about her experience as an early years educator during a pandemic.
Celine Govern is the proud owner of The Village Preschool. When Govern was twenty-nine she was working in insurance. However, EU funding (introduced to encourage the set-up of regulated childcare facilities) allowed her to start her business.
“I decided to put in an application form. I was the first in Meath to be successful”, she reflects. Like many businesses across the country, Covid-19 brought challenges to Govern’s door that could never have been foreseen.
“Covid of course has changed everything, dramatically. The first and most brutal change was the loss of all our funding on April 1 2020,” she said.
Providers like Govern signed on to the PUP payment, struggling financially and wondering when they would be able to reopen.
“This caused a huge amount of stress and anxiety and I would say that it definitely had an impact on my own well-being”, she admits. Staff were retained on Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), which actually meant they received a higher wage than they normally would have.
Govern felt it was important to keep parents in the loop during this time, even though she was not obliged to do so. Govern feels that the relationship between provider and parents is invaluable.
“My engagement with parents happened because I really value that relationship,” she said.
Although 2020 was not all negative for her business with funding allowing her to improve her facilities and improve child-teacher ratios. “We received funding to enhance our outdoor play areas… I was able to employ an extra teacher and a cleaner.”
Govern is grateful for the fact that her business is 100% government funded and is not reliant on parental fees. The less fortunate childcare settings only have 50% of wages covered by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS).
The great outdoors
Unlike most, Govern has not introduced pods for the thirty children that attend each morning, instead making use of their large outdoor area.
“I made the decision not to operate pods as I felt this meant children would only get an hour outside. By moving the entire school outdoors, it meant we were able to operate with no pods”. She feels that this decision has insured that her business is as safe as possible.
Other adaptations, may stay long after the pandemic has ended. Lunchboxes (which run the risk of contamination at home) have been replaced with food being provided within the facility.
Parents pay a fee each month for daily meals, something that has been a huge success for all involved. Regular risk assessments, policies, procedures and constantly adapting to change is the life of a provider doing all she can to keep staff, children and parents safe.
Last Friday’s online action brought attention to the fact that Ireland has the lowest paid early years’ sector in the EU.
UNICEF’s investment to the sector is one per cent GDPR. In Ireland this investment is 0.2 per cent. Those at the frontline are now calling for Ireland to increase the investment to meet the UNICEF recommendation by 2025.
Change may be coming but for many, it is simply not coming fast enough.
“Ireland has led the way in many other areas in Europe and we see no reason why they can’t do the same with childcare”
Image Credit: Grace O’ Sullivan