Almost nine out of ten childcare providers say they either won’t or have reservations about re-opening their premises on June 29, when the government intends to start a phased resumption of those services.

Most parents also have no interest in returning their child or children to services as the Covid-19 lockdown continues, according to a survey of childcare providers obtained by the Irish Examiner.

The research, conducted by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, also looks at the opinions of staff and comes as the government scrambles to organise its childcare plan for Cabinet this week.

The results of the survey of 609 providers will be a blow to the caretaker government’s attempts to restore childcare services and comes after a botched effort to reopen facilities for essential health workers earlier this month. 

That attempt saw just six out of more than 4,000 childcare providers signed up to that first phase for May 18 leading the Government to abort that plan.

The government now hopes to secure agreement with providers and a safe method to allow children to return to creches and services in ‘pod’ settings by June 29. Only essential workers will be able to access these services.

Some 88% or 530 childcare providers responding to the federation survey said that they are currently not planning (362) to reopen on June 29 or are unsure (168) about doing so.

Just 74 providers said they are planning to reopen doors then.

Asked how many mothers and fathers had shown interest in returning children to services as they were essential workers, 62% of providers or 366 premises said parents had no intention of doing so.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said last week the government was looking at a Norwegian model of reopening services. This could include a child in the same room, with the same toy and carer every day and parents waiting in a car as their child is taken in by a professional.

But providers and staff are confused, according to the federation survey, and reluctant to commit to the June 29 plan being led by Ms Zappone.

Some 98% or 596 providers say “the lack of clear guidance” from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has increased their “anxiety” regarding the future of their service.

Furthermore, the survey found that 61% of staff have not agreed to return to work on June 29. Only 53 providers will have staff back then.

Most of the 609 providers contacted answered questions, but the reply rate slightly differed for each one.

Elaine Dunne, chairperson of the FECP, said the current ‘pod’ plans for June 29 will not work and are a health risk. There is a lack of clarity around the government’s vision, she said.

“We are desperate to get our centers open, we need them open, but we will only do so when it is both safe for the children and staff and is viable for our businesses to do so. There has been widespread speculation, initiated by Minister Zappone’s own suggestion, that they were leaning towards a Norwegian model in their research with ‘pods’ in centres and collection of children from cars.

“Effective and meaningful consultation with providers would inform them very quickly that those systems simply won’t work; not least because it would be inherently bad for a child’s emotional and social development, but just as importantly there are critical health and safety risks involved.” Ms Dunne added that there is not enough time to prepare for the June 29 reopen date.

Ms Zappone told the Dail last week that the plan to get creches and childcare providers back up and running by June 29 would be brought before Cabinet by the end of this month. But she could not guarantee that it would go ahead.

Meanwhile, her department is conducting its own survey of parents on the reopening of services. The results of the IPSOS survey of 500 households will be known later this week and is in addition to a separate poll of creches being finalised by the department.

Source: Irish Examiner