Almost two thirds of adults (61 per cent) believe childcare should be available free to all children, according to a new survey by Early Childhood Ireland.
The Childcare Barometer 2021 reveals 58 per cent also feel parents should be financially supported to stay at home during the first year of their child’s life, showing a notable gender divide with 65 per cent of women agreeing compared to 52 per cent of men.
The annual survey which assesses public attitudes to childcare found 73 per cent believe the Government has significant responsibility in ensuring childcare settings have sufficient funding to allow them to operate under Covid-19 restrictions, while the same percentage feel the terms and conditions of employment for childcare staff should reflect their qualifications.
With rising childcare costs putting a greater strain on incomes, 60 per cent believe the amount paid by parents for childcare should be in line with their overall income.
This opinion was most popular among parents with younger children, with 75 per cent of parents with children between 3-5 and 73 per cent with children under 2 agreeing.
In addition, over half of adults (55 per cent) think childcare staff should be paid by the Government, as is the case with school teachers, while 62 per cent say education for children under 5 is just as important as it is for children over 5.
Commenting on the surveys findings, director of policy at Early Childhood Ireland, Frances Byrne said the pandemic has shown the childcare sector is essential.
“The pandemic has heightened awareness among the public of how important qualified early years educators are – and of the fact that they deserve employment terms in line with those of other professionals, such as nurses and teachers.
“The Barometer results also underline the importance of continued Government support for our sector. Childcare providers nationwide have been reliant on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme over the past year,” Ms Byrne said.
“The pandemic really showed the vulnerabilities in the sector, and the precarious funding position many of our members are in.
“It was right and necessary for the Government to step in with the subsidy scheme and other supports to ensure childcare services remained open during this difficult period. But the reality is that services need better funding on a long-term basis.
“We’ve seen that it’s possible for these vital services to be significantly subsidised by the Government during a time of crisis; now, we want to see this become the norm in Irish life,” she added.