Four years of study to qualify, years of hard work to gain experience – but when childcare workers become parents themselves they find they are unable to afford creche fees on salaries barely above the minimum wage.
With creche owners hamstrung by new regulations on staff qualifications, child to worker ratios, and increased floor space, a shortage of childcare workers could have a dangerous knock on effect for all parents in the workplace.
Jennifer* is a childcare worker who recently became a new mum. She says it was her love of children that drew her to the sector.
“I’ve always loved children. More than anything. Always wanted to help them. I did my first placement and was hooked. Absolutely adored it from the get go.”
Jennifer studied for 4 years to qualify as a childcare worker, however she says that the industry is so low paid that it would now cost her to work.
“I’m conflicted as a childcare provider and mum. I see from being a mother that childcare costs can be ridiculous. But I also know from working the sector that the pay is shameful. I would not make enough money to pay for him in childcare while I worked. For example, I would get €10 an hour in some places and be charged €12 an hour for crèche.”
According to 2016 figures the average wage for childcare workers in Ireland was €10.27 an hour.
Due to the lack of affordable childcare Donegal woman Sinead* faced difficulties even getting her qualification to work in childcare. Upon returning from abroad where she had been working in childcare, Sinead registered to do a level 5 childcare course.
Sinead had two small children so needed childcare for her kids while she studied. However the college she registered at didn’t provide subsidised childcare certs for students. Sinead had to apply for another college, which delayed her return to education by a year.
Sinead says it was extremely difficult even finding out what childcare support was available to her.
“It was so hard to figure out what childcare subsidies you were entitled to. I tried the internet, the DCCC and social welfare but they all gave different answers.”
Another difficulty Sinead encountered was securing a place in a creche that was able to collect her children from school.
“Not very many places offer after school with pick up and if they do they are booked up. I was so stressed and frustrated thinking I might have to give up on the idea of returning to education yet again.”
The low pay and lack of opportunity to progress is depressing and disheartening
Sinead eventually secured places for her children in one of the few places that collects kids from school. She says that the childcare centre she is using is not ideal for her kids but that she has no choice but to send them there as the only alternative is to drop out of college.
When Sinead got accepted into a course at an Institute of Technology she looked into the subsidies available for students. “The college gives subsidies to parents but only up to the age they start school, so as my kids are at school I wasn’t eligible. I was upset and annoyed that I wouldn’t qualify as they are still too young to not require after school care.”
Sinead asked Social Welfare if they could pay her benefit into her bank account. “They said no I would have to collect it in the post office each week, which is hard when your a full time student plus they make me go in once every three months to sign on so I have to miss classes.”
We get run ragged for NO pay. I can make more money working in a Lidl or Aldi than I can teaching our next generation.
Sinead says she feels that rather than being supported to further her education, the government has impeded her efforts at every turn. “From my experience, trying to better myself and get a job in the future that will improve the quality of life for my kids has been hindered in many ways by the government.”
“It makes zero sense that you should have to sign on every 3 months if you are in college. They said the changes would improve things for lone parents to upskill and get back to work. In my experience it made it 10 times harder.”
The added costs of attending college and placements have been a strain on Sinead’s finances. “It’s made worse when you’re aware that after all the hard work and sacrifice of time away from my kids I could be financially worse off taking a job in the sector.”
According to 2016 figures the average wage for childcare workers in Ireland was €10.27 an hour. Sinead says the 4 years it takes to get a degree only increase the hourly wage by €1.
“In some stores Lidl’s pay €11.70 an hour and when you start there you don’t need a degree and don’t have the responsibility of looking after children and helping them learn.”
The last few years has seen a number of new legislative requirements on childcare providers and workers yet no additional funding has been allocated to implement or administer the changes.
Sinead says that the majority of jobs advertised in childcare in her county are CE schemes. She finds the low pay and lack of opportunities to progress depressing and disheartening. “Even though I am studying childcare and enjoy working with children I may be better off getting a job in a shop when I finish.”
Jennifer says she feels that the low pay of childcare workers is down to the gendered nature of the job, traditionally associated with women. She says if the industry was primarily populated with men the wages would likely be much higher.
“We get run ragged for NO pay. I can make more money working in a Lidl or Aldi than I can teaching our next generation.”
“People tend to see us as glorified babysitters when that is not the case at all. We put in so much work and planning to further the children’s development, teach them, nurture them and you get no appreciation most days.”
Jennifer loves the work but it is not financially worth her while to work in the sector.
Jennifer feels the government should be doing more to support the sector.
“People cannot afford to pay more, and we can’t afford to work for less. There should be contribution from the government like in others countries.”
“We have the free preschool year, but that’s for children aged 4. What are parents that need to work supposed to do until the age of 4?”
“We are not valued by our government and that can be the biggest kick in the teeth.”
Both Jennifer and Sinead were critical of the government’s approach to childcare. The last few years has seen a number of new legislative requirements on childcare providers and workers yet no additional funding has been allocated to implement or administer the changes.
You get a low income with no benefits and have to upskill on a regular basis
Childcare providers are calling for the sector to be run by the Department of Education and for childcare workers to be paid in line with other teachers.
In 2017 only 0.1% of GDP in Ireland was spent on childcare compared to the OECD average of 0.8%. According to the OECD, Ireland has the highest childcare costs in the EU, putting a huge strain on working and studying families.
In some cases families are paying as much as the cost of a mortgage on childcare every month. With childcare workers on low pay and at times forced to sign on during the summer, the industry has a high staff turnover which is not good for staff, employers or children.
Sinead says she feels conflicted; like Jennifer she loves the work but it is not financially worth her while to work in the sector.
“You get a low income with no benefits and have to upskill on a regular basis and this can sometimes be on your own time. There is a huge amount of paperwork now compared to year ago.”
“If I go back to work full time in the near future it may not even be worth my while until my children are old enough not to require after school care as I doubt I could afford to pay for full time childcare for all the time they have off school.”
Sinead is alarmed by the lack of government investment in childcare and says she feels the current system is unsustainable. “If the sector continues the way it’s going with more demands on the staff for little more than minimum wage then there won’t be a childcare sector.”
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.