“This Is A Business, Not Babysitting”

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RTE’s shocking exposé of Hyde & Seek Childcare last night makes for a devastating indictment of Ireland’s childcare model. The documentary revealed severe malpractice in the company’s creches, including staff being hired without a request for proof of Garda vetting, child:carer ratios that were far in excess of regulations, cots being crowded into rooms making access to the children difficult, cots blocking fire exits, babies being punished for being untidy, being fed substandard food, being woken from sleep, pushed down into cots, among other issues.

Childcare experts on the program described what was being heard on footage filmed secretly as the constant cries of “distressed children… looking for human contact.” The documentary also found that, “the poor practices RTÉ witnessed were not performed by care staff, but by Hyde & Seek owner Anne Davy herself.”

Perhaps what is most distressing is that many of the breaches highlighted in the RTE documentary had already been brought to the attention of Túsla, that investigations are ongoing since inspections in September 2018 and July 2019, but the public has been completely unaware of this. Túsla states that “inspection reports are not published when they are subject to continued enforcement activity or ongoing legal matters”. This effectively means that the public is kept in the dark over any issues until a full report is published.

This is just one example of severe breaches of good practice in Irish childcare, but it lays bare the stark reality of Ireland’s neoliberal model for childcare. Anne Davy’s own words when chastising one of her own employees sum up the problem: “This is a business, it is not babysitting”.

Successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil led governments have promoted a privatised childcare system where companies seek to generate profits with little thought to the needs of the children under their care. Childcare workers are severely underpaid and overworked, often working in situations where the child to carer ratio far exceeds what is recommended in good practice. According to Early Childhood Ireland the average wage for childcare workers in Ireland is €11.93 per hour. Often the companies they work for generate significant profits. For example,  Hyde & Seek Childcare accumulated profits of over €2.7 million from 2014-18.

Crèche fees are also exorbitant, with monthly fees reaching €1,100 in some areas of Dublin. This is beyond the reach of many families and often forces parents out of work in order to look after children. Government subsidies for parents are inadequate and do little to alleviate the cost for parents.

These issues, along with those raised by RTÉ highlight the need for a radical overhaul of our childcare system. People Before Profit believe childcare should be provided as a universal right. We want to dramatically increase subsidies for childcare and over time to move to a well-regulated National Childcare Service that is funded by progressive taxation. Parents should not have to pay more than 30% of running costs and services should be free for low-income families, as is the case in Sweden, where the maximum cost of childcare is capped at €135 for a month. Childcare workers should earn a living wage and be allowed to unionise.

None of this is possible while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil remain in power. We need to work together with parents and childcare workers to fight for a system that provides high quality and affordable childcare for all.