A Shortage of Childcare Spaces Is Holding Back Parents and Kids in the North-East Inner-City

Geraldine Brennan says she really wants to get her creche back up and running in North Wall.

There seems to be plenty of need. “We get at least three calls a day from people panicking, looking for childcare,” says Brennan, who runs After Schools Education and Support Programme (ASESP).

She has to turn them away, though.

In June 2020, Brennan had to close the creche she had run for 18 years in a building on Seville Place after the owner, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, asked them to. Finding a new space has proven hard.

The lack of space for creches is a major and systemic problem in this part of the city, says Patrick Gates, the coordinator of Young People at Risk (YPAR).

In the north-east inner-city, there are only enough spaces at early learning and childcare centres for roughly one in four children, a report by his group has found.

But there just aren’t the physical places to open new ones, said Gates. “And a lot of the existing providers are just hugely frustrated, under pressure and stressed out.”

“If we can identify places, fit-for-purpose childcare facilities, we can then start to build an infrastructure and services in places. But we don’t have that,” he says.

A Need for Childcare

Lisa Clarke, who lives in North Wall, has had her three-year-old daughter’s name on the waiting lists of five or six creches in her area for two years, she says.

“I feel she will be starting school before I find one,” said Clarke.

Not having childcare means managing day-to-day life is really tricky, she says. “If she was in childcare I could manage my home better, I would have time for me, or time to work.”

Clarke says she’s lost two jobs because she can’t always rely on friends and family to help look after her daughter while she’s at work.

“This affected me mentally very badly, it is even more daunting now with the current crisis,” she says.

The YPAR report estimates that there are some 456 spaces for children at early years creches in or near the north-east inner-city. But there are 1,778 children aged four and under in the area, it says.

Not all families in the area would want to use early years creches, and some would travel outside the area for childcare, the report notes.

But it is clear that early learning childcare facilities within the area “have a current maximum capacity to provide early learning and childcare for approximately one in four (26%) of the relevant child population”.

The YPAR report says there need to be clear plans to develop new childcare facilities as part of the push to regenerate north-east inner-city, that has been underway since Kieran Mulvey’s report in February 2017, which was prepared after a series of drug-trade-related murders in the area.

Gates says that the Mulvey report should have addressed a proper childcare strategy for the area. “It was the one element of the Mulvey report that we felt was very weak.”

The YPAR report says there needs to be double the number of spaces as a matter of urgency, particularly for children aged two years and under.

That will take new childcare facilities and capital investment, it says, “recognising that current providers have little or no capacity to extend existing services and facilities”.

The Dublin City Childcare Committee, a body that gives advice to childcare providers and parents, should lead a transparent process on establishing and managing new facilities, it says.

Dublin City Childcare Committee didn’t respond to emails sent Friday asking what it thinks of this idea.

Money to grow capacity in early-learning childcare facilities has been promised in the

National Development Plan, with capital funding promised for 2023 and “large scale funding anticipated for the years 2024 and 2025”.

Childcare facilities in disadvantaged areas should get more supports, the YPAR report says, like schools in such areas do.

It makes sense to do all this as part of the north-east inner-city initiative that grew from the Mulvey report, says Gates.

The idea of that was to come up with creative strategies to address the underlying causes of problems, he says. “To try and break the cycle of poverty and deprivation but that means really investing in the causes and not just the consequences.”

When children miss out on supports during their early years, they are lost, he says. “It’s hard to get that back and it just recreates the situation and the deprivation.”

“Nobody’s really taking responsibility to say, this is a serious, serious need. We’re trying to break cycles of deprivation,” he says.

“Of children going, sort of, into poor behaviour, we’re trying to open pathways of employment for young parents. All these things are connected.”

Parents living in more affluent areas may be more able to afford creches further away, says Gates. “Here, we’re dependent on really packaged, state hand-outs, and they’re really not investing in it the way it needs to be invested in.”

“And they’re not providing the sort of purpose-built childcare facilities to meet the complex needs of families.”

These childcare facilities should be community ones, says Gates. “Given the profile and the demographics of the people in our community, we really do need publicly led, invested building for childcare.”

“People in low income and poverty can’t afford the private,” he says. “I would certainly favour more public investment in community-based childcare.”

Brennan says she can see the effect of the lack of services in the area. “It becomes a social problem because then children end up not having, not meeting the milestones that they would normally meet.”

Debating Figures

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said on Monday that it notes the findings from the YPAR report.

Nationally, 95 percent of parents with children eligible for the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme (ECCE) – a funding stream which provides parents of children between the ages of two years and eight months, and five years with free childcare for three hours a day – take advantage of the scheme, said the spokesperson.

Outside of ECCE, just one in four children under six attend early learning and childcare nationally, they said.

The number of children enrolled in childcare services in the north-east inner-city is higher compared to the average across Dublin city, and nationally, they said.

“The data on vacant places and waiting lists highlight potential capacity issues, however, caution is advised when interpreting these figures as children can be on multiple waiting lists,” they said.

“Notwithstanding this, the Department is aware that the demand for early learning and childcare exceeds supply for certain cohorts and in certain areas, including Dublin city,” they said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children says that it has been allocated some €70 million through the revised National Development Plan (NDP). “With the majority of this funding earmarked for new [childcare] places.”

Of that, €45 million would be to address capacity gaps, they said. “Funding an expansion in existing settings where possible and investing in the development of new settings where most needed.”

Meanwhile, €10 million would be for improving energy efficiency standards and buildings, and €15 million would be for piloting new ideas, like outdoor childcare, they said.

Funding for capacity gaps and new initiatives will be available in 2024 and 2025, they said.

The Department of Children and the Department of Housing are still in the process of updating the 2001 Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities on Early Learning and Childcare Settings, which recommend one childcare facility for every 75 new homes built.

Core funding, a new funding model for childcare providers brought in in September, has led to a “growth in capacity”, they said.

“Initial analysis shows the increased capacity is the type of capacity that is in highest demand relative to supply (i.e. more baby and toddler places as well as school-age places)” they said.

The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up question asking how many new places had been opened up as a result of core funding, where these places are, and whether any of the places are in the north-east inner-city.

Gates said that the population of the north-east inner-city is increasing, meaning more capacity is needed in childcare.

“They’re playing with statistics there. We have huge numbers of people who have come into our community over the summer,” he says.

Whose Role?

Right now, Brennan’s afterschool is based at 1 Crinan Strand in North Wall, she says.

The early years service they offered used to be in 49 Seville Place, in a building owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

They had to leave in June 2020, says Brennan. “The diocese decided to do a health and safety audit of the premises,” she says.

The Archdiocese of Dublin did not respond to a query sent Thursday.

ASESP – which is a community creche – hasn’t been invited back to use the space, she says.

They were in a basement without natural light so it hadn’t been a great fit for childcare, she says. “But it was the only place that we could get a preschool. We had no premises.”

At the moment, ASESP is over-subscribed. The wait-list counts 65 children, for both the afterschool and the on-hold early years services, says Brennan.

Brennan says she has touted a boarded-up building on St Laurence Place East, up the road from ASESP’s current premises, as a possible new home for the service.

The boarded-up building on St Laurence Place East. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

A former training centre, it shut in January 2019, she says. “It would need to be modified, obviously, because of the needs of childcare.”

Dublin City Council told Brennan it would cost €3.5 million to refurbish the building.

The council did not respond to queries sent Friday asking who owns the building, if it has plans for this building, and how much it would cost to upgrade it for childcare.

It’s frustrating to know the council is proposing a lido for the disused George’s Dock, just behind her after school centre, she says, without proposing funding for an early learning centre.

Clarke, the parent looking for a childcare spot in North Wall, says that without being able to get a childcare spot, her days revolve around looking after her daughter.

She wants to be able to spend time progressing her career, or with friends and family, she says, but her daughter requires a lot of time and energy.

“It’s hard to get dressed, to wash, it’s hard to get out of the house at all,” says Clarke. “I miss out on being me.”

Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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