Minister pleads inability to pay for child protection training for childcare workers

February 22, 2018

The Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has called on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to stop treating childcare workers as ‘second class educators’ and provide proper supports so that they can undertake mandatory in-service child protection training.

Deputy Shortall made her call after questioning Minister Zappone in the Dáil today about the lack of financial supports for early childhood educators who are obliged under the Children First Act 2015 to undergo training.

Deputy Shortall said:

“Early childhood educators are required by law to provide child protection training for staff and yet the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has not provided them with any resources to allow staff to undergo this training.

“This means that childcare workers will have to do this in-service training in their own time for no pay, or their employers will have to budget additional hours out of already stretched budgets.

“This lack of support is inexcusable, particularly as primary and secondary school teachers are able to receive this training on a paid basis – in fact schools are being closed for periods of one day or two half days to allow this to take place.

“There will be significant downstream impacts if services are unable to provide training for their staff or if the staff become so browned off with being treated as second class educators whose training is not funded that they leave the service.”

Deputy Shortall added:

“If Minister Zappone was serious about the child protection safeguards her department has put in place, she would ensure that early years educators and their staff receive the same supports as are being provided to teachers and schools.

“In response to my questioning today the Minister stated that childcare services, unlike schools, are privately run or not-for-profit and the Department is not the employer. In fact, childcare services are also state funded, and the service providers have the same legal responsibilities in relation to protecting children as our schools. The Minister’s plea of inability to pay is just not good enough.”

ENDS

22 February 2018

Notes to Editors:

Priority Questions Dail transcript 22 February 2018

Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the arrangements she is making to ensure that all child care workers participate in child protection training under the children first national guidelines; and if funding will be provided for in-service training similar to the arrangements for primary school teachers. [9200/18]

Deputy Katherine Zappone:  The Children First Act 2015 imposes obligations on key professionals to report child protection concerns, and on providers of relevant services to carry out a risk assessment and develop a child safeguarding statement.  All persons running a registered early years service and those employed as child care staff are mandated persons under the Act.  All early years settings have until 11 March 2018 to develop their child safeguarding statement.

I am aware this is a significant responsibility and my Department has put in place a range of supports to assist services to meet their statutory obligations.  Child protection training has been funded by my Department for the last three years as part of the national early years Children First programme.  Over the three year period, 15,000 individual child care workers have already availed of training.  My Department will continue to support this programme actively.

Other supports my Department has made available include distribution of the revised Children First guidance to all 4,500 early years services; the publication by Tusla of a suite of resource documents relating to Children First; the production by Tusla of a comprehensive 90 minute basic Children First training programme universally available on line, free of charge; briefing sessions held nationwide with services; the development of a child safeguarding statement template which has been distributed to all early years services; and the provision of €18 million in programme support payments in 2017, to be repeated in 2018, to support services with the administrative demands associated with Government schemes and meeting legislative requirements, including the production of policies and procedures.

Further to these supports, my officials are currently developing a national continuous professional development plan for the early years sector.  This will seek to identify the sector’s training needs, target existing learning resources to support the sector in meeting its regulatory requirements and look to increase investment in supporting the workforce in its professionalisation journey.

It is important to note the early years sector is different to the primary or secondary school sectors in that services are privately run or operated by community or not for profit services.  My Department is not the employer.  It provides a range of supports through capitation payments and other initiatives or schemes to support the sector.  The response of the child care sector to the Children First legislation has been extremely heartening.  I know from many conversations with early years providers across the country that they take their responsibilities in relation to Children First very seriously and I look forward to continuing this engagement.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: We all agree this is a well qualified workforce with a minimum qualification of a Level 5 Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, award.  We also accept ongoing education and training is vital, especially in the area of child protection.  There are difficulties in retaining staff within the sector.  Many providers have spoken about this.  Early Childhood Ireland, ECI, showed 86% of its respondents were concerned that difficulties recruiting and retaining staff would impact on the viability of their service.

There are two specific requests.  I asked the Minister about the financial support that will be provided for in-service training.  Will the Minister give approval for ECI services to close for the purposes of developing their child safeguarding strategy while retaining their funding so that they will not be penalised for closing?  Will the Minister also provide additional funding to facilitate full day care services to develop their child safeguarding strategy and provide child protection training for staff, as happens currently in respect of both our primary and secondary schools?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: On the Deputy’s first question, it is important to note that the early years sector is different from the primary and secondary school sector in that the services are privately run or operated by community or not-for-profit services and, therefore, my Department is not the employer, as the Deputy is aware.  However, as I outlined in my response, we provide a range of supports through capitation payments and other initiatives and schemes to specifically support the sector.  There are no current plans to follow a similar path to that of the Department of Education and Skills in that regard.  The early years sector is different in nature and construct from the school system.  I am aware of the challenges that entails but many registered services are small or one-person operations and their closure with a consequent lack of child care on the days concerned would have significant downstream effects for children, parents and the wider economy.  My Department is not the employer.  It respects the rights of private or not-for-profit businesses to make their own decisions regarding service closure and to meet training requirements and, rather, is concentrated on a range of other supports, as outlined in my reply.

   Deputy Róisín Shortall: I put it to the Minister that there will be significant downstream impacts if services are unable to provide training for their staff or if the staff become so browned off with being treated as second class educators whose training is not funded that they leave the service.  There is a proper requirement on all those working with children to have completed child protection training.  It is funded for teachers in primary and secondary schools and it makes no sense that it is not funded in the child care sector, particularly as people working in that area are so poorly paid relative to teachers.  Funding is provided for teachers to undergo this training but the Department is not providing it for those working in the child care sector, where wages are pretty abysmal.  People in the child care sector are entitled to the same level of respect as teachers for the work they do.  Will the Minister reconsider the possibility of providing specific funding to enable them to undertake this training?

   Deputy Katherine Zappone: As the Deputy will appreciate, I agree with the sentiments behind her question.  I hope that the efforts and supports we have identified and provided in an ongoing and flexible manner demonstrate our respect for the sector.  I am aware of the issues raised by the Deputy because I also hear of them from the sector.  Although I would love to be able to provide for the measures suggested by Deputy Shortall, as she is aware, the early years sector has a differently structured form of provision; it is not a public service or a set of public services and, therefore, I do not have the same capacity as the Minister for Education and Skills to say a school can close because it is a public service.  That is what I am trying to identify.  I am not saying I do not aspire to being able to implement these measures——

   Deputy Róisín Shortall: That is a matter for Government and should be addressed at Cabinet.

   Deputy Katherine Zappone: —–but, because services in the sector are private or not-for-profit entities, I do not have the responsibility or ability to do that.