Anger as parents are forced to pay creche fees despite having their children at home during lockdown
As part of the Level 5 lockdown we are currently in, creches across Ireland are closed to everyone apart from children of essential workers.
However, many childcare facilities across the nation are continuing to charge parents fees despite the fact their children are at home.
In fact, in much the same manner as happened back in March, parents have been shocked to find many creches are still asking them to pay the monthly fee for January – despite their child not being able to attend.
Managers in charge of many of these childcare facilities are defending the move saying they don't want to ask parents whose children can't attend to pay, but that the fees from children of essential workers are not enough to keep their services running.
What is needed, they maintain, is increased State funding.
Earlier this week, as the debate started raging on the matter on social media, Dublin Labour TD Duncan Smith tweeted:
"I’m hearing from parents who’ve had to pay their monthly creche fees to hold their place, but as they aren’t essential workers have their children at home. Parents, childcare workers and operators need clear direction from the Government."
His comment gathered replies from many parents across the country.
One person wrote:
"Creches are still demanding full fees even if creche closed. Told we will lose our place if we refuse. Needs to be addressed urgently."
Another mum tweeted:
"Yip it’s a disgrace. I have been on unpaid maternity leave since last June. Toddler in creche to keep place. Finally had a childcare option for the baby in January and now my husband had to take unpaid leave as creches closed to us but still paying fees."
The debate raged on, and Hannah Deasy, deputy chair of Labour Women and a parent herself, tweeted in response:
"It’s appalling that the Government hasn’t addressed this. Without a clear decision re closure, staff and providers can’t access Covid payments and parents being “asked” to keep children at home have to pay fees."
Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman TD replied:
"I’ve engaged with the sector representatives and asked that providers pause payment of fees or return fees paid in advance to parents who are not essential workers and, therefore, cannot access services. Enhanced EWSS [Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme] rates will now be paid to services till March 31."
I've engaged with the sector representatives and asked that providers pause payment of fees or return fees paid in advance to parents who are not essential workers and therefore cannot access services. Enhanced EWSS rates will now be paid to services till 31 March
— Roderic O’Gorman TD (@rodericogorman) January 6, 2021
Elaine Dunne, chairwoman of the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, said the EWSS would only pay staff wages for two weeks in a month, and did not cover any operational costs.
She said: ‘They [the Government] did not see this coming and they should have. I could have brought this to the advisory group’s attention but I was not there because they won’t give us a seat on it. They are not engaging with the full sector.
‘I know some of us are at the point where we are running out of funding, and we will have to close. We want to keep providing childcare for essential workers, but we can’t without parents’ help.
‘I don’t want to let people like healthcare workers down, I think they are bloody heroes.
‘We don’t want to charge anybody for fees, but how do we cover staffing and operational costs without money from somewhere? I am sorry for parents, parents are right in giving out. They should not have to pay fees to hold places.’
She is asking parents for a holding fee of €100, ‘and that’s only to ensure that I can reopen’.
The Department of Children confirmed last night that ways to enforce the payment of refunds are also being explored, and said that many childcare providers are already offering refunds.
However, Dunne said that providers are being made to look “greedy”.
Speaking to the Independent, Dunne explained that the ministers need to stop portraying private childcare providers as greedy, and that the onus should be on the State to provide the funding for the months that they must remain open for essential workers - not the parents.
“Without parent fees, who is going to cover rent, heat, food, rates and electricity and other miscellaneous expenses? We have to charge parents something to stay afloat.
She said that operators now must risk their own health and that of their staff to provide childcare for the parents of essential workers - some of which are working in hospitals.
“It’s a huge risk for us but why would we turn our parents down and not do it? But it’s not sustainable, so services are just going to close their doors now."