Public meeting highlights lack of childcare supports in ‘Ireland’s youngest town’

A public meeting is taking place in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin, today (13.11.19) to highlight the lack of childcare available for local residents.  The meeting is being organised by Empower, the local development company for Fingal. 

Commenting from the meeting, Adeline O’Brien, CEO of Empower, said: “Balbriggan is officially Ireland’s youngest town, with an average age of 30.8 and a much higher proportion of under-5s here than in other parts of Ireland – 12.2% of the population in Balbriggan are under the age of five, compared to 8.5% of the national population.

“However, the town is chronically short of childcare facilities and, in particular, of community childcare services.  This is having severe knock-on effects in terms of the unemployment rate and the educational prospects for local children. 

“At today’s meeting, we’re consulting with local residents to get their views on this important issue.  We will feed their views back to policymakers and politicians in the coming months, and we are calling for urgent action to address this issue.”

Statistics on Balbriggan

Empower released data on the population profile of Balbriggan to coincide with this morning’s meeting:

  • 12.2% of the overall population in Balbriggan are in the 0-5 years age-range, compared to 8.5% nationally
  • The lone parent ratio for Balbriggan is 27.7%. This compares with 19.9% for Ireland overall.
  • Balbriggan has an unemployment rate of 16.95%, compared to a rate for Fingal County of 10.3%, and to the national average of 12.9%.

Current Childcare Services

The childcare services currently operating in Balbriggan cater to 1,067 children, with a further 301 children on waiting lists.  The services are comprised of eight fulltime services; 17 sessional (3 hours) services; seven part-time (5 hours services); and five after-school services.  Of these, only one is a community childcare service. 

“The one community childcare provider operating in Balbriggan is at capacity, with 54 places for children 12 months and older,” said Adeline O’Brien.  “The service cannot offer additional places due to a lack of space. 

“In Fingal as a whole, only 6% of childcare provision is delivered through community services, compared with 36% in Dublin City, 24% in Limerick and 43% in Cork City.  This situation has to change.   

“Community early-years services are vital social supports for disadvantaged communities.  They provide high-quality care and education to a cohort of young children who, research tells us, can benefit the most from intervention in their early learning, but who are the least likely to receive it. 

“They support parents to work, learn and access services. They also provide the local community with employment and training opportunities, and provide a crucial family support role.  Few services offer so many valuable outcomes for children, families and communities.

“Children who do not have the opportunity to attend an early learning and care service often struggle with the structure and expectations of the classroom in a mainstream primary school setting. Why should the children of Balbriggan have their educational prospects diminished in this way?  There is a need for urgent interventions now to ensure sufficient community childcare services are available in one of the quickest-growing and youngest towns in Ireland.”

Poverty and Employment Impacts

The poverty and employment impacts of childcare provision are also being discussed at this morning’s event. 

According to Empower, a recent analysis of the CSO’s SILC (Survey on Income and Living Conditions) data found that the chances of a lone parent experiencing consistent poverty fell by three quarters when they take up employment.

“Even part-time maternal employment can have a substantial impact on reducing child-specific deprivation,” said Adeline O’Brien.  “However, in Balbriggan, the majority of childcare services are either sessional or part-time, neither of which provide sufficient hours or weeks open to meet the needs of working parents or parents trying to get back to employment.

“The lack of affordable and full-time childcare in Balbriggan has an extremely negative impact for parents – and lone parents, in particular – trying to get into the workforce.”

Case Study: Anita Doolan

Anita Doolan, a single mother from Balbriggan, had been attending a Business and IT course with the National Learners Network in Swords in order to increase her job prospects. To enable her to attend educational courses, Anita was paying for a private childminder to care for her children while in classes. In 2010, the cost of childcare became too much of a burden on the family budget and with no other options open to her, Anita was forced to drop out of the course and to care for her children fulltime for the next seven years. When her children reached an age where they no longer required fulltime care, she immediately returned to education, completing a course in Integration and has since secured a job with the Balbriggan Integration Forum.

“When my children were younger, I had to make difficult choices and I felt very restricted because of a lack of access to affordable childcare services,” she said.  “This effectively prevented me from furthering my education and getting employment.  I was ready to work, but the childcare supports weren’t there to allow me to do so.”

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