Is the Early Childhood Sector at Breaking Point? by Sinead Matson & the Members of MECPI

 Is the love and passion in early childhood education and care being lost? In the last two days on our online forum we've had multiple worrying posts from providers and early childhood professionals about their workload, work-life balance, and the survival of the small family run provider in the heart of the community. I can't say it any better than them. Here are their words:

"Anyone else burnt out already and the new year hasnt even begun!! My head is melted with all the agencies we have to be compliant with etc etc. I have my fire and DAC certs but this is a major stress people are going to go through and force closures of amazing schools... Each group governing us keeps moving the goal posts...regulations/qualifications... you feel you have all in place...AND then...wait theres more and more and more... The kids are the easy part and the paper crap is breaking us!!!!!!!" Samantha Byrne.

"Head is melted. Its enough work repainting and replenishing 3 classrooms without every second email being from Pobal or the DCYA. I'm also 35 weeks pregnant and being induced at week 39 so seriously up to my eyes and really wish I could just have all children enrolled already! Time is getting away from me."

"Hi everyone, regarding stand alone after school services. Is anyone else really struggling with not being able to offer any flexibility to families because of the new regulations? Particularly families that do shift work and need different days on a weekly basis, Making it extremely difficult for small, rural services to keep doors open" Colette Durkan

"It is with a heavy heart that I find myself sitting here writing this post, on the eve of the day we close the doors of our old county Glen branch, in Crumlin, Dublin 12, for the final time. It feels surreal even thinking about it, and to say I am devastated is an understatement. Our Crumlin branch has serviced the community for 25 years and we have seen two generations of children come through our doors. Sadly, due to viability considerations, I have had to admit defeat. We have had 25 wonderful years in the glen, which started off as a pipe dream and became a reality, with the help and hard work of two families and wonderful friends. On behalf of myself and all of the dedicated early educators, many of who have been with us since day one, we would like to thank the hundreds of parents who have crossed our door , for both your custom and the trust you had in us, to care for your little people. Lastly, thank you to all the wonderful children for the years of learning that we got from you and the treasured memories we will never forget. In the words of the preschool officer, "Crumlin will be lost without Creative Kids, Old County Glen".. Xxx Bronagh" Bronagh Mooney

"Earlier I posted this to a page where a 25 year old business was closing its doors because of regulations- the building no longer passed the criteria- after 25 years- we have to stand together and look after our sector- the private child carers- I think that they want us all to bow down and close shop so that all childcare facilities are government run! This is so sad. It is very hard to read stories like this, and the many posts where people are considering closing. This is our livelihoods. Many of us have been in childcare for many years. I had hoped to pass on my business to my daughter when I retired- I would be handing her a white elephant! It is ludicrous that because of a few bad apples, so many services are affected. Perhaps we should invite Minister Zappone to this page to see the heartbreak that is being created. Or indeed- do we need a national one day closure/ strike to show that we are unhappy with the very unfair treatment we are receiving every day!"

"I have been working in early education since 2005 and have spent thousands on my education, funding my own degree , first aid, manual handling etc. I have never taken Summers off despite working in term time services, I always managed to get something else. This year however I am pregnant with baby 2 and couldn't get anything else for the summer so I went through social welfare. This in itself was a rigmarole of phone calls and endless trips to navan. Weeks went by and I heard nothing from them but I decided to call and the lady told me there was money there for me...... Great I went and collected it. Although 69 euro isn't going to contribute much to my household bills! Today I went to collect my payment.... Nothing there! Very embarrassing. I called SW again and they tell me my payments have been suspended due to a second offense of non collection. I told the lady I was on holidays last week and couldn't collect my payment (big mistake) I got a huge lecture about how I shouldn't be taking holidays when I should be looking for work! When I filled out my form I ticked a box to say I was looking for work and I lied because I went on holidays!! I got upset and had to hang up because I was mortified!! I called back and got through to someone else who was so lovely and sorted it all out for me but I won't be able to get money till next week. I can't buy food this week and have to rely on handouts from my husband which I shouldn't have to as I work bloody hard and pay prsi, I should be entitled to be able to take a holiday on my summer holidays!! I wouldn't mind but I only went to mayo, I could have come home to collect my money if I had of known. I needed to vent, I'm sick of doing this to family and friends as they do not get it as they don't work in the sector."

"I am entering my 35th year as a Montessori teacher, managing my own school during all that time. I established my school when my children were of preschool age. Having looked at services in my area, I wasn’t impressed with what was available so I decided to educate myself, purchase the best quality Montessori equipment, prepare a beautiful environment in line with Montessori principles, and open my door to provide a high quality Montessori school . So, here I am, almost thirty five years later, and what have I become? A box ticker…… bogged down with administration that is ever increasing. Usually from the second week in August, we see beautiful photographs of refurbished classrooms and outdoor areas, shelves prepared with newly purchased practical life materials, teachers sharing ideas and proudly displaying interest areas to welcome the children who are starting/returning in a couple of weeks. One could feel the enthusiasm and passion oozing out from the dedicated teaches getting ready for the new school year. Alas, this August all has changed. I feel saddened to observe the posts on facebook this week. Instead, all we see is very frustrated and confused providers posting and seeking advice on new regulations, compliance demands, re-registrations, Garda clearance updates, information sought about Tusla, Pobal, DCYA, payments/non payments, conflicting information etc. etc. How have we allowed our services to be hijacked to such an extent? How much more can we take? I read about Creative Kids closing because they couldn’t meet new regulations. How sad is this. But I suspect it is just the start of massive closures. Do DCYA, Pobal or Tusla realise the devastation they are causing. I suspect it will be too late when they finally wake up. But perhaps they don’t care." Cait Mc Cabe

"We are very powerful people in this country. Yet we allow the Government to treat us the way they do. We are the ones that accept the conditions and rules that are thrown at us to allow the adults of this country to go out and earn a living. We’re highly educated, we’re caring, yet we’re stupid! We need to take a stand. We need to take back our careers / business. We need to take control and stop giving the control to the Government. Every year we say the same and here we are again. Reading post after post I don’t think there’ll be many of us left next year to fight. So many posts stating that this is their last year. So many posts fed up with demands. We need to start demanding and getting the country to take us seriously. Posting on Facebook, social media, ringing Joe Duffy, going on Pat Kenny, Claire or whoever, is not working. We’re only remembered until the next story or tragedy. If we want to survive in this country, we need to do something now. Stop waiting until it’s too late! We love our jobs, and we’re allowing the Government to take them away from us." Barbara Christopher

"I don't run a service , but I am looking for a new job because I don't enjoy it anymore. It's not a quality time with children anymore . It has become a bookkeeping, policy writing , report writing service. I guess a job in an office or retail doing my job will be less stress."

" I have decided after 23 years that this will be my last year. I have just had enough of paying for other people's mistakes. I wouldn't open on Monday week but feel it would be unfair to let my new arrivals down."

"I’ve been working in early education for 25 years and have spent 18 of those operating my own services. I currently run a small sessional Ecce service on my own which has been in operation since 2009. Sadly I will be closing my doors in June 2020 due to the impact all the non contact hours I am working has on my already hectic family time. There are so many wonderfully dedicated educators being pushed out of this sector each year😩"

"’s having such a negative impact across the board but especially to small services that are such a vital part of the community. I’m devastated at having to make the decision as I love the children but can’t keep burning myself out either. I know a lot of providers who are putting plans in place to close within the next 2 years"

" I'm in my 32nd yr of teaching...taking no more than 2yr out to have my children. I operate a small school in a parish Hall and have decided that this will also be my last sad to feel pushed into giving up a job I love due to rules and regulations changing constantly!!!"

"I’m so sad to see all these posts. Everything is gone so negative around childcare. We need to set up a meeting and everyone write the same letters to all Tds and the minister. We all feel the same. No one should have to close but we need to let the country see what is going on behind closed. It’s so sad honestly I’m working in childcare 37 years and I am just fed up with it all. Can we all work together to get our voices heard."

"I'm in my 22nd year of preschool, I let my parents know I was closing last night in June 2020, it wasnt an act I did lightly, it's just that I've had enough of being self employed, an employer, the regulations and the ever changing issues of childcare, I'm going to enjoy this year and then I'm going to enjoy doing something else, hopefully with less stress!"

"I can understand your sentiments completely. I’m finding it hard to muster up any feelings of positivity right now. Like you said this time of year is usually when we see photos of beautiful environments, new materials in place and excited discussions about back to school activities. My Montessori school was my first ‘baby’ and I love everything it has become. This will be my 20th September opening. Your beautiful school and the obvious love and passion that you show has inspired me and many others in this group and I hope you weather this storm!" Lee Herlihy

"I feel exactly the same. Heading into my 23rd year and I’m exhausted. None of us disagree with health and safety of all our children and it must be the priority BUT we should be shouting for 100% FUNDING to support new fire and DAC and let Tusla bring us all to court to close us down until this funding becomes a reality. In the mean time, services can do a risk assessment and put all possible interim precautions in in the meantime. The ongoing administration and stress is causing huge burnout and a brain drain of highly experienced and educated Educators and/or Providers." Caroline Mc Donnell

These are only some of the posts radiating stress, anxiety, instability and burn out as well as closures of essential services which have served their communities for decades and generations. What worries the administrators of this page is the level of anxiety and burn out is rising year on year, and this year has been the worst yet. A typical August would have happy and excited professionals sharing photos and tales of freshly furnished and replenished rooms and gardens full of new activities sourced eagerly during the summer. The "buzz" has gone; the passion has all but gone. The stress is palpable.

In a 2014 report for Montessori Alliance, entitled An Indication of the Current Working Conditions of Early Childhood Manager and Business Owners in Ireland*, the following finding was stated:

"It is a worry that services which are overstretched both finacially and physically may not be able to continue to provide quality service and care. The impact must surely be felt by the children. De-motivated staff and poor quality resources or poorly maintained buildings will cause a dip in the quality of provision. It is not sustainable to services to continue as they are." (Matson & Bowers,2014 p.24)

The same report also made the following recommendations:

"It is recommended that national qualitative research be carried out on the physical, emotional and mental health and well-being of the professionals being entrusted with providing early childhood schemes on behalf of the state. The profession of the practitioner must also be examined and acknowledged formally by policy makers, and defined. Re-numeration and status must reflect the qualifications gained, workload, and the impact of the work they do." (ibid, p.25)

We must ask ourselves, a half a decade later, have things improved or declined? More importantly, where are we headed?

*You can read the full report here.