PlayBoard welcomes publication of the long-awaited Review of Childcare Services in Northern Ireland. The independent review was commissioned by the Department of Education to inform the development of the NI Executive’s Early Learning and Childcare Strategy.
There is within the document a clear acknowledgement of the challenges facing provision, not least the high cost of both childcare and school age childcare which represents a huge burden for parents to bear. In principle, PlayBoard agrees with the nine conclusions presented within the final report; however, would urge caution with regard to the proposal that “alternative models of wrap-around care for school aged children” need to be considered for “improvement”.
As the report states, “an expansion of school based after school provision (e.g. homework clubs and sports clubs) may have a negative impact on demand for formal childcare provision, as these clubs [are] often able to offer cheaper rates.” School based after school clubs have been in operation for a number of years and evidence shows that where they are developed they have a significant impact on the business development opportunities and sustainability of registered school age childcare provision. To greatly increase the offer of alternative models of wrap-around care for school aged children would result in the displacement of existing school age childcare services.
The benefits of play-based, school age childcare in children’s lives is too significant to ignore and the broader value of these services within wider society is too important to overlook. A more wide-reaching solution must be found to the problem of affordability in childcare – one that helps ease the financial burden for parents without causing undue difficulties for those providing the services.