The investigation into the the Hyde and Seek corporate creche chain—which revealed that milk was being watered down, children were being fed 12-cent noodles, and a single staff member had to look after eighteen babies—revealed the appalling conditions experienced by both the children and the staff.
There are big profits to be made from child care. It is estimated that on average early-years educators earn a mere €11.18 per hour, which is €1.12 less than the living wage. The priority of these private corporate bodies is to make a profit, and the needs of children and the staff are only a means to secure that profit, and to increase it year after year.
It has also emerged that Hyde and Seek’s Glasnevin creche was successfully prosecuted by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) earlier this year for operating an unregistered creche. The agency also reported that “critical risks” (this is the highest on their scale) have been identified in thirty-seven creches around the country involving serious non-compliance with regulations.
The costs of child care in Ireland, which are among the highest in the thirty-six OECD countries, result in women being forced from working, as they still bear an unfair burden regarding the rearing of children. Irish families spend three times what Germans spend on child care.
The cost of child care ranges from an estimated €745 to €1,047 per month in Co. Dublin, with Co. Wicklow coming a close second, where putting a child in a creche will cost just over €1,000. Co. Cork is the third most expensive county, and those surrounding the capital—Cos. Kildare, Meath, and Louth—come next.
The cost of private child care takes a very heavy toll of the income of families on the average industrial wage. In some cases it could mean up to half workers’ wages going on child care. For example, a young Co. Leitrim parent on a median wage pays almost half their take-home pay on child care, while in Cork, South Dublin, Fingal and Co. Wicklow parents over thirty-five on a median wage pay 60 per cent of their take-home pay for the care of two children.
Since August 2017 a universal child-care subsidy has been available to children in registered child care who are above the age of six months but below the age when they can start the free Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme. This has turned out to be an indirect subsidy to private creche owners, many of whom quickly raised their prices.
The scandal in the Hyde and Seek chain and price-gouging will continue so long as government strategy favours the private market and the accumulation of profit for the private owners. Maximum profits can only be secured through low wages and low standards.
The only solution is publicly or municipally owned and run creches, staffed by properly trained workers, paid a proper wage, in creches equipped with whatever is necessary to provide a safe and learning environment for children.
The crisis in child care is not a failure of government policy but rather a result of this and previous governments’ absolute commitment to the private market and the provision of child care for profit.
Nothing is above or excluded from exploitation, and that includes children and their needs.