The McTeer triplets – Hanna, Jessica and Charlotte – pictured at their childcare setting, Happy Children.
Almost three quarters of parents in County Derry say there is a lack of childcare facilities in the county, according to a recent survey.
The Northern Ireland Childcare Survey has revealed 73% of parents surveyed in the county indicated an inadequate availability of childcare in the area.
The percentage was the second highest of all six counties, with only Fermanagh parents (90%) reporting a higher figure.
The data, collected by Employers for Childcare, also revealed the average weekly price of a full-time childcare place in County Derry has risen from £162 in 2019 to £163 in 2020.
This is above the NI average, which rose from £153 in 2019 to £153 in 2020. Belfast had the highest average weekly price of £182 per week.
“Almost three quarters of parents in the county who responded to our survey reported insufficient childcare in their area,” said Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers for Childcare.
“This clearly has a major impact on their ability to work – and that was even before the impact of Covid-19.
“In particular, parents tell us there is a shortage of summer schemes, so essential to help those working to manage during childcare the long school holidays.”
More than 5,000 parents responded to the survey, which highlighted the childcare difficulties that had been exacerbated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aoife Hamilton has called for urgent government action to address issues in childcare, which she described as vital to the economy.
“The plea from parents is that we cannot go back to a situation where they are expected to work, and yet unable to access the vital childcare they need,” she said.
“This was a situation that parents overwhelmingly described as 'stressful' and 'impossible', leading to feelings of exhaustion, worry and a 'sense of huge guilt, failure, a constant battle'.
“Urgent government action is needed to invest in our childcare infrastructure, which is of critical importance to enable economic recovery, nurture the development of our children and support families at risk of poverty.
“We will continue to work with elected representatives and policy-makers, to secure a fully costed Childcare Strategy which actually delivers for parents, providers and the wider economy.”
Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Weir has announced the allocation of £8.5 million for recovery and sustainability within the sector.
"Registered childcare providers offer safe and nurturing environments for children and it is important they remain open," he said.
"It is essential that we continue to work together across the education and health sectors to ensure the availability of childcare provision and to support the economy, while at the same time ensuring parents can access safe and responsive care.
"I want to thank registered childcare providers for the essential work they do. Their hard work on the ground and determination to maintain services at this critical time is vital in helping us deal with the ongoing challenges facing society as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
"It is a testament to their commitment that children have been able to continue to access positive developmental experiences in their childcare provision, and parents have been able to continue to work and provide important services for society.”
The Childcare Sustainability Support Fund developed for the period 1 September to 31 December, will:
- help childcare providers with the additional costs of operating within Covid-19 guidance; and
- provide financial support to childcare providers operating with reduced demand for services.
The Fund is open for applications on Friday 4 December from daycare and school-aged childcare settings, childminders, eligible playgroups and crèches.
A grant payment will be made according to the type and size of the provider.
Eligible childcare providers will shortly receive an email inviting them to apply.
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