This seems to be the main topic of discussion on the airwaves this morning after a report on childcare costs was released by the OECD. The report shows that families in Ireland are paying an average of 29% of their total income on childcare costs. This is higher than the majority of member states with Germany and France spending just 8% and 11% respectively on their child care costs.

The airwaves were filled this morning with parents giving out about the crazy costs associated with childcare, but as much as I think it is a disgrace that families have to fork out so much money each year on childcare, my anger is not with the childminders or people running the creches.

Before I go on, I must first mention where my biased opinion possibly comes from. My wife was a childminder and nanny for many years and I could never understand (even before I had kids of my own) how little respect a lot of families had for their children minders. The childminders they were entrusting their kids life’s with, but expected them to work as many hours as they could squeeze out of them for pittance.

The norm in todays economic climate is for childminders to work up to 50 hours a week, for just over minimum wage with not a cent offered for the overtime, nevermind the regular occurence of parents arriving home late for work. Other parents even expect the nanny to work as a part-time cleaner while they are on the job too. What annoys me most is the ignorance these parents have to the personal development of their kids. They think that their kids can develop and be educated by an already overworked and overstressed childminder, who is too busy getting other things done than to focus on the kids development.

But the ignorance doesn’t stop there. Parents love to bash the high costs associated with creches, but most never even spend a minute thinking about the basic math of the equation and how much it costs to not only run a creche, but to run a safe one.

In Europe, we have laws to ensure the safety of our children’s safety when in care. One of the major rules is the child to adult ratio. The table below outlines the minimum requirements by law to safely run a child minding facility.

Age Range Adult/Child Ratio
0-1 Year 1:3
1-2 Years 1:5
2-3 Years 1:6
3-6 Years 1:8

In simple terms, if I were to run a creche as a business and have 3 babies, I need at least one member of staff to care for them.

Let’s say, best case scenario that I have 3 babies in my creche and I charge an average of €800 per month per child. My monthly income would be €2,400. It would cost me approximately €1,550 per month to hire a childminder on the minimum wage, which the best childminders won’t and shouldn’t work for.

That leaves me with €850 per month to cover other costs associated with running the business such as nappies, food, insurance, rent etc etc (i know some creches charge extra for food etc, but not all). Now, let’s say I take in another baby – I will instantly need another member of staff – which will cost me at least another €1,550 for an extra childminder. This instant requirement to hire an extra childminer will leave me with €100 to pay for all the extra bills required to run a creche.

On the plus side, as you go up the age groups, the ratios improve and therefore so does my potential margin on each child I take in to care for. But it’s hardly an attractive business to be involved in and it’s understandable why we see creches that appear to have the “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap” mentality popping up all over the place.

When I hear horror stories of events that have happened at creches, I’m never surprised. How can a business such as this run well when the only incentive for someone to care for your child is their love for children. It’s never a surprise for me when I hear of ill-treated the kids, understaffing and the over working of staff that the majority of creches face. Of course I expect people to come on here and say “oh my creche is run so well, we never have any problems”, the sad reality is that you just haven’t heard about it yet.

A lot of parents assume that because they are paying what they feel is a “huge” amount of money, that their kid is getting huge amounts of attention from their minders all day long. In fairness to their minders, I’m sure they try to give each child as much love as they can every day, but in the conditions they work under, it’s clear to me that there is little chance of that. What worries me and I guess only time will tell, is the effect this will have on kids growing up in childcare facilities.

When a business such as a creche turns into a situation where quantity is more important than quality, there is something wrong. But you can’t blame those who run the creches, they are just trying to run a business under massive constraints.

The worst thing about this report is that it doesn’t compare like for like. A lot of our member states have policies in place for child minding. In Ireland we have nothing. The amount families are paying in other member countries on childcare is significantly lower because of the policies put in place in those countries.

The table below shows the amount of total income spent on Child care failicities in the respective countries.

The first country of our member states who is at the average OECD average of 13% is the Netherlands. The Netherlands, value the importance of childcare and therefore the government believes that the cost of childcare should be covered jointly by the government and the employer. Parents can receive up to maximum of €6.10 towards their childcare costs.

France are next on the list and we all know the pains the French worker goes through in terms of taxes, but what they get in return in something that Irish parents would clearly envy. In France, child care is pretty much free, of course you can get private child care at a premium.

Denmark comes in with an average of 8% of a family’s total income spent by on childcare. And yes, Denmark has a system in place where parents do not pay more than 25-28% of their child care costs.

It’s clear to me where the differences lie. This report really only draws attention to the fact that our government simply isn’t doing enough for families who require childcare to get out and work. When a government has a tax relief on our waste charges, but none on the cost of our childcare there is clearly something seriously wrong.

The bottom line is that in Ireland we’re only paying more for childcare because we don’t have the reliefs that other countries do.

Most child minders do their job, for the love of kids – nothing else – and for this reason they should be respected and applauded. If we want the best people in the country to mind our children, we should be paying them more – not less. They are minding YOUR children after all, do you want the standards to lower in order to have cheaper childcare? That’s all you will achieve by lowering childcare costs at source.

It’s up to the government to bring down the costs, not the creche owners and childminders.

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