The director of a child care center said she was desperate to expand the service to help parents cope with the shortage of places, but funding is a key issue.
nnette Coyle runs Krafty Kidz, a community childcare service in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, which has been running for 25 years.
She said there is 75 children waiting for a place in the structure, with the large majority under three years old.
“We would be very interested in expanding our nursery and taking in more babies and toddlers because we have huge demand,” she said.
“Our parents joke that the first person they tell they’re pregnant is me so they can get their name on the crèche waiting list because it’s so hard to have a place.
“We are at absolute capacity, we are operating at full capacity all the time.
“In our main crèche – we now have three separate sites – which is our full daycare for babies and toddlers, preschool and after school, we can accommodate 64 people. I could fill it twice.”
Krafty Kidz is aimed at children aged six months to 12 years and has 41 members of staff spread over the three sites.
“My parents who are already with us know and joke that as soon as they find out they are pregnant, they tell me before telling their husbands to write down their names.
“Right now I’m struggling to keep our own relatives that we have in some places, let alone new arrivals.
“It’s terrible. I’m so sorry for the parents. I know there’s a staff crisis, but I know I have staff and I have a staff panel, so I always staff ready to start.
Ms Coyle said the facility had “the desire and the drive” to expand the service, but lacked capital funding.
“We have grown a lot – we have opened two new childcare services in the last six months – so we are continuously expanding, but there is no funding to do anything for babies and toddlers. These are kindergarten places that we need,” she said.
“It’s not just about opening a bedroom – you need bedrooms and facilities for changing diapers and all that.
“Where we are we have land next to us and space to expand, but there just hasn’t been any capital funding over the past few years for the under threes.”
Ms Coyle said each crèche has an individual policy, but Krafty Kidz gives priority to siblings of children already present.
“I think it’s a problem across the country, especially for babies and toddlers,” she said.
“We really want and want to expand our crèche. We would love to be able to support more babies and toddlers.
A Children’s Department spokesperson said the availability of high-quality early learning and child care (ELC) and school-age child care (SAC) services that are “affordable and accessible is a key government priority”.
“Since 2015, significant increases in state investments in ELC and SAC have resulted in substantial growth in the number of children participating in these services,” the spokesperson said.
“More than 100,000 children now attend the universal preschool program on an annual basis and the national childcare program subsidizes up to 80,000 children, with increases expected based on the 2022 budget.
“To ensure that the supply of ELC and SAC places meets demand, the department has, since 2015, funded the creation of more than 27,000 new places through an annual capital program.
“Before the outbreak of Covid-19, national data indicated that overall the supply of ELC and SAC places was meeting demand, with evidence of undersupply for some age groups, including children under three years of age, and in certain areas.”
The spokesperson said data collected throughout the pandemic revealed “lower demand” for ELC and SAC and “reduced occupancy” among ELC and SAC services.
“Data captured in June 2021 revealed significant vacancy rates across the country – with the national vacancy rate being on average 21pc,” the spokesperson added.
“The department continues to monitor ELC and SAC capacity, particularly in light of the recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Analysis shows declining vacancy rates from June 2021 to February 2022 from 21pc to 19pc.
“This analysis suggests that there is unused capacity across the country.”
The spokesperson said the department is planning a “range of actions to address any undersupply issues.”
“A new funding model, to be rolled out in September, will provide funding for services aligned with the costs of delivery,” they said.
“So, for example, more funding will be available for services that cater to younger children where delivery costs are higher than for older children.”
The spokesperson added that parents who are having difficulty with their ELC and SAC needs should contact their local child care committee (CCC) for assistance.