Limerick after-school service unable to meet local demand

Northside Family Resourse Centre chief executive Ciara Kane.

THE manager of an after-school service in a disadvantaged area of Limerick City has warned that it is not able to meet demand for its services because of a staffing crisis.

The Northside Family Resource Centre, which borders the Regeneration community of Moyross and Ballynanty, is registered to provide 199 full-time equivalent early years and after-school places but is only able to provide 159 because of staff shortages.

The centre has 264 children pre-registered and awaiting allocation of a place. This figure excludes children who have gone beyond the age limit while waiting for a place.

Chief executive Ciara Kane said they had “made the difficult decision not to take on any new children until we can recruit enough staff to provide a high quality and safe service”.

And she warned that the “provision of early years and school age childcare is on the brink of being irreparably damaged.

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“This not only negatively impacts the children who require our service, but also puts the sustainability of the service at risk due to resultant loss of income”.

She claimed that the current lack of childcare services is creating “significant financial and emotional stress on families”, particularly on working mothers.

“Parents, usually mothers, are desperately trying to source childcare as their maternity leave comes to an end. Many are forced to delay or leave the workforce or reduce their working hours as a direct consequence of not accessing childcare.

“This is an equality issue, affecting mostly women’s careers and salaries and the ability of a household to earn in a cost-of-living crisis,” Ms Kane added.

“Driving women’s economic equality is an economic imperative and the provision of high-quality childcare is an essential part of that imperative”.

She said that the Northside FRC “emphasises the role Early Years Services plays in the lives of children who are homeless, living in emergency, substandard or overcrowded housing as they are not afforded the same opportunities for happy play and growth”.

Children in disadvantaged areas also benefit from accessing Early Years Services where preschool and after-school play a significant role in closing the educational gap.

“All these children are left further behind with the lack of Early Years Services who can no longer accommodate them,” Ms Kane explained.

The Northside Centre, which is government funded, includes professional community development workers, family support workers, youth workers and early-year professionals.

However Ms Kane said more funding was needed to mitigate the crisis in early years and school age provision as services nationally cannot recruit staff to meet demand.

“A multi-pronged approach is needed, including immediate action, where children’s rights are central to all decision making,” she declared.

“We are asking the Government to directly fund salaries where staff can be given terms and conditions that rewards the significant contribution they make to the present and future society of Ireland.”

She said urgent government action was also required “to support the sustainability of services by implementing a capitation system to support operational costs, including premises provision and increasing investment over the lifetime of the Government

“This should incorporate substantial fee reductions for all parents and full-cost subsidisation for low-income households as well as the introduction of a variety of disciplines to meet the needs of children with more complex needs,” Ms Kane added.