Survey shows childcare challenges in Co. Antrim

A major new survey has flagged up the challenges facing childcare sector in County Antrim.

Employers For Childcare recently publised the latest Northern Ireland Childcare Survey, with a warning that Northern Ireland could be facing into a childcare crisis which would have a severe impact on parents’ ability to work.

Almost a third of childcare providers who responded to the survey described their financial position as “struggling” or “distressed” meaning that they are focused on survival over the next year or, in some cases, at immediate risk of closure.

Childcare providers point to Covid-19 related pressures having added to the challenges already facing their sector. Seven out of 10 are either just breaking even or are making a loss, which is clearly not sustainable in the longer term. A third of providers anticipate increasing their fees in the next year to stay afloat – rising to two thirds of day nurseries. The impact is not just financial, with three quarters

Average weekly cost of a full time childcare place by county

of Northern Ireland’s childcare providers reporting that Covid-19 has had a negative impact on them or their staff in terms of mental health and well-being. One childcare provider in Co Antrim told them: “The pandemic has created incredibly challenging conditions in which to operate. Staff morale and retention has become a huge problem.” At the same time, families are struggling to find and pay for the childcare they need with over a quarter (28%) of parents having difficulties meeting the costs of childcare. The average cost of a full-time childcare place here is now over a third of average household income – one of the highest figures across all OECD countries. In Co Antrim the average of £174 per week is higher than the overall Northern Ireland average of £170. In addition, two thirds (67%) of parents in Co Antrim told them there is insufficient childcare provision in their area.

Aoife Hamilton, Head of Charity Services at Employers For Childcare, said: “We need to see long-term, strategic investment in this essential economic sector.

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“Without it, costs are likely to continue to rise and the sector will be at risk of collapse meaning parents will be unable to work, our economic recovery will be held back and children will miss out on important developmental opportunities.”

She said: “We would urge all parents, whatever their income level, to call our Family Benefits Advice Service on Freephone 0800 028 3008 and we can identify what is available for their family”.