You would think, by the title, that this might be a treatise on the big ball of emotion that is our middle child, aged 5. It’s not. It’s me venting about a particular situation in which our family and many others around the country have found themselves. We are the so-called squeezed middle – stuck in a house bought in the boom that we have grown out of, struggling to justify both working outside the home with the high cost of childcare, yet unable to qualify for a larger mortgage to move or extend without two incomes.
Running to stand still.
First can I say: yes I am completely mindful that there are people in way worse scenarios than ours. Ireland’s levels of homeless families is entirely unacceptable; our healthcare system continues to barely creak by; carers are undervalued economically and emotionally and women still do not have full bodily autonomy. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in a big list of our society’s failings…
All that said, we are allowed our particular bugbears. Though yes, we chose to have three children and very happily achieved that goal, it is a massive financial burden on us. In fact we waited until we were close to having two in school to minimise childcare costs. Just as we try to creep forward every so slightly in terms of where we stand as a family, it feels like the rug is being tugged gently out from under us.
Lets cast our minds back. When our first child began creche in 2010, we paid full-time fees from the time he started until the September before he was due to start school. At that point we got a weekly subsidy of €62.50 on our fees from the state for 38 weeks (to mirror the school year). This is called the ECCE scheme and would cover 15 hours a week, 3 hours a day of his pre-school year. Children who weren’t already in the formal childcare system because of a stay at home parent, helpful grandparent or a paid childminder were entitled to attend preschool monday to friday for 3 hours a day for 38 weeks for free. Everyone was entitled to the same. It wasn’t much, but it was equal.
Incidentally, that first baby had been due in December, but born on January 8th and he started school at just under 4 and 8 months.
Falling through the childcare gap. Part 1.
Next up, my summer baby. Fast forward a few years. Our 2nd child was born on July 7th. In October 2015, when he was 3, the ECCE scheme was extended to up to 2 years of preschool care. This subsidy was immediately backdated to September 2015, for anyone who had turned 3 by the previous June 30th, a seemingly arbitrary date. Our son didn’t qualify to be backdated, being born a week later. We were annoyed, given he had the same primary school entry date as those children, that we were paying more for the same early years education. This, was not equal.
The scheme continued for the past couple of years, with 3 entry points into the ‘free’ first preschool year. Going forward the children with the biggest advantage were born in the summer. If you were 3 before August 31st, you could start ‘free’ preschool on September 1st and have 2 years of it before starting primary school. Born before Dec 31st, you could start on January 1st and take advantage of the next 5 months and the following year. If you were born before March 31st you could start on April 1st and have just 3 months ‘free’ that year, then the following year also.
Falling through the childcare gap. Part 2.
Now. Child 3. I was due on December 21st 2016. I was genuinely a bit stressed after Xmas, that if she didn’t arrive before the year was out, we would be paying full cost childcare from when she began until April 2020, rather than January 2020 and she would start school September 2021. Basically, we would qualify for the minimum allowable under the scheme. Lo and behold, she hung on into the new year, and I decided I shouldn’t worry about what I couldn’t change.
In this weeks budget: Budget 2018, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone expanded the ECCE scheme to two free years for children aged at least 2 years and 8 months, starting only in September. The September/January/April entry points are gone. Ivy now qualifies for 2 full years, but only from Sept 2020, meaning we can only use 2 ECCE preschool years if we send her to school at 5 years 8 months, rather than 4 years 8 months.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is effectively saying a Dec 31st baby – fine to send to school at 4 & 8 months, but 2 days younger, you must wait another year if you want the full subsidy.
I get all the arguments for sending kids to school later, but by virtue of my cosy womb we are missing out here by a hair’s breadth. In order for us to wait that extra year, we would also have to pay for a full-time creche place for another extra year. I don’t see the DCYA falling over themselves to help us find about €9000 in order to do that.
Is that clear? No? Well, at least I feel a little better for writing it down. Tiny silver linings…