Montessori 

&

Early Childhood Professionals

Ireland

(MECPI)

Longitudinal Research Study

Voices from Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland

2018-2020

14th October 2020

As an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) professional community of practice, we have prided ourselves on not being an advocacy group but, instead, a space for professional practice. However, during our ten year celebrations we decided to do a piece of research over six years on the financial well-being, working conditions, and mental health and well-being of early childhood education and care professionals in Ireland. We were spurred to do so because of the trends we were noticing in the community of professional practice. We became increasingly concerned about our members and the sector as a whole. Professional practice will always be impacted by quality of life – things like financial stability, basic living conditions met, good physical and mental well-being, and finally high quality, secure working conditions. As a result, we surveyed our members and the wider sector about these areas. We currently have two surveys completed from August 2018 (over 1,000 respondents) and August 2020 (615 respondents), and a third to come in August 2022.

We have provided here, an insight in the ECEC professionals own words as to how life has been working in what the public term “childcare” since 2018. This is not our story to tell, it is their story to tell. However, we have broken it down into broad themes. We have provided no academic jargon, or analysis, or comment in this instance. There are publications imminent that will provide that lens, this publication is to serve a broader purpose: If you do not understand why the Early Childhood Education and Care sector is shocked to its core to be completely overlooked in this budget, Budget 2021, read their struggles, raw, in their own words since 2018 and how they progressed into 2020 including the pandemic lockdown, and subsequent reopening of early childhood education and care services.

We would like to acknowledge the unpaid emotional labour and pain that ECEC professionals have exposed themselves to in order to continually educate us and others (academics, policy makers, the general public, the media etc.) about their work, their lives, and their personal struggles as a result of their profession. We acknowledge your research and survey fatigue and we thank you for taking the time to respond to ours. We will do everything in our power to make sure your voices are heard. We would like to thank you for your honesty, your rawness, and your willingness to share your deeply personal experiences and your voices to fight for change and ensure that the profession, its new entrants, and the children and families it cares for is improved for the betterment of all. Part of being a professional is being an advocate for your profession, and we in MECPI are proud of the advocates you are. Here are your voices:

Financial Instability:

“I love my job and that's the reason I stay. I cannot imagine doing anything else but it's soul destroying and degrading the pay we receive. It's so wrong” (2018)

“I have been doing this job 10 years… I have an 18 year old son who works in a shop who gets paid €10 an hour & I get €1.50 more than him & I have 4 children to provide for Mortgage [sic] , childcare & car costs , education cost and he has no added responsibility” (2018)

“I love my work wouldn't want any other career but I find it very difficult to live on money especially since my marriage ended” (2018)

“I really love my job and consider it a privilege to play such a pivotal role in the lives of the children I care for. I consider myself highly skilled at what I do and am constantly up-skilling in order to ensure the best quality of care is provided to the children in my care. I am, however, underpaid and exasperated and my family are suffering as a result. The quality of childcare in Ireland is improving all the time but it is not sustainable in the long term.” (2018)

“I think it is very sad after spending my first year working in childcare after college that I feel as though I’m not earning enough to move from home and start to build my own life like a lot of my friends have done.” (2018)

“living on the breadline, working in a demanding, high stress environment.” (2018)

“it has got me into financial debt quite often” (2018)

“I have a widow pension and only for this, makes my wage liveable as I support my children through secondary school and college my other 2 children are able to support themselves” (2018)

“Working in childcare is an absolute disgrace working for nothing and constantly living in poverty” (2020)

“During lockdown I received a extra €150 a week and it really, really, made a massive difference to my life. I was able to buy things I could never afford before. With the wages I'm on now I find it so hard to manage. I can't get finance to purchase new applications or sofa its embarrassing when you're told back sorry but we don't think you can afford the repayments.” (2020)

“Worried about my prsi paid going forward to pension age” (2020)

“Still underpaid and under appreciated! The forgotten sector” (2020)

The Impact of Working in ECEC on Professional’s Families:

“I am constantly torn between leaving a career I am good at and enjoy and making enough money for the survival of my own family.” (2018)

“summertime is hell for me as I try to make do with €180 a week on social welfare, my partner is working 6 days a week but it is his wages that cover the mortgage and bills and try to spare mine for food and caring for our 5 year old child..it isn't all next to impossible to have anything left over at the end of a week!” (2018)

“I still do it for the love of my work but as years go by and I have a mortgage bills and children love of my job is not enough for me to go into debt” (2018)

“If i knew that this passion for kids will locked me from my dreams and hobbies because of the low pay also now I am scared that I won’t be able to help my own kids in the future and give them better life ... I would choose other profession.” (2018)

“I earn just above minimum wage & im [sic] 52 years old. How could you raise a family & pay a mortgage on that.” (2018)

“I cannot afford to live with my 2 children alone on my wage” “I barely survive week to week and I don't get paid over the summer, even though that is a very busy time for managers.” (2018)

“I think the wage scale needs to be addressed, myself a mother of three who works almost 40 hours a week in a busy crèche has nothing left over at the end of the month due to awful pay. I think it’s shocking that in 2020 our qualified positions are still being looked at like glorified babysitters” (2020)

“I have studied for so long. Levels 5,6,7,8 honours degree & diploma in Montessori teaching.. over 15 years experience and my hourly rate is a little over 11€ an hour.. I don’t qualify for a mortgage, so will be leaving a vocation that I really enjoy, because of poor pay.. I’m so much more than a ‘childminder’.. but that’s unfortunately what I’m seen as.. so many of my colleagues have left the sector for better paying jobs& I challenge any government official, to walk a day in my shoes..” (2020)

Their Living Situations:

“my living situation is very hostile and I walk on eggshells at home constantly, I need to stay with my parents and family for now. I can’t afford to be kicked out because I simply can’t buy or rent on my wage” (2018)

“cannot afford rent, living in a mobile home” (2018)

“I’m constantly in debt, can’t afford to move as just about pay rent and never afford a deposit for another place or even dream of one for a mortgage. Weeks were no food is bought due to lack of money and direct debits having to be paid” (2018)

“myself and my husband live with my mother because we cannot get a mortgage due to the 12 weeks a year I am unpaid” (2018)

“I am a single parent and can not afford to rent on my wages. Also do not earn enough to be approved for a mortgage” (2018)

“I love what i do and I am passionate about it. I know I wouldn't be content with any other work which is why I am still doing it-i just wish I was paid enough so I don't have to worry about where the next month's rent will come from.” (2018)

“I am a single mother working 15 hours per week. Had I been in this situation when applying for a mortgage I would not have got one. Now that I have separated from my husband the chances of me ever owning my own home (including the Home I live in) after we divorce are zero” (2018)

“I have been repeatedly refused mortgage. This is the first year (I’m 45) that I have been able to buy a car under 5 years old. My daughter has been restricted from afterschool activities. I work ecce hours 38 weeks a year and have to claim dole for the 14 weeks I am not working - after completing over 6 years education, post leaving certificate! I have to face dole ques, form filling and approving my ridiculous working conditions in order to receive dole. I am unable to get FIS- because the ECCE contract is for 15 hours per week only and for FIS you have to work 21 hours per week. I have to live in a rental house supported by the rent scheme that people who are unemployed rely on... HAP. No fixed accommodation, no guarantee of accommodation year to year!” (2018)

“I’m currently separating from my husband and very insecure about affording my life and family” (2020)

“its not fair that we have such qualifications and cannot get a mortgage because of the low pay”(2020)

Financially Reliant on a Partner:

“I am studying to become a play therapist as I need more money and a more financially secure future If my husband left me I would be homeless very quickly....” (2018)

“With the wages being so low i rely on my husband to cover most of the bills.” (2018)

“Yes, cannot afford to share responsibility of rent and bills so my partner pays and quality of life is compromised due to this.”(2018)

“It effectively renders me dependant on my husband's income... Which impacts my own self worth and in turn, how my children perceive gender roles. It is horrendous actually when I think about it... But I know I am exceptional at what I do. I feel so overwhelmed with guilt at staying in a career I love when the socioeconomic realities are crippling me and my loved ones... But like a battered spouse... I continue to stay. What does this say about the governance of ecce??!!” (2018)

“im [sic] not a reliable source of income. My husband covers everything” (2018)

Leaving the Sector:

“Due to attend a course provided by local CC but really doing course to make myself more employable so I can leave sector and gain employment in Dept of education and skills as SNA to hopefully be able to provide permanent financial security for me and my two children .” (2018)

“Yes, my husband makes the Lions share of our income. Without him I would noy be able to afford to stay in the sector. We worry that we cannot afford a pension For either or us. after my maternity leave ends I feel I Doubt I will return to the sector as it does not make financial sense.” (2018)

“I feel I will be leaving the sector in the coming months as the stress and anxiety from the job is getting too much and for so little pay” (2020)

“There has been a major staff turnover since returning to work approxamatily [sic] 1 staff leaving per week” (2020)

“After being so passionate about the sector, I am now looking at other jobs as the stress is outweighing the joy of the job” (2020)

“I was considering leaving the sector pre lockdown. I am now definitely leaving the sector as my stress levels significantly reduced during lockdown.” (2020)

“I can't stay working in this sector much longer. It's getting too hard to juggle all the paperwork outside of my paid hours. I'm heartbroken . I just completed my level 9 masters and now I can't afford to work in my sector.” (2020)

“I am leaving the profession as I can no longer sustain my house and family on such a low unpredictable salary.” (2020)

“I'm currently job hunting as I am at breaking point and cant take any more” (2020)

Mental Health & Well Being:

“I'm always tired and I always hear children's noise even when i'm [sic] off” (2018)

“Exhausted at the end of every day unable to do basic housework or food prep. It is draining me.” (2018)

“my work problems, day to day issues. I carry them home with me everyday. I cannot switch off.” (2018)

“I think there is link of sickness and depression that is overlooked in childcare sector. So many ladies come into work sick because there is shortage on staff. Most creches don’t pay their workers for sick days.” (2020)

“I love my job but it’s getting harder and harder. The pressure and stress that goes along with it, the pay, not being valued as a profession takes its toll.” (2020)

“I feel there has been little emphasis put on making sure that staff are taken care of both physically and mentally coming back to their previous rolls [sic]. To provide the best possible care for each child returning to all settings the staff must feel supported and taken care of, If you don't take care of the staff they will not be able to give their all in taking care of the children. Every staff member has taken on even more responsibility than they ever have before but in my opinion has been treated with disdain by this government.” (2020)

“Work conditions are harder I am exhausted, so much cleaning and regulations put in place...I'm physically drained & have no time to care for the children because of all the cleaning and protocol” (2020)

“Anxious, deflated and exhausted” (2020)

“The physical tiredness is almost unberable [sic].” (2020)

“safety of childcare workers are [sic] not good, nobody cares about our health and our risk at the minute” (2020)

“Feeling demoralised as nothing has been put in to the service for staff, we have a shed as a staff room but can't be in there with someone from another pod, I don't relish winter having lunch in my car, our workload has increased but have been given no extra time to clean, really want a change of career.” (2020)

“Tired of working in this sector....full of anxiety and stress” (2020)

“I'm withered and we haven't even started back yet”(2020)

“My mental health was a lot better during the lockdown as I did t have the stress of work and I had time to concentrate on myself. Long working hours in childcare and bad pay is very stressful” (2020)

“At the beginning I was so worried but in actually fact I needed the break” (2020)

“Mental health effected (High stress) Financially insecure Professional exhaustion Huge new responsibility and risk not reflected in pay or benefits” (2020)

“Made a stressful job much more stressful from lockdown started, throughout and upon re opening. And continues during normal operational times to be stressful and working excessive hours per week.” (2020)

“Very stressful I am now suffering with anxiety, it's very bad, no proper guidelines on return to work. Every service I know are doing things differently.. government doesn’t care for us. We were important enough to go bk and open the country again. But not important enough to wear masks and protect us, or give us a pay rise” (2020)

“I am normally a very positive person, this time has left me an emotional wreck, I can’t sleep with worry about the smallest things related to work” (2020)

“It has effected all parts of my professional life, totally stressed In case I can’t pay staff, business is down so worried how I can provide enough hours to keep staff, worried that I won’t be able to afford to live and provide for my children” (2020)

“Scared and worried all the time” (2020)

“Life is more stressful” (2020)

Recognition:

“Feeling very disheartened this week on my return to work. The low value that is placed on me as a childcare worker effects my own self worth although i know it shouldn’t and my children are lucky to have me. You can’t help but let it bring you down sometimes.” (2020)

“Childcare is still undervalued, I was better off financially on the temporary childcare wage scheme, than my normal wages” (2020)

“Ecce workers should be valued as an educator and a carer not as a baby sitter with the payscale to match how stressful our job is, how important we are to children's development and for all of the updating in our skills as well as how educated we are. We love our jobs but are not treated as educated professionals just glorified babysitter. The pandemic really showed me how we are not valued as we were back in employment before hairdressers even though we are putting our families at risk going to work when teachers are worried about going back but no one worries about us” (2020)

“Since going back to work we are paid less work long hour, have a huge amount of paper work that is constantly changing and we are the cleaners of the building!!!” (2020)

“Something needs to be done and quick before you have no creche open to send your children” (2020)

“The government need to respect childcare services or we are headed back to Dublin for longer until we are heard or we close, no one could take the stress levels that we have faced.” (2020)

“An equitable national payscale is necessary to keep the practitioners in employment” (2020)

“It's costing me to work in the sector and this is having a negative impact on my wellbeing and my child. I'm struggling to do my job with the minimum amount of hours and funding. I have spent a long time training and qualifying to Degree level and CPD and none of this is recognised or reimbursement in a good level of pay. I will be forced to leave the sector as I feel so marginalised.” (2020)

“I have an honours degree and the conditions within the sector are so bad I feel like I wasted 3 years studying for an undervalued and underpaid sector. The pay and working conditions v stress and work load is disgusting. I earn €12 an hour for an honours degree. I know shop assistants on more than me. The pandemic has highlighted the poor working conditions but has in no way changed them. I feel it’s worse now than ever before” (2020)

“Its admirable that government stepped up and paid the twsc during pandemic in order to get through the period of no work and when staff return to work but continued investment in the early years is needed especially staff wages that need to be addressed as well as parents fees if this staff issue is not sorted then staff will be difficult to recruit and retain in the future within this sector leading to a bleak outlook for our profession.” (2020)

“I think childcare needs to be re looked at what childcare educators are expected to do for the money they work for is absolutely shameful to think people have so much responsibility for minimum wage is disgraceful it is under staffed and people are over worked for very little pay and to expect people to keep this up is shameful” (2020)

“The sector is well and truly broken, I’ve never seen it as bad, in our service we are struggling to keep staff and get new staff, only worsening the conditions for existing staff and feeding into the staffing crisis. It’s a vicious circle that I feel most will not outlast, not matter how much we do love or put into our work.” (2020)

“The state has shown, by the Childcare Wage subsidy scheme that the sector needs to be supported - it is an economic necessity - as well as a social right - and its time the state stepped up and nationalised the sector. The elephant in the room is how the state address the issue of easing the private providers out of the sector and whether the state will compensate the private owners if their settings are nationalised.” (2020)

“Getting very disillusioned with early years sector. Have worked in it for almost 20 years, love what I do, but impossible to live on rate of pay provided” (2020)

“The current wages in the sector are absolutely disgraceful. If the government can afford to take back all funding and page [sic] a weekly wage that would amount to €15 an hour then why can something like this not be permanently put in place?” (2020)

“The government need to wake up to the pressure they have early years under and get on board and engage in real discussion on how best to enable the sector to move forward.” (2020)

“Early years educators are not valued in many circumstances and can barely afford to live” (2020)

“It made me realise how much early years educators are underappreciated by the government. I was always aware of it but the way we have been treated has really drove it home for me. Our sector seems to nearly be built on the fact that we do it for the love of the job and the children we work for and if we even ask for better working conditions/hours/pay then we are greedy and that we dont have the right attitude for the job. It has made me very frustrated as I love my job, I love where I work but I'm struggling to stay positive and give it my all when my own government seems to think so little of us as a sector” (2020)

“This sector is struggling. I am 36 years old & only have a 38 week contract. I am qualified with a level 7 degree & am enrolled on the level 8 programme. We are totally underpaid & undervalued in society” (2020)

“Working in childcare 20 years. Not much has changed for us” (2020)

“Early childhood professionals that are qualified like me should be recognized as teachers not minders and paid properly minimum 20 per hour to afford mortgage and other normal life expenses like health insurance and not live in poverty!!!” (2020)

“Made me feel worthless like I was not important nor was my job” (2020)