Kids join childcare list – before they’re even born

Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre has a waiting list for children not even born yet, with 30 pupils attending an afterschool run by their staff in the nearby national school gym.

Planning permission for a €180,000 extension was granted last year but their application for a Pobal grant to part-fund it was turned down last year. This year they have applied for funding of €70,000 to build the extension which can accommodate 118 babies and children in the crèche, playschool, breakfast club and afterschool.

The centre has 50 places available since it opened in 2008 and has almost always been full, according to manager Denise Flanagan.

But in the last three years demand from parents has sky-rocketed due to the convenience of the before and after school service as well as the free playschool scheme.

“I’ve had parents coming up to me and saying they are a few weeks pregnant and can I put their name down for a place,” Denise told the Connacht Tribune.

“There’s a staff member who couldn’t get their child in here and they have to leave to pick up their child from a different playschool and bring them to a babysitter. Another family moved across the road and they can’t get in. It puts so much pressure on families – I hate having to tell local people we can’t fit them in.

“We can take six babies from six months old and we’re booked until 2020 – these are babies that haven’t even been born yet.”

The centre which has 18 staff has children who travel from afar as Skehanna and Ballygar for childcare. Some parents have had to arrange multiple pick-ups and drop-offs as they could not secure a place in the community childcare facility.

For the last two years Mountbellew National School has agreed to rent the school gym to the centre to facilitate the afterschool but the arrangement is not ideal as it means pupils spend a long time on school grounds.

“When the Government set up the free playschool scheme they didn’t investigation whether there were enough places. Now parents are putting their children into playschool from age three so it’s putting pressure on childcare centres.”

The centre held a public meeting last month to discuss the situation and 70 parents turned up.

“They’re all desperate to get their children in. We’ve been fully compliant with our Tusla and Pobal inspections and most of the staff have been with me since we opened in 2008 which is pretty rare in childcare.

“We know our children very well, it’s a very family atmosphere and we’re proud we’re doing so well but it’s causing a huge amount of stress on parents to find a full-time childcare place,” explained Denise.

“We are ready to go with the extension. We have a bank loan approved on condition we get Pobal funding and the local priest has agreed to sell us the site beside us. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into making sure the application is right.”

Roscommon Galway TD Eugene Murphy urged Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone to review the case of Mountbellew Community Childcare Centre.

“I have been contacted by so many parents and members of the public from the Mountbellew area regarding this pressing matter. One concerned father told me in January of this year he and his wife queued outside Mountbellew community childcare centre from 5.30 am to try to get their daughter a place for September, only to be told there was no room at the inn,” the Fianna Fáil deputy told the Dáil.

“Mountbellew is fortunate to have a childcare centre of this calibre. All the emails to me from parents have noted the professional nature of staff and the loving, caring and nurturing environment. Investing in this centre makes economic sense. We must be able to facilitate parents to work and contribute while our children, the future generation, are nurtured in the best environment possible.”

Minister Zappone replied that over the past four budgets, investment in early learning and care and school age childcare has increased by 117%, rising from €260 million in 2015 to €575 million in 2019.

This year there was a capital budget of €9.6 million for the sector, with €6.1 million of this funding for the 2019 early learning and care and school age childcare capital programmes.

She was unable to comment on the application process but stated that the outcome of the appraisal would be communicated to applications this month.