Hidden Costs Of Running Irish Creches

In today’s financial climate, one of the hardest hit sectors of our economy is childcare. In many households where both parents used to be employed full-time, one or both may now be at home, looking after the children. In other cases, crèche fees or childcare fees are simply too much for a family’s budget, and they have to find other, less satisfactory, arrangements.

Many Dublin crèches are responding to the crisis by simply closing down, often abruptly. Finding quality childcare facilities in Dublin has always been difficult, but with crèches all over Dublin closing their doors it’s gotten even more challenging.

Recently, childcare facilities in vocational colleges all across Ireland have had to close due to cutbacks in funding. Despite widespread protests against the shut-downs the Department of Children has stated categorically that they will not provide bailout funds to keep the crèches open. In an article in the Irish Times (Monday, June 25) a Department spokesperson said that ‘creches were being run too expensively, and if they reduced their costs there was no reason why they should not be able to continue operating.’

However, most people don’t realise how much goes into running a crèche, which may partly explain why some people feel that crèche fees in general are too high.

For example, staffing ratios are strictly set by the HSE at a maximum of 8 children aged 3-6 per adult, 6 children per adult for 1-3 year-olds, and for children under a year old the ratio drops to 3:1. With salaries being the single highest expense for most crèches these ratios represent serious expenditure.

Similarly, space regulations are strictly set, with a minimum requirement of 2.3 square metres per child for the older children, and as much as 3.5 square metres for toddlers under 2. Especially for crèches in Dublin and other Dublin childcare facilities, the square footage requirements can be a huge expense.

Toys and equipment can also eat up a big part of a crèche’s operations budget, with many facilities spending upwards of €10,000 for everything from puzzles and games to sandboxes, paints, furniture, mats, slides and swings, etc, all of which also need to be regularly maintained and/or replaced (the wear-and-tear from 30 energetic kids each day is much higher than most equipment is used to).

These costs remain more or less constant for childcare facilities despite reduced fee income. More importantly, these expenses are for typical crèches in Dublin and throughout Ireland, whereas those which strive to provide true excellence in childcare spend even more money on facilities, maintenance, toys and equipment and, especially staffing – providing higher than minimum ratios of adults to children and putting serious time and money into training of staff.

Although faced with falling attendance numbers and diminished income, childcare facilities that have built their reputations on providing superior quality cannot simply cut back on the very aspects of their service that have made them successful in the first place. Instead, ironically, they may actually have to invest more in advertising and marketing to emphasise the levels of quality they provide and attempt to capture a growing portion of a diminishing market. It’s a storm that some crèches – such as those in some Irish VECs – may not be able to weather, but perhaps those that survive will emerge stronger and even more focused on quality service delivery than before.