Childcare matters: the far-reaching effects of high-quality early learning and childcare

April 22, 2024

In the heart of Ireland's economy, one sector quietly plays a pivotal role, yet its significance often goes unrecognized—the early learning and childcare (ELC) sector. More than just a service for parents, this sector serves as a catalyst for economic growth and the holistic development of children across the country. The economic, social and health benefits derived from high quality early learning and childcare are tangible and essential to Irish society. Conversely, low-quality childcare can have negative impacts on children and society. It is essential that government investment in this vital service increases so that high-quality providers can continue to operate.

At its essence, ELC provides a nurturing environment where children can explore, learn, and grow during their formative years. From infancy to preschool, these crucial early experiences shape children's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, setting the stage for lifelong learning and well-being.

There is a general consensus among researchers that investments in high-quality ELC yield substantial long-term social and economic benefits. These benefits can include:

  • Increased future earning potential for individuals who receive high-quality early learning and childcare.
  • Reduced future spending on social services and remedial education.
  • Enhanced workforce productivity due to a better-educated and healthier population.
  • Lower rates of crime and incarceration, leading to savings in criminal justice and law enforcement expenditures.
  • Long-term economic growth due to a more skilled and innovative workforce.

Additionally, the childcare sector enables parents, particularly mothers, to participate in the workforce. Accessible and high-quality ELC services provide parents with the peace of mind necessary to pursue their careers, contributing to increased workforce participation rates. This, in turn, boosts productivity and economic output, as more individuals actively engage in employment.

The ELC sector serves as an enabler for economic equality. By facilitating women's participation in the workforce, it helps bridge the gender employment gap and promotes gender equality in the workplace. Moreover, affordable childcare options alleviate financial burdens on families, ensuring that economic opportunities are not limited by socio-economic status.

Research suggests that every euro invested in early learning and care generates a return of up to eight euros in economic benefits, underscoring the sector's multiplier effect on the economy.

From a health perspective, several studies have suggested that participation in high-quality ELC is associated with better health outcomes later in life. For example, research has linked early childhood education to reduced rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. These benefits are often attributed to the development of healthy behaviours, such as proper nutrition and physical activity, learned during early childhood.

After years of underinvestment in the ELC sector, government introduced core funding to early years services two years ago as a part of its First Five strategy for children. The goal was to create and support high-quality early learning and care while offering stability to the sector. Providers who signed up for core funding agreed to a fee freeze under the understanding that core funding would provide a stable source of funding for their services. Many providers had not increased their fees prior to the pandemic. What has happened since services entered core funding has been a significant increase in their operating costs which core funding has failed to match. As a result, many providers are faced with the prospects of closing their doors or pulling out of core funding and dramatically increasing parent’s fees to stay in business. This reality puts the delivery of high-quality early learning at risk.

As employers or parents, or both the stability of the early learning and childcare sector is of vital importance. We encourage you to use your voice to support the early learning and childcare sector.

For more information on Childhood Services Ireland and the importance of early education, please contact CSI Director, Stephanie Roy -