Speaking after the virtual Northern Ireland Local Government Association Health, Social and Environmental Wellbeing Network meeting with Pauline Walmsley from Early Years and Aoife Hamilton from Employers for Childcare, Cllr John Coyle, (Fermanagh & Omagh District Council) Chair of the NILGA Health, Social and Environmental Wellbeing Network said;
“I very much welcome the opportunity NILGA provided today to enable an open, solutions-oriented discussion between elected members and officers from across the 11 district councils with representatives from childcare organisations on the challenges facing children, parents, childcare providers and employers as Northern Ireland emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.
“It is a policy priority for NILGA that Northern Ireland develops a robust ‘gold standard’ childcare strategy as a matter of urgency, particularly for the post-COVID period, and as an ongoing requirement. We need to ensure parents have access to high quality, affordable childcare, at times and in locations to suit their employment and family needs.
“The meeting today provided a valuable opportunity to discuss how councils can support their local economies and childcare providers, and innovative ideas were discussed in relation to employment and skills academies, use of indoor and outdoor facilities, provision of community and business support, grants for summer activities and the ‘lifeline’ usually provided for families in the form of council summer schemes.
“Although summer schemes may not be operating this year due to the virus, councils are exploring alternatives as restrictions ease. I was happy to see the NI Executive’s confirmation of dates for reopening of playparks, leisure centres and soft play facilities in coming weeks, all of which will be vitally important to parents and to the wellbeing of children, over the summer period especially.
“NILGA and councils will continue to work closely with the childcare sector during and beyond post-COVID recovery to ensure their highly skilled qualified workforce can continue to deliver the exceptional care and valuable early years education that our children deserve.”