The Importance of the Early Years
There is a very significant body of evidence that the early years matter. Some key points are:
- The portions of the brain that control vision, hearing and language development all start developing at birth and peak before the child reaches 18 months
- Language and literacy skills begin to develop before a child uses its first words; by the age of three, 50% of our language is in place with 85% by the age of five
- Early experiences shape how the brain develops
- Interactions between a child and parent directly affect the architecture of the brain
- Prolonged stress in the absence of protective relationships is damaging to the developing brain and can result in problems in learning and development.
In brief, development in the early years is a key determinant of the child's future learning capacity, the ability to choose right from wrong, the ability to interact with others, the ability to develop trust and respect for other people. The evidence provides unequivocal support for the economic benefit of investment in early childhood and shows that the benefit accrues not only to the individual child and family, but to all citizens. Early childhood services provide essential support for children's cognitive, social and emotional development: they also enable parents to participate in the workforce and they provide valuable employment for skilled workers. In addition to these universal benefits, evidence demonstrates that more intensive and targeted early childhood services have the potential to significantly enhance the life chances of more vulnerable children.
In recognition of the above, State investment in early childhood care and education has been a key focus of recent years, and despite economic difficulties, every effort has been made to maintain a high level of investment.
Prior to 2000, there was very limited capacity in the childcare sector. However, over the decade 2000 to 2010, the State, initially in partnership with the EU, invested €425 million capital funding to create childcare places throughout Ireland. About 65,000 extra places were created. Due to this investment Ireland has a good infrastructure for childcare which can provide the basis for quality services that meet the needs of children and families.
On behalf of the Childcare Directorate of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) the County Childcare Committees (CCC’s) administer the main childcare funding programmes that subsidise fees for parents in early year’s services locally. There are three key government funded childcare programmes as follows:-
- ECCE (Free Pre-School Year)
- TEC (Training & Employment Childcare)
- CCS Plus (Community Childcare Subvention)