Childcare in Ireland

Posted on Friday, 19 May 2023
Main Image
Page Content

In 2020, 57.6 per cent of children under the age of three years are cared for only by their parents, which means 42.4 per cent of children under the age of three are cared for by people other than their parents, be it grandparents, childminders or with formal childcare providers. [1]



Affordable childcare and child-friendly employment arrangements are key requirements for greater labour participation among young mothers. [2] Cost is also key in keeping women in the workplace with many working women citing childcare costs as a reason to consider leaving the workplace. [3] In September 2019, the then Department of Children and Youth Affairs published findings from a survey of almost 4,000 childcare providers revealing that the average fee for full-time childcare provision is now €184 per week, with the highest being in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area (€251 per week on average) and the lowest in Carlow (an average of €148 per week). [4]

Affordability of childcare is much more of an issue in Dublin and surrounds, and Cork, than the rest of the country, with the subsidy accounting for just 9 per cent of the cost in the most expensive area (Dunlaoghaire-Rathdown). While the cost of childcare may have grown nationally by 4.3 per cent between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017, this hides the geographical disparity where, for example, in Leitrim the average cost of childcare, including the subsidy is €530, or one third of a full-time minimum wage worker’s take-home pay. This increases to 49 per cent of take-home pay in Dublin City Centre. Rates for part-time childcare have dropped in many counties, increasing the disparity, with Carlow cited as seeing a decrease of 30 per cent to €230 and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown experiencing an 8 per cent increase to €558. This accounts for a cost of between 15 and 31 per cent of the take-home pay of a full-time minimum wage worker.[5]


High childcare costs present a barrier to employment, particularly among young women with children. An increase in the cost of childcare led to a decrease in the number of paid working hours for mothers. An increase in the cost of provision of just 10 per cent could lead to a 30 minute reduction in a mother’s working hours. [6] 

However, high childcare costs do not translate to high wages for childcare workers. The average hourly wage earned by all staff working directly with children in 2020/21 was €13.20. The Pobal Early Years Sector Profile Report 2020/2021 notes that one out of every two childcare workers earned below the Living Wage rate for 2021 which was €12.30. In addition, there are increasing demands on childcare workers to improve their skills and qualifications, leading to a realistic expectation of better pay and conditions and slow down the reported staff turnover rate of 19 per cent in the sector. 

Budget 2023 allocated additional funding of €121 m to the National Childcare Scheme so that in January 2023 all families accessing registered early learning and childcare will receive a minimum hourly National Childcare Scheme (NCS) subsidy of €1.40 towards the cost of early learning and childcare. This could translate into an additional €40.50 reduction in weekly costs.

Early Years Strategy – First 5

In November 2018, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published the first Early Years Strategy. First 5, a Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families 2019-2028 recognises the importance of family care in the first twelve months of a child’s life and outlines the objective to allow a mother or father access to paid parental leave during this time, with a further action point of encouraging greater work-life balance practices in employment, as outlined in the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance. A further objective set out under Goal C – Positive play-based early learning, is to increase safe, high-quality, developmentally appropriate, integrated childcare, which reflects diversity of need, which will be met through making childcare more affordable, extend the provision of subsidised childcare and the integration of additional supports for children with increased needs.

The 'First 5' Little Baby Bundle Pilot initiative was announced in early February 2023. 500 Little Baby Bundles will be delivered to participating families in Dublin and Waterford over the coming months. These families will then give their feedback and share their thoughts and experiences of the Bundle which will inform proposals for a nationwide roll-out. The Bundle "will be filled with a range of useful items, including play items to encourage early communication and bonding, household items for help with safe bathing and safe sleep, as well as a range of other items to support new parents after the birth".

Policy Proposals 

Social Justice Ireland welcomed the publication of the Early Years Strategy, with its child-centred focus and inter-Departmental governance and implementation plan and proposes a target of investing 1 per cent of GDP by 2027 in early childhood care and education (the expenditure of the top performing countries in Europe). Investment needs to increase by a minimum of 0.1 per cent of GDP with a view to reaching 1 per cent of GDP by 2027 in line with the top performing countries in the OECD. This level of investment is crucial to ensuring that all children have access to quality childcare and after-school care which supports their development and facilitates parents to participate in the labour market.

Social Justice Ireland believes that childcare staff should earn a decent wage and that Government should ensure that any subsidies aimed at improving the conditions of childcare staff are not used to increase costs to parents. This could be facilitated to some extent by legislating to reduce ancillary costs such as insurances which are having a detrimental effect on the sector.



[2] OECD. Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.


[4] Department of Children and Youth Affairs. 2019. Fees by Type and Local Authority. Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

[5] Nugent, C. The Affordability of Childcare in Ireland: Measuring Regional Disparities. NERI Research inBrief, December 2017 (no. 58). Dublin: NERI.

[6] Russell, H., McGinnity, F., Fahey, É., & Kenny, O. 2018. Maternal Employment and the Cost of Childcare in Ireland. Dublin: Economic & Social Research Institute.