Katarzyna Czarkowska says she’s worried that when her creche, Magic Moments, closes this summer, parents in Chapelizod will struggle to find childcare.
She’s run Magic Moments from Quadrant House on Chapelizod Road since 2014, but last June, she got a one-year notice period from her landlord for her creche to close to make way for a development of 131 homes.
“I just felt like I’m letting parents down, that I cannot keep going, you know?” says Czarkowska.
The application, which is at a pre-planning stage, hasn’t so far proposed a replacement creche, and parents in the area say that there are already limited options.
Parents will have to drive from the already traffic-choked Chapelizod to find childcare, says Sophie Nicoullaud, an independent councillor.
That is, if they can find a new spot. “There won’t be anywhere that can possibly take on those children that I’m seeing at the moment,” says Elaine Dunne, chairperson for the Federation of Early Childcare Providers.
At the moment, 153 Dublin creches have long waiting lists, according to a survey that the federation did last week.
“Dublin is struggling and has massive waiting lists,” says Dunne. “Anything up to three years, five years for some services.”
A Stressful Search
Since September, Czarkowska has turned down more than double the number of children Magic Moments can take care of, she says.
People who are pregnant call already stressed out by the search for places, she says. “Which is horrible, you know?”
Chapelizod has two creches. The village needs to add one and get to three creches, she says, rather than lose one and fall to one creche.
Denise O’Brien has no idea where she will send her three-year-old daughter once Magic Moments closes, she says. O’Brien works in the creche too.
She doesn’t drive, so she needs somewhere close to Palmerstown, she says. “It’s crazy because there is a good few creches around, but childcare wise they’re all full to the maximum.”
Some of them offer spaces just for the Early Childhood Care and Education Program (ECCE), where the government pays for three hours of pre-school childcare per day for kids over 2 years 8 months, she says.
But that’s not helpful for her and other parents, says O’Brien. “The majority of people that come here are working parents, so three hours isn’t going to cut it.”
She likes working at Magic Moments and it pays well, she says. “It’s a lovely little creche and the owner is like, so lovely.”
“Anywhere else, you’re looking at minimum wage,” she says. “And it could almost be that I’m gonna have to say no to a job because I don’t have anywhere to put my child.”
Dublin City Council has not yet responded to queries asking whether they have done a survey of childcare needs in the area.
A February 2022 report by the Dublin South City Partnership for Inchicore, just south of Chapelizod, found that future childcare needs in the area are unlikely to be met due to new developments being built without childcare.
(A pilot scheme for disadvantaged parents in the area, who miss out on the National Childcare Scheme, is needed, it said.)
National guidelines for apartments, set in 2018 by the Department of Housing, say that, when working out if more childcare facilities are needed, planners and developers should look at how big a new development is, the kinds of homes in it, and what there already is in an area.
“One-bedroom or studio type units should not generally be considered to contribute to a requirement for any childcare provision and subject to location, this may also apply in part or whole, to units with two or more bedrooms,” the guidelines say.
There were planning guidelines for childcare facilities drawn up in 2001, which recommend one childcare facility for every 75 homes. But the newer guidelines overrule those, it says, while promising a review of the 2001 rules.
Also, any communal facilities such as childcare spaces within apartment schemes should not be imposed if the developer did not propose it already, the guidelines say.
They “should be subject to negotiation and agreement with the developer as part of the planning process”, it says, because “the provision of such facilities is likely to have significant implications for management and maintenance costs for future residents”.
Linders Car Dealers hasn’t responded to queries sent via email as to whether they had considered the need for childcare in the area as part of their application, and whether the final proposed development would include a creche.
The An Bord Pleanála inspector’s report on the planning application for the apartment blocks that would replace Magic Moments said that more clarification on the provision of childcare is needed, recognising that the creche will be closed.
“A replacement creche facility is not proposed and the existing facility has been included within the baseline data presented,” it says, suggesting that there was an analysis done that counted the Magic Moments creche within neighbourhood provision.
An Bord Pleanála did not respond to queries sent Monday asking for clarity on that.
Nicoullaud, the independent councillor, says the council can ask the developer to build a creche but can’t force it to do so.
“There is no legislation on the planning authority, to be obliged, to be sure, that in the planning at some stage there is a creche,” she says.
Putting amenities next to new housing developments has been reactive rather than proactive, she says. “If that was the case, then Chapelizod would have had another school.”
Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says that in the Docklands, during pre-planning for new developments, the council negotiated with developers that they would provide childcare facilities.
“I would think that there’s soft power, that they need to be saying to developers, we welcome housing, we welcome your development, but there needs to be a [childcare] requirement,” he says.
O’Brien, the childcare worker, says there should have to be space for childcare within new apartment developments, if there is a shortage.
Dunne, of the Federation of Early Childcare Providers, says local authorities need to enforce that creches must be opened within new developments. “And that they shouldn’t be allowed to be sold off to become something else.”
In big developments, “of course a creche has to be there, because the local creches won’t be able to facilitate, because they’re already full”, she says.
More Community Creches?
To the right, towering over Magic Moments, is the copper scaffolding of a building site for 71 council apartments, which was approved in October 2019. The development includes a space for a Scouts’ or community hall.
Czarkowska says she was thinking of trying to rent the hall.
But it wouldn’t be ready for September, she says, and she may only be able to do ECCE and after-school sessions there, and not full-time hours. It would also need to be kitted out to meet childcare regulations.
“I don’t even know if it’s gonna be financially possible for me to do it, you know, because it depends how many children I could have, how many teachers,” she says.
And that’s only for a few hours. “Parents need full time hours, parents working full time,” she says.
O’Brien, the childcare worker, says she wonders why a Scouts’ hall was considered ahead of childcare. “As much as, like, I hope my kids get to go to activities and things like that, I need the basics before I can give them the privileges.”
Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says that in general if there is space for a creche in new council complexes, the council should make sure the rent is affordable for childcare providers. “So that they can in turn open their doors and charge the same amount to the parents.”
Childcare providers have in the past been priced out of buying new creche spaces built as part of big developments, says Dunne, from the Federation of Early Childcare Providers.
“They’re out-pricing us in the amount they want for them,” she says. “For a service that should be €400,000 to buy, they’re out-pricing us by €100,000 or more, to make it impossible for us to get them.”
The creche space will then be sold as something else, she says. “We can’t afford to buy them because obviously we’re chronically underfunded.”
If the council built space for a creche in Chapelizod, it would guarantee it for future generations, says O’Brien. “So that it has the security that no one can come along and knock it down to build apartments.”
Every area should have a community creche, she says, but there seems to be a stigma around them. “They’re actually state-of-the-art best, usually.”
Czarkowska says running the creche during the pandemic was challenging.
“Many creches are closing, many creches didn’t survive,” she says, as childcare doesn’t make a lot of money, and there isn’t much government support. “It puts pressure pressure pressure pressure on you,” she says.
It all means that closing Magic Moments will be a bit of a relief, she says. “But at the same time, I just feel so bad for the families.”
Czarkowska doesn’t want to set up a creche in some other part of the city, she says. “I know here, I feel comfortable, I know it’s going to work.”