Through a broad range of programmes, the strategy is aimed at filling the first five years of a child’s life with positive experience which can support good development and have a lifetime impact.
First 5 commits to major initiatives on family leave, children’s health services, parenting supports, child-friendly communities and Early Learning and Care (ELC) services among a broad range of actions.
The First 5 strategy is evidence-based following research which suggests that home and family is of utmost importance for a child’s well-being. Evidence suggests that parents have less time to take on caring responsibilities as a large majority of parents of young children are employed (74.4% of men and 52.3% of women in employment work for 35 hours or more a week).
This is why a key part of the strategy focuses on family-flexible working arrangements and plans of extended entitlements to paid leave for both fathers and mothers that will enable parents spend more time with their child.
A European Directive on Work–Life Balance initiated in April 2017 proposed the introduction of a right to paid parental leave. The Directive proposed an entitlement to four months of parental leave, with one and a half months to be paid. Two months of the leave should be non-transferable between parents.
Based on this, an Inter-Departmental group led by the Department of Justice and Equality has recommended the introduction of seven weeks of paid parental leave for each parent, to be introduced in late 2019, and implemented incrementally over a three-year timeframe.
The ambitious ten-year plan will deliver:
- A broader range of options for parents to balance working and caring; the objective is to develop a new parental leave scheme which will support parents and enable them have more time with their babies especially during the first five years.
- A new model of parenting support: a range of parenting support which including high-quality information and guidance on healthy behaviour will be provided. Support will be universal as well as targeted to ensure every family has access.
- New developments in child health, including a dedicated child health workforce: the strategy aim to support children’s physical and mental health right from the start. With growing concerns of mental health and stress in our society, this plan will help monitor and support children’s mental health to ensure they can build resilience right from start. This will have a positive impact on the society by reducing incidence of life threatening diseases, which is a critical part of creating a healthy Ireland.
- Reform of the Early Learning and Care (ELC) system, including a new funding model: within this strategy, the ELC will be reformed and strengthened. Investment in ELC will be doubled over the next decade. This investment will subsidise the cost of ELC to parents and ensure providers are able to deliver ELC on a high-quality and sustainable basis.
- A package of measures to tackle early childhood poverty: also included in the strategy is a package of measures to tackle early childhood poverty ranging from expanded access to free and subsidised ELC, extensions to Warmer Homes Schemes and the introduction of a meals programme.
A successful roll-out of these initiatives will ease pressure off parents and provide a good start for children; a key factor in delivering a healthy Ireland.