Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Gem at the Heart of our Community.

Ever since moving to Aghada 8 years ago, we have found that this part of East Cork provides everything we have needed for ourselves and for rearing our family. For a small community, it certainly delivers. From school to sports, shop to pub, builders to satellite man, it’s all here.

There’s a very special place at the heart of this community - operating from a non-descript prefab building. This place provides a level of service that makes it a centre of excellence in this country. It is the Aghada Community Playgroup for pre-school children. It was originally set up over 10 years ago by Mary Cotter, Gillian Berry, Susan Merz and interested parents. It is still operated by Mary, the team and families from the community. It offers a high quality childcare service to the Aghada, Whitegate, Saleen and surrounding areas.

In 2012, during its 10th Anniversary, it was the first playschool in the country achieve the prestigious “Síolta” Accreditation from HSE. It got the highest possible Síolta (Irish word for Seeds) quality rating in all capacities. It leads the way in childcare services in Ireland. 

In Aghada and the surrounding district, children with specific needs/disabilities can access mainstream pre-school services in their own community - because of this extraordinary service. It is recognised as one of the top two in Co Cork for welcoming children with specific needs.

In our house, we’ve a wealth of positive experience of the playschool. We currently have our third little one in there. Their earliest school-going memories have been created in that space. They’ve sang, baked, painted, built, created, played and played, and played some more. They’ve made their very first friends up there. Our older two are in “big school” now – over the fence, and these early friendships have carried through into primary school for them. 

They’ve had their first streaks of independence – at age 3 and 4 – in that playschool. We saw our oldest flourish and gain confidence during his year there. Our youngest sang his favourite song – American Pie - on his second day there. They’ve all had happy times there and the older ones still speak fondly about it - and the staff who worked with them.

And this is the key-stone that makes it all possible - the people who work there, the key-workers. Their care, concern and commitment are second to none. They are utterly there for each child. We get a glimpse of this in the warmth of their welcomes and goodbye’s to our kids every day. They forge solid connections and really tune into the children. As a parent, I’ve also appreciated that when they spot something of concern, they raise it.

Here’s an example of their commitment to quality. The staff-to-child ratio at Aghada Community Playgroup is 1 key-worker to every 8 children. If they worked to the Childcare regulations, they could allow up to 11 kids for each keyworker - space allowing. But this would greatly affect the quality of attending to each child – so they deliberately choose not to increase the ratio – so every child gets the time and attention they need and deserve. 

A higher ratio would mean more kids attending and this in turn would bring in more state funding. So their commitment to quality is costing them money.  Such examples of a principled stand are rare in Ireland today. The developmental impact of this on our local children and the future spinoff for our community is unquantifiable. These are highly qualified and professional staffBut this commitment and professionalism is not recognised by government departments.

Today, playschool staff – from playschools all over Ireland, take part in a protest march in Dublin. They want to bring attention to the work they do and how this sector deserves better recognition within our health and educational systems. As a parent, I feel they deserve our support on their stance – today and every day. We do not want them to feel left out in the cold any longer.

Tom Evans is a dad, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork, Rep of Irl.
Call: 086 3375310