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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.

Childcare and early learning

What you need to know



Childcare and Early Learning

Early learning is a key factor in determining an individual’s life chances, playing a key role in a child’s development, and having significant benefits for children most at risk of educational underachievement. It also has an important role in tackling disadvantage and in developing an understanding and respect for diversity.

Delivering improvements to childcare and early learning has the potential to advance equality of opportunity for parents (particularly mothers), carers and children, including those with a disability and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

We call on decision-makers to advance equality of opportunity and good relations by providing appropriate, accessible, flexible and affordable childcare and early learning provision which meets the diverse needs of parents, carers, and children from across the range of equality categories.

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Please help us secure change by supporting our recommendations and sharing this page -; and by engaging with elected representatives, key government officials and other decision makers to call for the adoption of these proposals.    


  • Provide appropriate, accessible, flexible and affordable childcare and early-years provision to meet the diverse needs of all children.
Provision should meet the specific needs for children from across the full range of equality groups, including disabled children, those from minority ethnic communities and new residents (who may not have English as a first language), as well as those from rural communities. Read More
  • Promote equality of opportunity for parents / carers, including overcoming barriers to parental employment. 
Provision should promote equality of opportunity for parents and those providing care, to the benefit of wider society and the economy.  It should also be sufficiently flexible to take account of the conditions that would facilitate parents, particularly mothers, and carers to better access employment and training.  Information on childcare and early-years provision and availability should be easily accessible, including for those who do not speak English as a first language. Read More
  • Maximise the quality and sustainability of Childcare and Early Learning services. 
Actions must ensure the sustainability of provision, including in disadvantaged and rural areas. The work of providers, predominantly women, should be properly valued and remunerated, with appropriate workforce development opportunities.  Consideration should be given to lessons learned from other jurisdictions in relation to ensuring the sustainability of services. Read More 
  • Tackle gender stereotypes concerning Childcare and Early Learning roles. 

Comprehensive measures must tackle gender-based stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes from an early age and across all areas of life. This should include challenging gender stereotypes in relation to women’s and men’s caring roles – both in the home and in employment, and with regards to the diverse range of family types in Northern Ireland. Read More
  • Support and encourage employers to develop carer friendly policy and practices, including maximising flexibility.
Employers and training providers should be supported and encouraged to develop parent / carer friendly policy and practices.  Actions should include the promotion of flexible working practices and the equal sharing of family roles / responsibilities between women and men. Read More

Wider Recommendations
Early intervention must also play an important role in addressing wider inequalities in education – including attainment for Traveller, Roma and Newcomer children; those with Special Educational Needs, and who are Looked After Children.  We also highlight the importance of challenging inappropriate stereotypes and prejudice-based bullying at an early age; of supporting parental engagement; and of embedding equality of opportunity and good relations within learning, and within the training of early-years / childcare providers. Read More

Action is also required with regards to better targeting interventions and tracking impacts; collecting and using equality data to inform decision making; in leadership and stakeholder involvement; and in ensuring appropriate investment and resourcing. Read More

Download publications

The publications tab at the top of this page provides further information on the Childcare research that underpins our recommendations, and on our wider policy positions on education

Contact us
If you would like to know more about this area of our work, please email:


Childcare research: Maximising the Economic participation of Women

To inform the development of childcare policy options in Northern Ireland the Commission published an expert paper which focused on five key areas:
  • The need for a childcare strategy
  • An increase in the supply of childcare
  • Greater equality of access to childcare
  • Addressing barriers to employment
  • Changes in attitudes towards childcare and mothers’ employment

For full details read our research on 'Childcare: Maximising the Economic participation of Women':

Education: Policy Priorities and Recommendations
You can find further information on our policy priorities recommendations relating to education at

Wider Childcare Publications 
The Commission has published a range of papers, which provide an overview of our recommendations:

Consultation Responses
The Commission has responded to a range of consultations of particular relevance:

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