Mothers of young children in Ireland work longer hours and are more reliant on formal childcare than their counterparts in Northern Ireland, according to an ESRI study.

Mothers in Northern Ireland are more likely to work part-time and are more reliant on friends and family for childcare, according to the research.

The Economic and Social Research Institute has compared early childhood education and care in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Children in both jurisdictions are entitled to free universal pre-school provision, which have very high levels of take-up.

Part-time pre-school is available in both systems, but hours are somewhat longer in Ireland (15 hours) than Northern Ireland (12.5 hours).

Some children receive longer hours of free pre-school in Northern Ireland, but this depends on the type of services available locally, according to the research.

Social inequalities in cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes are equally prevalent among young children in both jurisdictions.

Mothers in Northern Ireland are more likely to rely on friends and family for childcare, according to the ESRI

In both, social background and home learning environment play a greater role in the outcomes of children than participation in Early Childhood Education and Care.

Both systems face similar policy challenges around affordability for parents and the employment conditions of early years staff.

The ESRI says Ireland and the UK regularly feature among the countries with the highest costs for full-time care in the OECD.

However, it says initiatives such as the National Childcare Scheme in Ireland and Universal Credit in Northern Ireland mean reduced costs for low-income households.

In Ireland and Northern Ireland, early years staff have low pay levels and staff retention can be a challenge, according to the research.

While the new Core Funding Model and Employment Regulation Orders have been introduced in the Republic to address low pay; the ESRI says it's too early to assess the impact.

It found that in Northern Ireland, there’s "a wide disparity" in the qualifications, pay and conditions of those working in private/voluntary settings compared to those in the statutory sector.

The pace of policy developments in ECEC in Ireland has been "rapid" in recent years, with substantial government investment, while stakeholders in Northern Ireland expressed frustration that the lack of an Executive has stalled policy progress.

The ESRI has noted that extensions in the hours of universal pre-school provision have been implemented in the rest of the UK but not yet in Northern Ireland.

Stakeholders highlighted the merits of the Sure Start system in Northern Ireland for its wraparound and integrated services for children living in disadvantaged areas.

The ESRI says that the success of the Northern Ireland system in bringing childminders into the formal system offers a model for Ireland, where only a tiny number of this group are registered.