Creches face major reform and tough new sanctions
MAJOR changes aimed at improving standards in childcare facilities are to be introduced – and creches which don't comply will lose state funding.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Government is introducing six key changes to the childcare sector following a series of damning reports about children being mistreated in creches.
* Increasing the required qualification standards of childcare staff. All staff will have to have, as a minimum, a childcare qualification to Fetac level 5.
* All childcare providers must be registered.
* New national pre-school standards will be introduced.
* A more "robust and consistent" inspection system will be introduced, and inspection reports will be published online as soon as possible after being completed.
* Sanctions will be increased for non-compliant providers, including the possibility of losing state funding.
* Quality and curricular supports surrounding the syllabus will be improved for childcare providers.
Ms Fitzgerald said the changes would involve a more robust inspection regime, where reports would be analysed to detect problems in the sector.
The analysis to date was "sadly lacking", she told the Irish Independent, adding that the HSE had not been doing enough to confirm that creches were being properly run and managed.
The structural changes aimed at improving standards come after details emerged over the weekend about poor care being provided in creches around the country.
Two former workers spoke of children being shouted at and bullied at one creche, while details of complaints received by the HSE show that children "escaped" from creches in Cork, Kildare and Dublin; that children were verbally and physically abused in childcare facilities in Dublin; and that they were isolated for punishment in creches in Dublin and Cork.
This follows revelations by RTE last week where workers in three creches – Links in Malahide and Giraffe in Stepaside, both in Dublin, and Little Harvard in Rathnew, Co Wicklow – were filmed manhandling and shouting at children.
It also follows details published in this newspaper from inspection reports outlining a litany of failures in creches, including a failure to have staff vetted, not enough workers in place and children being put at risk because of poor safety standards.
Ms Fitzgerald said the HSE had not done enough to ensure creches in receipt of taxpayers' money were properly run, with the analysis of inspection reports from more than 4,000 creches "sadly lacking".
The problems arose because there was no focus in the HSE on ensuring quality of care. "The focus hasn't been on the quality issues since the sector has grown so quickly," she said.
"Nobody has taken these inspection reports and analysed the patterns and trends. The analysis of (inspection) reports in recent years has been sadly lacking.
"One reason is because the issues in relation to children's services have been lost in the HSE. That's why we need a dedicated focus with a dedicated agency. I'm working for regulation and stronger enforcement."
Proposals to establish a dedicated agency, called the Child and Family Agency, to take control of all child-related issues will come to government in the coming weeks.
Admitting that the agency would not be established on a statutory footing until later in the year, despite being promised last January, Ms Fitzgerald said it would help improve standards.