A LITANY of bad practices and poor standards, which left children at risk in the three creches at the centre of an undercover investigation, was uncovered by health inspectors.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the failings, which include no record of garda vetting of some staff, are revealed in a series of inspectors' reports on the creches in Dublin and Wicklow.
The unpublished reports were drawn up following a series of visits by HSE inspectors in advance of the recent undercover operation by television reporters.
The creches – which include Little Harvard in Rathnew, Wicklow; the Giraffe childcare and Early Learning Centre in Belarmine, Stepaside, Dublin; and Links Childcare in Malahide, Dublin – are now being investigated by the HSE after allegations of poor standards in the care of some children.
The allegations came to light during an undercover RTE investigation which has not yet been aired.
However, a series of inspections already highlighted problems and a visit to Links Childcare in January found that while 22 staff were working with pre-school children, there was a record of garda vetting only available for 16 of them.
The inspectors warned that the staff who had no record of vetting should never be left alone with children and should be supervised at all times until their background was screened.
Other findings from the inspectors include:
* Facilities in the baby, wobbler and toddler rooms needed to be reviewed.
* In the baby room, aids to support their motor development and movement were required.
* Too many one- and two-year- olds in the toddler room.
Another inspector's report on the Giraffe centre at Stepaside, following a full day visit in December 2011, found no written references from past employers for one childcare worker and no garda vetting forms for three of the staff, although processing was under way. A follow-up report on the Giraffe creche in May last year again found there were no garda vetting records for five new staff.
An inspection of the Little Harvard Creche and Montessori school in June last year found garda vetting was not available for six new members of staff. It also found:
* Regular physical checks on sleeping children were not recorded.
* Medicine bottles stored on the door of the fridge in the baby and wobbler rooms.
* No system in place to record any information relevant to children's care and well-being.
* Not enough sleep space for children under two years.
* Inspection team were allowed to enter the premises unauthorised and there were inadequate safety procedures in place at the external gate to prevent outsiders entering the play area.
A previous inspection in November 2011 found no vetting documentation available for four of the people working there.
The HSE confirmed it is now re-assessing if there are any current risks in the creches after being contacted by gardai.
An RTE report is to be broadcast on 'Prime Time' on Monday night.
Some Giraffe staff have been suspended arising out of the allegations and management has apologised unreservedly.
Giraffe's own internal investigation – which has seen the suspension of three staff members – will be completed by Monday and a report will be sent to the HSE. However, management have questioned some of the allegations made in the 'Prime Time' investigation as being "over-sensationalised and lacking in proof".
A full investigation is in train at the Little Harvard creche in Rathnew, after the company yesterday reviewed the RTE undercover footage.
In a statement, the company said it was "deeply concerned" because the footage focused on "isolated incidents" and did not reflect the "commitment, care and love" provided by its child carers.
The company, along with its legal advisers, say they will carry out a full investigation into the isolated incidents and will review all options available to improve the service.
Last night Deirdre Kelly, director of Links, emailed parents to say the company "deeply regrets" what happened. They have dismissed one employee and suspended three others, pending the findings of a full investigation.
"The incidents recorded by RTE were isolated to a small number of staff and the vast majority of our employees had absolutely no involvement," Ms Kelly said.