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Thursday 21 September 2017

Minister: 'Creche inspection reports to be published online next month'

Ms. Francis Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
Ms. Francis Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Lyndsey Telford

ALL inspection reports of creches will be published online from 1 July, revealed Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

She also revealed that more Government funding is needed to improve standards in Ireland's floundering childcare sector.

As cross-party politicians discussed the fallout of an undercover sting that recently exposed the mistreatment of children in three creche facilities, the minister insisted more inspectors must be hired to probe the industry.

"It is very clear there are some areas where there have been unacceptable levels of non-inspection, so we do need more inspectors. That's absolutely clear," Ms Fitzgerald said.

"We need to have people in to fill those vacancies. Undoubtedly some redeployment will be possible, but we will have to examine some extra funding for the sector."

The minister insisted that legislation for the creation of a long-promised single agency with responsibility for child welfare and protection was near completion.

She said the Child and Family Support Agency is one of the largest public sector reforms to be undertaken by the Government, as it will involve 4,000 staff members.

"We will have legislation coming to Government in the next few weeks," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald was addressing a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children where politicians and experts discussed revelations in an RTE Prime Time expose on three creches in Dublin and Wicklow, which aired last month.

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive designate of the Child and Family Support Agency, also attended the hearing.

He said authorities need to "drill down" to see what patterns emerge between childcare facilities and creches in breach of standards.

The children's minister said the issue of providing high quality childcare was one that is never going to go away.

However she warned that the initiatives required are "resource intensive" and that funding them during a time of ongoing economic hardship would be "a huge challenge".

She said it was an economic reality that parents may need to send their youngsters to some form of childcare because they need to work.

But she said mothers and fathers should be given greater choice when it comes to staying at home - and that the state should therefore offer as generous maternity and paternity leave as possible.

Ms Fitzgerald repeated her shock and disappointment in the secretly-recorded footage in the RTE documentary, which showed staff manhandling children, shouting at them, snatching toys from their hands and toddlers strapped in highchairs for hours.

But she said new laws and national guidelines would help protect children from similar treatment in the future.

New legislation under the Child and Family Support Bill will remove responsibility for creches from the Health Service Executive.

The Children First Bill, which is to be published shortly, will bring about a legal framework for the mandatory reporting of child abuse.

"Clearly the cameras saw an unacceptable behaviour," the minister said.

"The way to avoid that and to make sure that children are not having that experience is by the combination of factors we have been talking about here today.

"If people see abuse certainly it should be reported. There are very clear guidelines of reporting that kind of abuse. If people see it, it should certainly be reported."

Ms Fitzgerald added that plans to publish creche inspection reports online, which will take effect from July, will give transparency to parents.

She said the current system of sanctioning childcare facilities that are failing must be changed to a more "nuanced" and "graduated" regime.

Staff training was another area she identified in need of improvement, warning that suitability is key when it comes to hiring a childcare worker.

"Training and qualifications will do a lot, but if you don't like working with children, there isn't much point in working with a childcare provider," she said.

Figures from the HSE showed that in 2011 and 2012 more than 2,600 childcare providers were inspected at a rate of 60% of providers in each year.

Inspections should be carried out at creches at least every 20 months.

The HSE said inspections are carried out, on average, every 18 to 24 months, but some parts of the country have no inspectors at all.

The mistreatment exposed in the RTE documentary - A Breach of Trust - was based on footage recorded at Little Harvard in Rathnew in Co Wicklow, Giraffe in Belarmine, Stepaside and Links in Malahide, Dublin.

Press Association

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