Thursday 21 September 2017

State to tighten childcare rules and cut risks to young people

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

STRICTER regulation of creches and preschools is being planned to reduce risks to young children, the Irish Independent has learned.

A new plan is being drawn up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs that is expected to lead to updated legislation on the screening and monitoring of childcare facilities.

News of the strategy for early childhood care and education facilities comes after an investigation in yesterday's Irish Independent highlighted concerns about the neglect and ill-treatment of children in some creches.

Problems included chronic understaffing -- with one case where 20 children were being looked after by just two staff, when the ratio should have been one adult to every five.

Other issues uncovered included a lack of background checks on staff responsible for youngsters, and cases where children were injured because of inexperienced carers.

Last night, a spokeswoman for Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald confirmed work had been started on a National Early Years Strategy, and this is expected to lead to the tightening of regulations in the childcare industry.

For the first time, joint inspections by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Education are being carried out on a pilot basis in a bid to see how quality checks can be improved.

The spokeswoman said the inspection of preschool facilities is also likely to be transferred from the HSE to the new Child and Family Support Agency, which is to be set up early next year to improve the protection and care of children, including those in State care.

"The matter will be confirmed in the legislation setting up the new agency," she added.

It is not yet clear whether the new strategy will deal with smaller childminding services.

Currently, a creche owner is under no obligation to inform the Health Service Executive (HSE) if operating a business with less than three children.

And under the current system, a businessperson planning to look after more than three children does not have to undergo preliminary checks before they set up a creche.

Inspection

They do, however, have to notify the HSE of their existence and be subject to inspection.

But, as the Irish Independent discovered, it can take months before a new childminding facility is inspected by the HSE to check out if the welfare of children is protected.

It is only at that point that they must prove they have enough staff, that vetting has been carried out and that they meet space, fire safety and insurance requirements.

Meanwhile, Ineke Durville, the President of the Irish Association of Social Workers, urged parents not to be afraid to check out creches, playschools or other childminding facilities before sending their children there.

"They should talk to other parents of children who are already sending their child there," she said.

"If they don't know any then it is the responsibility of the owner to give them contact numbers to allow them to do the research."

She said this could be a better precaution than waiting for authorities to do criminal checks, which may not give the full picture.

"Unless you have committed a crime, nothing will show up. It is the word of mouth that gives you information," she said.

"It is a very informal arrangement. It is up to parents to ensure vigilance and talk to their children.

"It is never easy to find a minder for your children. But if a parent is seen to be vigilant it is a deterrent in itself," Ms Durville pointed out.

Irish Independent

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