Wednesday 16 October 2019

4,000 reports that expose real scale of creche crisis

Exclusive: HSE files on thousands of creches revealed for first time by this newspaper

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald

Shane Phelan, Paul Melia and Fergus Black

THE sheer scale of the creche crisis is laid bare in thousands of inspection reports obtained by the Irish Independent.

Over 4,000 reports from 2011 and 2012 identify serious breaches in creches in every county in Ireland.

The records, when taken together, provide overwhelming evidence of a sector in crisis – with issues of concern highlighted in around three-quarters of all inspections.

And there were shocking isolated incidents, including one instance in which a child was able to wander out of a creche during the course of an inspection, and children going unsupervised for several minutes at a time.

Disturbingly, no overall analysis of the files has ever been conducted.

While some creches passed inspections with flying colours, in others several issues cropped up repeatedly, including:

* A lack of garda vetting.

* Unsafe facilities.

* The non-reporting of accidents.

* Dirty toys or equipment.

* Lack of basic hygiene facilities, such as hot water.

* Lack of written procedures on education programmes and activities to stimulate children.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night ordered a Health Service Executive review of the reports, amid the continuing fallout from RTE's 'Prime Time' investigation into creches.

The programme showed creche staff manhandling and shouting at children, and toddlers being strapped into chairs for prolonged periods.

Three creches featured in the programme – Giraffe in Belarmine, Stepaside, Co Dublin; Links in Abington, Malahide, Co Dublin; and Little Harvard in Rathnew, Co Wicklow.

The new review will be conducted by HSE National Director of Child and Family Services Gordon Jeyes, who has been asked to assess if any patterns exist.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Protection will block creches investigated in the 'Prime Time' programme from using the JobBridge scheme, where interns can be hired for only €50 a week.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also warned that facilities in breach of standards would have their state funding cut.

“The funding will be cut where the standards are not being maintained,” Mr Gilmore said.

The HSE review comes as gardai began investigating a sixth complaint on the back of the RTE programme. The latest probe was launched following a complaint by the parents of a child who attended the Little Harvard creche in Rathnew.

Five other complaints are being investigated at the Links creche in Malahide, Co Dublin.

The number of investigations is expected to spiral in the coming days, with several parents contacting gardai indicating they may lodge complaints after viewing the footage.

As well as analysing the failings of various creches, Mr Jeyes's review is likely to lead to recommendations about the way inspections are conducted and how reports are compiled.

The inspection reports, which have been examined by a team of Irish Independent journalists, vary in detail.

Rigorous

Inspectors in some areas provide well-rounded accounts of the services provided and failings identified. However, a small number of reports contained little detail and raise questions about how rigorous the inspections were.

Among the more shocking details contained in the reports is an account of how children's beds were located beside an unprotected radiator and they risked scalding their heads at a Co Roscommon creche.

Cleaning chemicals were stored in unlocked cupboards at a creche in Co Wexford, while cleaning agents such as Domestos and Milton were found to be accessible to children at a Co Cork facility. A child was able to leave the same creche during an inspection.

Children were allowed go unsupervised for 10 minutes before staff noticed during an inspection at a Co Mayo creche.

A Co Laois creche was found to have significant hygiene and safety problems, while children were left to play with old and broken toys at a Co Tipperary facility.

Looped blind cords, which are a choking risk, were highlighted in several creches around the country.

In an address to the Seanad, Ms Fitzgerald said she found scenes from the ‘Prime Time’ investigation distressing, shocking and absolutely unacceptable.

But the minister warned that inspections alone could not fully address the issues brought to light.

“We should not distil our national response to a narrow or overly simplistic focus on inspections. Inspections alone, while essential, are not the answer,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Instead what is required is a multi-faceted agenda, a partnership between State and providers; and a much broader focus on quality assurance,

workforce development as well as, of course, robust registration, regulation and inspection.”

Measures promised by theminister include a requirement for all childcare providers to be registered with the State later this year.

She said all prosecutions against creche owners and management were being logged by the HSE, a move which would make such information readily available for parents.

 

 

Irish Independent

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