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Buck stops with managers – minister

CHILDREN'S Minister Frances Fitzgerald has put the spotlight on the management of the three creches which are now being investigated by the gardai.

It came after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore became the first cabinet minister to pledge that state funding will be cut for creches where standards are not being maintained. Until now, creches have continued to receive state funding for the free preschool year and for capital building projects even if they are breaching childcare regulations.

In the Seanad, Ms Fitzgerald said the RTE 'Prime Time' programme had highlighted practices by individual creche workers which were of very serious concern.

But she said that the management also had to be questioned because they were responsible for creating a caring culture in the creche.

"Management is responsible for the selection and training of staff, the development of operational policies and practices and the management of day-to-day service delivery," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald has commissioned a study of the inspection reports of private "for-profit" creches to examine what patterns have emerged. She said that she was going to bring in new national preschool standards later this year and would increase the level of inspections.

"The inspection rate in each of the past two years stands at 60pc of all providers. I want to see the national average of service inspections carried out every 18 months as being the norm across the board," she said.

At a special debate on creche standards in the Seanad, Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout pointed out that some creches had not been inspected for four years.

"We need to prioritise the inspection of any childcare setting that has not been inspected within the past 12 months," she said.

And Fianna Fail Senator Darragh O'Brien, who has a daughter in childcare, said Ms Fitzgerald needed to deliver on the promises she was making.

"I do not for one moment question the minister's bona fides but her speech would be acceptable if it was made when she was assuming office," he said.

Labour Senator Aideen Hayden criticised the fact that there was very little regulation of au pairs – young non-national women who help with housework or childcare in exchange for room and board.

"Many of them are being left in charge of very young and vulnerable children," she said.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government wants to break a culture of not having the highest standards in the creche sector.

But he would not be drawn on whether the Coalition will increase spending on childcare.

"The estimates are taking place over the next few weeks. Clearly we are not a country with endless supplies of money. Money is not all the answer here, it is about motivation, it is about suitability," he said.

Irish Independent