Thursday 23 January 2020

Childcare scandal: gardai probing five complaints

Eilish O'Regan, Tom Brady and Paul Melia

GARDAI have launched a major investigation into the creche abuse scandal after five complaints were lodged by parents of children at the centre of the controversy.

The parents decided to contact gardai after watching a tape of the undercover expose, showing the mistreatment of the children.

Details of the investigation were revealed last night as it emerged that the Health Service Executive cannot hire any more staff to carry out creche inspections.

This is despite claims yesterday by Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald that additional inspectors would be recruited by the HSE to police pre-school facilities after it emerged some had not been visited for several years. Parents were reeling from the broadcast of RTE's 'Prime Time' investigation into childcare that showed creche staff manhandling children, shouting at them, or snatching toys from their hands. Toddlers were shown strapped into chairs for long periods.

The creches at the centre of the controversy are Links in Malahide, Co Dublin; Giraffe in Belarmine, Stepaside, south Dublin; and Little Harvard in Rathnew, Co Wicklow. As the fallout continued, it also emerged that:

* A woman seen manhandling children at nap time in the Links creche in Malahide has already been dismissed.

* Giraffe childcare in Stepaside said a "number" of parents had taken their children out of the creche.

* Two creches at the centre of the allegations – Giraffe and Little Harvard – plan to install CCTV which will be available to parents.

Gardai outside the Links creche at Abington, Malahide, as parents arrive to drop off children
Gardai outside the Links creche at Abington, Malahide, as parents arrive to drop off children

* Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan demanded that health chiefs explain the creche inspection regime.

* There is continuing concern that staff in many childcare facilities are allowed to take up jobs despite not yet having completed background checks by gardai.

Parents at the three creches were shown the tape before it was broadcast by the RTE 'Prime Time' unit this week.

One of the most shocking scenes on the 'Prime Time' programme featured children who were being put down to nap at the Links childcare facility in Malahide.

One creche worker – whose identity was obscured in the final broadcast – was filmed mandhandling children and roughly flipping them on to their mattresses.

The Irish Independent has learned that the worker has since been dismissed by management at the creche.

Five separate complaints were made to gardai, all referring to incidents highlighted by the investigation at the Links creche in Malahide, Co Dublin. Gardai confirmed the complaints were being investigated by officers at Malahide.

A senior officer told the Irish Independent last night: "We are currently in the process of interviewing the parents and taking detailed statements from them.

"RTE is co-operating fully with our inquiries and is supplying a copy of the tape shown to the parents as well as providing any other help that might be required."

Gardai are expected to complete those inquiries before approaching the management and staff at the creche to formally put the complaints to them.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was shocked at what had been recorded at three creches.

He said the new legislation strengthening the rights of children will be brought before the Dail in the next four to five weeks.

But as parent anger mounted, the Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted it cannot hire any more staff to carry out inspections.

The moratorium on recruitment means more inspection staff cannot be hired, despite earlier claims by the Minister for Children.

Instead, the HSE will have to rely on redeploying existing workers despite several areas struggling to cope due to staff shortages.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the programme showed young children subjected to "emotional abuse" which was totally unacceptable. She said the inspection regime would have to become more robust.

The Government also came under pressure from opposition parties to withdraw state funding to privately-run creches that fail HSE inspections.

Pobal, the company that manages payments to creches for the pre-school year, has insisted it has a proper monitoring system in place to prevent abuses.

Ombudsman Ms Logan spoke about her concerns after watching the footage, saying: "There are very serious issues about the suitability of the people working with those children.

DISTRESS

"My observation, as somebody who is familiar with child development and child psychology, is that the people I saw don't have any appreciation of child development or psychology issues for that age group."

All three creches responded to the crisis by insisting they were taking steps to improve childcare.

Managers at the Giraffe creche in Belarmine said they were "profoundly sorry" for the distress caused. One staff member had been suspended and CCTV was being installed throughout all centres. Staff training was also being increased.

A spokesman for Little Harvard creche said it was taking all steps necessary to ensure that "these shortcomings are not repeated".

In a statement, managers at Links creche in Malahide said it planned to introduce CCTV online coverage for parents, subject to their consent. A re-training programme for staff in all Links creches starts this weekend.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News