Monday 22 January 2018

Creche children being ill-treated and neglected, HSE files reveal

The HSE received more than 280 complaints about creches last year. Photo: Thinkstock
The HSE received more than 280 complaints about creches last year. Photo: Thinkstock

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

NEGLECT and ill-treatment of children in creches and other childcare facilities is laid bare in confidential files obtained by the Irish Independent.

Lapses in standards at facilities -- including some Montessori schools -- include playground gates being left open despite children having previously wandered off, and a failure to get medical attention when a child fell downstairs.

The problems -- in both private and publicly funded services -- are revealed in official inspector reports and detailed complaints by parents.

Tens of thousands of children are left in the care of these services each day, with some charging more than €900 a month in creche fees.

But Health Service Executive (HSE) records reveal how parents raised serious concerns about standards in the past year.

These include:

• Shouting at children and slapping.

• Children being let go thirsty.

• Serious understaffing.

• Lack of vetting of carers for possible criminal records.

• Lack of stimulating play and educational activities.

• Damp or cold buildings.

Just 2,789 inspections were carried out of the 4,500 registered childcare facilities last year, and some have not been visited in the past seven years.

Apart from issues uncovered during inspections, at least 280 serious complaints were referred to HSE staff by parents last year.

In one creche, just one person was looking after 22 children, when the ratio should have been one for every five.

Other complaints dealt with inappropriate behaviour by creche staff, with one facility owner showing children pictures of herself in a bikini top.

Discipline

The records were released under Freedom of Information rules but in many cases names of creches were redacted and it was not made clear what action followed the receipt of complaint.

Files detailed instances of deep differences between parents and childcare providers over discipline -- children at one creche were forced to face a wall when naughty.

HSE officers should ideally carry out yearly inspections, but staff shortages due to the public service recruitment moratorium means some pre-schools admit they have not been visited in seven years.

And services looking after less than three children from different families are not subject to any regulation.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said that following initial inspections last year, 704 reviews and follow-up visits and 755 "advisory visits" were carried out. The option of closing down a creche by court order is open to the HSE in extreme circumstances.

Irene Gunning, head of Early Childhood Ireland, which represents a majority of facilities on the HSE's list, said monitoring needed to be strengthened.

She said nearly 90pc of respondents had had an inspection in the past two-and-a-half years,

"Inspections are unannounced and all premises are visited after a complaint is received," she added

"The majority welcome the visits because they learn and it can be supportive."

Most of the playschool and day care services are heavily reliant on the income they receive from the state scheme, which entitles three- and four-year-olds to attend free for a year. They receive a weekly payment of €64.50 per child.

Commenting on discipline, Ms Gunning said: "No facility should be resorting to so-called naughty or bold corners to discipline children.''

Editorial comment

Irish Independent

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