Creche footage to be shown on TV is 'worrying'
Children were 'unnecessarily' strapped into chairs and 'abruptly handled' while napping
A child development expert who has viewed footage secretly filmed at three child creches that are the subject of an RTE Prime Time investigation said the videos showed inappropriate childcare practices at all of the facilities that could harm emotional and physical development.
Two of the creches in Dublin – Giraffe childcare in Stepaside and Links in Malahide – are being investigated by both the gardai and the Health Service Executive. A third creche called Little Harvard in Rathnew Co Wicklow, is being investigated by the HSE, but not by the gardai.
Prof Noirin Hayes, a developmental psychologist based at Dublin Institute of Technology, who has seen the video footage taken by a Prime Time researcher who went under cover, said that the poor practices at the three creches could impact on both the emotional and physical development of the children.
"A worrying factor is that young children in these early years, and we are talking about one to four years of age, are at a stage in their emotional development when they are learning about their place in their world. I felt, from the film I saw, that they were experiencing an unwelcoming environment and would be getting messages about themselves because of the treatment. The children would get the message that they were troublesome, and being a bother and being bold," she said.
"There were incidents of shouting. I felt an absence of kindness, an absence of affection for the children. It was quite a harsh style of management and that would be true across all three creches," she said.
"That did worry me hugely," Prof Hayes said.
Referring to specific video footage which showed children being unnecessarily strapped into chairs at Giraffe childcare in Stepaside, which has been admitted by Giraffe Childcare managers, she added that there was also the issue of overall [physical] development.
"Young children being strapped into chairs for long periods of time is wrong during the part of their lives when their main purpose is to learn how to walk, how to stand, how to run, how to be physically active and through that to develop their motor skills.
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"It was shocking at one level and sad at another level. It was very worrying that children are experiencing the type of behaviour management and the absence of stimulation that I witnessed. And it is sad that the young women who are working in these settings may not have adequate training and may be expected to do more than they are capable of," she said.
Prof Hayes added that the strapping of children into seats unnecessarily and the general management of the children "was quite negative".
Management of Giraffe Childcare said they have made substantial changes.
Giraffe, which has 21 centres throughout the greater Dublin area, have implemented a comprehensive plan of action in response to the revelations, which included the footage of young children being unnecessarily strapped in their chairs and abruptly handled while they were napping.
Little Harvard said in a statement that together with its legal advisers it will continue "to carry out a full investigation into the isolated incidents and review all options available to improve the service in its creche".
All three creches claim that the programme does not give a fair and balanced representation of the care they provide to children.
RTE has been accused of unlawfully obtaining contact details of parents at one of the creches that featured in the undercover investigation which RTE plans to broadcast this week.
Links Childcare has questioned how RTE obtained the names and addresses of parents contacted by RTE last weekend after their children were secretly filmed. A Prime Time reporter called to the homes of parents last weekend to alert them to the broadcast, and to seek their consent to footage of their children being featured.
Links Childcare, which has dismissed one member of staff and suspended three others, said in a statement it was carrying out an investigation but it believed the matter was "isolated to a specific staff member in the Abington creche". A spokesperson told the Sunday Independent that it "believes the information about the parents was obtained unlawfully".
A source said that the names and addresses of the parents are kept on an internal database.
RTE made "no comment" to the allegation this weekend. In response to questions from this newspaper, the broadcaster said that parents were contacted from Friday, May 17, and were mostly contacted at their homes. Asked how the station obtained the contact details and whether any of the creches involved sanctioned their release, the broadcaster made "no comment".
A spokesperson for Little Harvard said it was also "concerned" at how the addresses of parents were obtained. He said: "We are aware of the upset and annoyance of a lot of parents that images of children were taken without the prior consent of adults. Some parents have gone to RTE and asked them not to broadcast the images."
RTE said that all parents whose children are featured in the programme have been given access to the footage. A spokesperson said on Friday that "several dozen" parents had viewed the footage at that point and the "vast majority" were "agreeable" to the footage they were shown being broadcast. RTE said it expects to broadcast the programme in the early part of this week.
RTE's guidelines state that it will not intrude into a person's private life without consent unless it is in the public interest. When filming children, consent must be sought from both the child and ideally both parents.