Creches are probed by gardai, HSE over claims children mishandled

Paul Melia and Tom Brady

A CHILDCARE worker has been fired and five others suspended amid allegations that children were mishandled and subjected to poor-quality care at three creches.

Probes are under way by gardai and the HSE after footage was obtained by a TV researcher posing as a care worker in two Dublin creches – one of which is the Giraffe facility at Belarmine in Stepaside, while another is the Links creche at Abington in Malahide.

It is understood the allegations relate to staff shouting at children in their care and mishandling them.

There is no suggestion that children were subjected to physical or sexual assault.

Last night, Links told parents that one staff member had been dismissed and another three suspended after "wholly inappropriate, inexcusable and unacceptable" behaviour.

It came hours after Giraffe said that it had suspended two staff members as a "precaution".

The video footage was shot by the RTE Investigations Unit for an expose on care standards in creches. The HSE confirmed that three creches were under investigation by its Children and Family Services unit.

"HSE Children and Family Services received reports yesterday from gardai regarding three independent childcare facilities in the Dublin area," it said in a statement.

"HSE Children and Family services are working with an Garda Siochana to review the reports and make an assessment with respect to any child welfare and protection concerns.


"As this process is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time."

The Garda Press Office confirmed it was making inquiries into allegations at two creches, but refused to comment further.

It is understood that complaints were lodged after the parents were contacted by RTE about its investigation. The allegations include children being mishandled, including being forced into high chairs, being verbally abused and cursed at.

The complaints are not of a level that would trigger mandatory disclosure to the HSE.

Last night, one of the Links company directors, Deirdre Kelly, emailed parents to say that one staff member had been dismissed and three suspended after she viewed upsetting footage, shot over four weeks by the undercover reporter.

"We hold the standard of professional care of children in all our creches as a high priority, so I was extremely upset at what I saw," she wrote.

"The behaviour of some staff members, as revealed by the video extracts, was wholly inappropriate, inexcusable and unacceptable. We have, as a result, put in place immediate disciplinary action resulting in the dismissal of one staff member and the suspension of three others pending a full investigation.

"It is most regrettable that the undercover reporter did not bring to the immediate attention of senior staff and management the behaviour of the childcare workers concerned. Otherwise, I can assure you that it would have been dealt with appropriately," she added.

Parents are understood to have concerns relating to the quality of care provided, and also how their children were secretly filmed.

Parents whose children attended the Links creche and were filmed were informed over the weekend. Other parents attended a meeting last Monday.

In a statement last night, Links Childcare Ltd reiterated that it had been "extremely upset at the poor performance by some staff members in our Abington, Malahide creche".

It added: "We firmly believe that this incident is isolated to specific staff in our centre in Abington and does not reflect the overall standard of care given to all children by our employees in Links Childcare".

A statement issued on behalf of Giraffe confirmed it was examining a complaint that was brought to the attention of the HSE in late April by an ex-employee.

It had not seen the RTE footage, and was taking the complaint "very seriously", it said.

It planned to respond to the complaints next week, after being asked by the HSE to report back within three months.

The allegations come after Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced plans on Tuesday to improve pre-school care quality, including improving the existing education system and reviewing the professional training system for people working with children.

Last night, the RTE Investigations Unit confirmed it would broadcast a report relating to standards in childcare.

It added that RTE was liaising with the parents of the children involved, the creches featured, the HSE and gardai in relation to the programme.

The broadcaster had spent a "considerable time" over the past few days with affected parents, and a transmission date would be confirmed in due course.