Tuesday 20 August 2019

'I was bawling and I was in shock' - Hyde and Seek creche worker who quit after a day

Claims that children were packed into crèche 'like cattle'

Upset: Former Hyde and Seek worker Ciara Dignam said she was shocked by her experience of working in the crèche. Photo: Frank McGrath
Upset: Former Hyde and Seek worker Ciara Dignam said she was shocked by her experience of working in the crèche. Photo: Frank McGrath

Allison Bray

A former childcare worker says she ran crying out of the Hyde and Seek crèche after just a few hours working there because it was so chaotic.

Ciara Dignam (30), from Drumcondra, Dublin, said she had never seen anything like it when she was hired by the crèche's owner Anne Davy to work at the chain's Drumcondra facility on Millbourne Avenue in October 2016.

She holds a Level 5 qualification in childcare and trained in the Montessori Method - which emphasises direct one-on-one interaction with children.

But when she arrived at the crèche on her first day she said she was stunned to find there were practically no Montessori toys or games for the children to play with.

She claims she was told by Ms Davy that she would have to supply her own arts and crafts materials and other supplies for the children's use.

She also claims Ms Davy told her she would have her own Montessori-style classroom - but when she arrived all she saw was a room with around six pre-school children.

"The walls were bare; if there were books, they were high up and out of reach of the kids," she said.

She thought that was odd, but things took a turn for the worse when other crèche workers began dropping off carloads of older children for the after-school programme.

Yet Ms Dignam claims she was never told that she would be minding them as well when she was hired.

"There were dozens of kids," she said.

Yet looking after all these four- to seven-year-olds who were being dropped off was left in the hands of herself and two others.

"I was overwhelmed," she said of the number of children who she said were packed into the facility "like cattle".

"I've never seen anything like it. The amount of children, it was too crazy," she said, adding the younger pre-school children were kept in the same room as the older children.

She said she soon realised she had made a mistake accepting the job and told them she was quitting on the spot.

But as she was about to leave, Ms Dignam said a co-worker grabbed her by the arm and told her she couldn't go.

She did anyway. "I was bawling," she said.

"I was in shock."

She went home in tears and immediately phoned the child and family agency Tusla to report what she saw.

She received a letter dated November 11, 2016, from the Early Years Inspectorate of the agency acknowledging her complaint under the Child Care Act 1991 and that they would "revert" to her following the investigation.

However, Ms Dignam said that was the last she heard from the agency, even though she had asked to be kept informed "because I was very upset".

She is now completing a training course as a special needs assistant and thought she had put the matter behind her until she saw the 'RTÉ Investigates' documentary last week and it all came flooding back.

The report, entitled 'Crèches, Behind Closed Doors', used undercover researchers to examine conditions at several Hyde and Seek crèches.

The investigation revealed a litany of disturbing behaviour and practices. Since the programme aired, the company said Ms Davy is no longer carrying out front-line duties.

Ms Dignam said she is glad the public now knows what was going on at the crèche.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Hyde and Seek said: "We are addressing a number of issues and are engaging with Tusla to ensure we meet all standards. We seek to operate within required staff ratios at all times, but have no specific recollection of the particular day you mention in 2016.

"However, we have had at least two inspections since then where ratios and toys available were checked by Tusla.

"Staff would never be asked to supply their own materials. Parents visit the rooms daily."

Irish Independent

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