Pre-school children 'had access to knives'
CHILDREN with access to sharp knives and toxic substances, meals lacking nutritious value and rodent-infested premises are among a litany of areas of "deep concern" in a new report into pre-schools.
The report, by the child and family agency Tusla, has also identified a lack of garda vetting of staff.
There were a "small number of instances" where inspectors observed staff not engaging with children and "children not being adequately cared for in a way that met their individual needs".
In one case, children had to wear their coats because the room was so cold.
The report's author, Dr Sinead Hanafin, said breaches of staffing and management levels made up almost half of all non-compliance findings. Record keeping was also found to be inferior on a large scale.
"Given that the pre-school services were under inspection at the time these incidents were observed, it is clear there are some poor practices taking place, albeit in a small number of settings," she said.
More than 81,000 regulations were inspected in 3,007 facilities between January 2012 and May 2013. Overall there was a compliance rate of 74pc, while just under 14pc were found to be non-compliant. The remaining 12pc were deemed to be either not applicable or not assessed.
However, compliance rates differ considerably from region to region, with only a 53pc compliance rate found in HSE Dublin North-East, an area which covers Dublin north, Dublin North-Central, Meath and Cavan-Monaghan.
Almost one in four assessments of regulations were non-compliant there. Earlier this year, Independent TD Roisin Shortall revealed a shortage of inspectors was resulting in far fewer inspections compared with other regions.
The latest figures show only 477 inspection reports were submitted for the area - less than 16pc of all inspections. HSE West had more than double that figure, with 1,040 reports comprising nearly 35pc of the overall number.
HSE South (24.2pc) and HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster (25.3pc) made up the remainder. Tusla director of quality assurance Brian Lee said there were currently 42 inspectors but that this number would be increased.
"There's deficits in some areas. We have identified them and we're in the process of recruiting new inspectors," he said, and added eight inspectors would be recruited in addition to four regional inspection managers. He said Dublin North-East was a "priority".
Among the inspected services were full day care and child-minding and drop-in centres - typically found in shopping centres, supermarkets and hotels. Ms Hanafin said inferior conditions in drop-in services were a particular cause for concern.
The agency said prosecution proceedings are ongoing in the case of two centres.
New powers to be given to Tusla will include imposing conditions and potential closure orders.