Friday 23 August 2019

Nicola Anderson on creche controversy: 'Betrayal of parents who make daily leap of faith'

  

The Hyde and Seek crèche on Shaw Street, Dublin
The Hyde and Seek crèche on Shaw Street, Dublin
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'She ate all her dinner today. He made a house out of wooden blocks."

On the foundation of such tiny, precious reassurances, the whole structure stands.

These homely little daily crèche reports are a lifeline for anxious parents everywhere.

Cherished proof that all is well and their child is happy and thriving - since that child is, as yet, unable to speak for itself.

Tangible proof that someone has spent their day showing basic kindness and love to a vulnerable child in the absence of its parents.

Forced to fork out a second mortgage in childcare for the privilege of paying the first, placing your baby in the hands of strangers is no easy decision.

It involves an immense leap of faith and a certain quashing of instinct.

Leaving them alone in a facility for the first time, and walking out of the door as they hold their arms beseechingly toward you is a heart-rending wrench unlikely to be forgotten by any parent.

But the handwritten report, detailing each meal and the happy age-appropriate activities like finger-painting and shape-sorting, shows that everything is OK and there is nothing to worry about.

What, then, are we to think of the RTÉ Investigations Unit exposé 'Crèches, Behind Closed Doors'?

"Make it up," crèche owner Anne Davy instructed the undercover researcher when it came to filling out the daily journals so that parents could find out the vital little details about their child's day.

"I don't care what you put in. Tell them he played with the roof for all I care," she said.

With such harsh disregard, babies were reduced to financial units rather than living, breathing and undeniably high-maintenance little humans.

Their all-absorbing goal in life is to be loved, fed, changed and allowed to sleep in that exact order.

But from the footage shown to us from the three Hyde and Seek childcare facilities, we could conclude only that they were viewed by the owner as little nuisances to be filled up with cheap noodles and watered down milk before being put to sleep at a time appointed by Davy herself.

There were a multitude of problems like the over-crowding and the fire hazards. But it was the casual cruelties that were the most hurtful to witness.

The toddler who committed the forbidden offence of falling asleep on a play mat, only to be jerked awake, his plump little body jumping in alarm - before falling asleep again, his soft face uncomfortably close to a hard plastic toy.

"This is a business, not a one-to-one babysitting service," the researcher was scolded by way of explanation as to why the children could not be allowed to sleep when they wished.

"Please can you let him out of your arms," another of the undercover researchers was admonished, before being forced to place the crying baby on the floor.

A little girl was left alone and isolated in a room for some perceived transgression.

Another baby was incomprehensibly confined to a high chair for over 40 minutes, until the undercover researcher could take his distress no longer and released him herself, offering him the gentle comfort he so badly sought.

Worst of all, perhaps, was witnessing the footage of a child whose head was held down repeatedly against a cot mattress.

Another child had a blanket put over its eyes - allegedly designed to prevent the eye contact with carers that, it was claimed, stopped the child from going to sleep.

And it was deeply horrifying to watch a group of tiny tots standing stock-still and silent, paralysed with fear as an adult towered over them, ranting and roaring over a mess she perceived the children had made in one of the rooms. Someone would have to go in and clean that room, she shouted.

These were scenes we could easily imagine taking place in the cruel institutions of our shameful past. Only this time, the ill-treatment was in custom-built and visually reassuring modern facilities at the hands of a person who was being handsomely rewarded for the privilege of being trusted to take proper care of that child.

By far and away the most upsetting thing was the ceaseless crying.

It was deeply distressing to listen to these children wailing at a pitch and intensity at which it is unlikely will ever have cried at home.

They were cries that signalled something was deeply wrong, the cries of abandoned children.

Our hearts seared with a deep ache for the parents whose precious children they had entrusted with Davy - and at a huge financial expense.

Up to yesterday, RTÉ had been in contact with at least 100 families, said Paul Maguire, editor of the RTÉ Investigations Unit. The probe had been sparked by families concerned about ratios at Hyde and Seek, he revealed.

It is deeply unfair to the majority of righteous, upstanding crèches that a horrible little doubt has now crept into the hearts of parents all over the country about the cosy little daily reports upon which they rely so heavily for their own peace of mind.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News