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With many parents left deeply unsettled by the exposé of crèches in the Hyde and Seek chain, just how worried should they be?

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The Hyde and Seek creche in Finglas Road, Glasnevin

The Hyde and Seek creche in Finglas Road, Glasnevin

The Hyde and Seek creche in Finglas Road, Glasnevin

The RTÉ undercover exposé of crèches in the Hyde and Seek chain has unsettled many parents across the country. How worried should they be?

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is responsible for the regulation and inspection of crèches.

It said the numbers with poor standards were in a minority. There are 4,500 preschool facilities and childminders. It closed down five since early 2018.

But how can Tusla be that confident? It carried out 11 inspections of Hyde and Seek crèches in the past two years, but it took a secret camera to really find out what was going on.

The inspections found problems with issues such as Garda vetting and food standards, and received assurances these were rectified.

Like other regulators, Tusla works with the provider to address deficiencies and it is in the crèche owner's interest to measure up.

It holds compliance meetings. Better to improve the service than shut it down.

But trust can be breached and if it is escalated the crèche can be de-registered.

How can inspectors find out if instructions are being ignored?

Tusla has the power to do unannounced inspections. It said it was more vigilant of centres with a poor track record. But there is a lot unseen, such as diluted milk.

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How often should inspections take place?

The law says every three years - but Tusla says they are more frequent than that.

Clearly the inspections can only go so far. Is there a need for tougher sanctions?

It seems so. One of the suggestions is State funding be tied to standards. So if there are repeated breaches it should be withdrawn.

Can it strengthen the powers of Tusla?

Yes. Currently, if Tusla finds problems that should lead to some enforcement action in the courts, it cannot publish the inspection report revealing the faults.

So parents are in the dark for a lengthy time. It should be allowed to publish the report to alert parents.

Childcare staff are not well paid and yet for the most part they are professional, caring and enthusiastic. But what of those who are not?

There is no fitness-to-practise system yet for these workers accused of misconduct.

Where can parents find inspection reports?

They are on the Tusla website but they are not user-friendly, and can be out of date.

What is the advice for parents who want to find out if their children's crèche is up to standard?

There are basics such as ensuring staff are qualified and the premises is safe.

Ask about evacuation procedures and fire drills. Check whether fire exits are blocked. See if there is enough space between cots, and check if children are sleeping in bouncers.

The clues are often in the intangible signals, though?

Yes. According to Karen Clince, founder of Tigers Childcare, it's not normal to hear constant crying.

Language used towards children should be positive, explanatory and always calm.

Staff should not be on their mobile phones. Check to see whether there is a friendly atmosphere and also what the ratio of staff is to children. Collect your child early one day.

What do you do if you have concerns and don't feel comfortable talking to the crèche managers?

You could always make a complaint to Tusla. Give details of your concerns.

This could prompt an inspection and highlight problems it is not aware of.

What kind of complaints are normally made to Tusla?

It gets around 280 complaints annually and the most common relate to health, welfare and development of the child. One in 20 relates to safety.

What about injured children - are they notified to Tusla?

Yes, it receives around 200 incident reports and the main issue is serious injury to a child.

There are various reasons for this injury. It can involve one child bumping into another, leading to a fall to the ground and head injury. In another case a child fell from a high chair. A finger can get trapped in a door jam.

Other issues are outbreaks of infection, disease and in a minority of cases a child going missing. Children went missing 11 times in 2017, according to records.

What kind of facilities generate the most complaints?

Full daycare services top the list.

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