Eilish O'Regan: Issues of staffing and pay at heart of problem
THE HSE is now promising to publish the inspection reports of pre-school facilities on its website – but it has not provided any timescale for when this will start.
The suggestion has already met with strong resistance from childcare providers and it is unclear if these reports will give parents the kind of information they need when choosing a place for their child.
The quality of the reports already vary widely and are reminiscent of the type of documents that the HSE used to issue on nursing home inspectors, before the work was taken over by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).
In the meantime, the HSE says that parents can contact their local inspector, with a list of its offices and phone numbers provided on its website.
The 4,472 pre-schools, including creches, nurseries, childminders, playgroups and Montessori schools, have to register with the HSE – and it must be satisfied they meet with quality standards.
However, there could be a two-year gap between inspections on the HSE's own admission. Anecdotally, the lapse of time could be even longer.
Ideally, they should carry out yearly inspections. But staff shortages, due to the public service recruitment moratorium, mean that in many areas of the country this is impossible.
It is also the case that some facilities fall outside the the scope of regulations. Services looking after less than three children from different families are not subject to the standards.
One of the problems identified with the sector is the low pay of many care staff. Many of the playschool and daycare services are also heavily reliant on the income they receive from the state scheme, which entitles three- and four-year-olds to attend free for a year. They receive €64.50 per child.
Staff ratios are key in safeguarding young children and providers have to have one carer for every three children under the age of one year in their care.
Additional staff and management are needed to undertake other tasks and non-childcare work. This is frequently the area that childcare facilities slip up on because of costs.