Sunday 16 December 2018

Joanna Fortune: Reaction of creche children suggests shouting, physical abuse is systemic

A scene from the ‘Prime Time’ expose that shocked the nation
A scene from the ‘Prime Time’ expose that shocked the nation

"I trusted these people – how could they treat my child like this?"

"That woman seen abusing my child as far back as March was minding him as recently as 10 days ago."

"I thanked her for caring for him and wished her a nice weekend when I collected him. Two days later, I was watching her abuse him on camera."

"This has turned our world upside down, we're devastated."

So said the parents who contacted me in the days after they had seen the disturbing footage shown on RTE's 'Prime Time – A Breach of Trust.'

A breach of trust is a very apt name for this investigation because this is precisely what this is about – and not just for those parents of the children shown in the piece.

This programme has caused every parent who leaves a child to a creche to doubt. I am not for one moment suggesting that all childcare providers are guilty of what we saw this week; there are excellent childcare professionals working in creches all over the country.

But don't forget that these parents also believed their childcare was of an excellent standard before this was brought to their attention. This is the point for all parents to hold in mind and they should not be afraid to ask questions of childcare providers – because if they really are excellent, they won't mind you asking them to reassure you of their excellence.

One of the most stark observations for me in watching that footage was how little the other children react when staff are shouting and physically mishandling their playmates. The lack of emotional response by children witnessing such adult behaviour would imply that they are used to it and that this appalling practice is systemic.

Moreover, the emotional mis-attunement of staff to the children was shocking and they showed no awareness of developmental stages or of the psychosocial development of children in their care.

As it is, childcare providers only have to aspire to have 50pc of their staff qualified to FETAC 5 level childcare, which is simply not good enough.

Childcare should be a career that people choose out of a desire to love, care for and nurture the development of small children – as opposed to an easy option to default to.

I would strongly advocate that candidates for this area of study should be subject to an aptitude test to ascertain their suitability for this kind of work and that all staff must be suitably trained and qualified to work in a creche.

Let's not forget that the standards set out by the State are minimum standards. Any childcare provider who cannot meet minimum standards should not be in this business.

We must demand more for our children; they deserve better than below-minimum standards of care. By investing in our pre-school children, we will see much less demand for school supports at primary school level, which in turn saves the State a lot of money. But of greater value is that we will have happier and better adjusted children.

THE social brain is 50pc developed by the first birthday and 90pc developed by the age of three, with social and environmental factors making the difference. At this young age, trust is the first developmental milestone for children.

When babies and small children learn to trust during this period, their developing brains become wired to trust throughout life. Trust develops when a baby can count on their needs being met by emotionally available caregivers. Responsive, attuned caregiving gives a baby's brain the message that the world is a safe place and that people can be depended upon.

Research shows that children whose cries are consistently met in the first year cry less and sleep better. Children whose cries prompt appropriate responses tend to develop into independent, confident and self-regulating children. This is how vitally important these early years are to developing children and exactly why I was so deeply concerned by what I saw on this footage.

The potential impact on the development of the young children involved can be serious and significant and should not be dismissed.

While the Government and the HSE have a very important role to play in addressing this child protection matter, let's not forget that these creches shown in the footage are part of large, profitable, privately owned businesses and the owners and management are responsible for what happens there.

In the interests of children – and out of respect to parents who trusted in a professional service they were paying a lot of money for – these people must be held to account for this. Meanwhile, the Government and HSE must act to raise the bar on standards, providing detailed and transparent investigations.

Joanna Fortune is a clinical psychotherapist, specialising in early attachment and has been working with children and families for more than 12 years. She is founder of the Solamh Parent-Child Relationship Clinic in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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