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Kim Bielenberg: The state is more efficient at checking meat plants than crèches

As worried parents dropped off their children at crèches on the morning after the shocking Prime Time expose they could be sure of one thing.

They cannot rely on the Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, and certainly not the HSE, to ensure that their children receive a good quality of care.

The minister and the HSE now preside over a broken childcare model. 

Inspections and enforcement of regulations are clearly not up to scratch, and in some cases apparently non-existent.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the state seems to be more efficient at inspecting meat plants than the places where we house small kids during the day.

Ms Fitzgerald spoke movingly and sincerely on Morning Ireland about the “emotional abuse” that she witnessed on the Prime Time programme. 

But she offered scant reassurance to mothers and fathers that these appalling lapses in the quality of care will be rectified.

Ultimately, parents still have to rely on their own instincts and their own antennae to ensure that children are being properly looked after, and not strapped into chairs for hours on end, humiliated, and roughly treated.

Parents can take one simple measure to check the quality their child’s crèche. 

They should insist when they put a child into a crèche that the manager provides them with the HSE inspection report. Even though these reports may be flawed at least they provide some indicators.

If a crèche refuses to provide them with the report, they should not consider enrolling the child.

Of course, one of the worrying aspects of the Prime Time report is that many crèches have not been inspected at all.

So, parents can only guess at their standards.

The minister promised to publish the inspection reports of crèches online in the next few weeks.

But why have they been kept secret until now?  The Prime Time investigation team had to seek them out through a Freedom of Information request.

These reports should have been published as a matter of course.  Inspection files are already published online for primary and second-level schools.

Ms Fitzgerald can improve the system, but no amount of inspections or training will ensure that the person looking after a toddler has a genuine rapport with young children. 

Only parents themselves can check that this essential rapport exists, and even then they cannot be sure of what goes on behind the scenes.

What was striking about the programme was not just the emotional cruelty shown in some of the clips, but the joyless and impersonal atmosphere.

It may be that large, corporate crèches do not provide the warm, homely environment that small children need.

It is noteworthy that the three crèche chains at the centre of the current controversy received €3.6 m in public funds over the past two years, as part of the state’s free pre-school scheme.

The government seems to have kept its eye off the ball when it comes to ensuring that the standards of childcare provided is high.

In future, urgent attention should be paid to quality as well as quantity.  Our children deserve nothing less.

Online Editors