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Never mind cobwebs, creches need more staff

IT'S not more inspectors our creches need, it's more care, because most of the time the inspectors report on things that matter very little to children.

Like the paint finish. Or a door that "tends to bang". Or, horror of horrors, a cobweb – "Same shall be removed" commanded one inspection report on a Limerick creche.

This makes me wonder what they'd have made of my house when my children were small. Most of the time it was in a shocking state. I remember sitting on top of a laundry basket breast-feeding my youngest while her brother did a poo on the bedroom floor.

But it didn't mean my kids weren't getting what they needed most – consistent care. Care from me or from their dad or from one or two other adults.

Care from a person who was always the same and didn't go away. Nothing else matters to babies and small children.

Yes, creches need good hygiene standards and they need to be safe. It's different from at home where children are all from the same family. But all the hygiene and all the brightly coloured building blocks and all the spongy playgrounds in the world don't go very far if babies and children aren't cared for by one or two consistent carers – all the time.

SURVIVAL

Children evolved knowing their best hope of survival was hanging on to Mam or Auntie or Gran. If their special adult suddenly goes away, they panic and they grieve.

If it keeps on happening they learn to hide their emotions, and that may cause them misery in later life.

A couple of the HSE inspection reports on the Pobal website mention the idea of a "key worker" for every child, and some top-quality creches insist on it. But key workers are not required by any rule or regulation, and there's no sense that Minister Frances Fitzgerald's new creche legislation due in May will either.

There will be more inspectors and they will have the power to fine creches and close them down.

But for what? The biggest cause for complaint the inspectors have in the published reports is that all the paperwork for staff is not on file.

All the references in the world won't make those staff members loving towards the children in their charge, and that's what matters.

It's hard to love children if you're minding too many, but Ms Fitzgerald is not recommending that the ratios of staff to children should be changed.

They currently stand at one adult for three babies, five toddlers, six children aged between two and three or eight pre-schoolers aged between three and six. You'd be fine with that, would you? Yourself and the three babies? Or the eight three-year-olds? You wouldn't start shouting at the children like the carers in the Prime Time Investigates programme?

Ms Fitzgerald is also going to require creche workers to have a Fetac Level 5 qualification. That way they'll be able to bond to every one of those eight three-year-olds. Except it could be a different group of three-year-olds tomorrow.

SHUNTED

I've spoken to some young women with Fetac Level 5 and they say qualifications don't make it any easier to be shunted from one group of children to another, or to another creche, without the chance to say goodbye.

What we need from our new creche legislation is respect for the bond between a carer and a child as the first foundation of any creche.

But higher staff ratios and "key workers" might cost more money and might make staff less flexible. So that has to be stopped.

So then we decide to hire more inspectors instead and give them big feather dusters for those cobwebs.


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