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Crèche Inspections (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 805 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peter Mathews: Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews]  I want this issue to be put at the top of the Minister's agenda. I understand three of those crèches are located in the constituency I represent. I am appalled to think that the children were so treated and that their parents have been put under the stress of being misled in terms of what was supposed to be a crèche that looked after these children.

The Minister should understand that it is not good enough to refer to the HSE inspection report which stated that 75% of child care facilities were in breach of regulations last year. Seventy-five per cent of what? Half the crèches breached regulations on adult-child ratios and staff background checks. That is not good enough. Some 40% failed to provide a safe environment for children. That is unacceptable. One of the crèches received over €1 million from the State last year. That is appalling. I want a root and branch investigation to find out what went wrong. I want to know the numbers of children in the crèches, the number of crèches in the country, the private ones in particular. I believe they get notice about inspections, which they should not do because the others do not; they can arrive on the spot.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris This is a rapid fire round. Parents in my constituency of Wicklow, and parents throughout the country, are upset, worried, disturbed and shocked at what they witnessed in last night's "Prime Time" programme into what the Minister correctly described this morning on national radio as incidents of emotional abuse in some crèches, including one in my county. It is widely accepted that the Minister is a reforming Minister; that is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders. In past years this country invested in bricks and mortar, but not in standards and quality. That is what we now must do.

I want to put a number of questions on the record of the House. When will we see the publication of the much-needed Children First legislation? Can parents currently access inspectors' reports into crèches? When will these reports be available online similar to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, reports? Is the Minister planning on recruiting more inspectors? Is she satisfied with the standards of inspectors? Can she confirm if a Garda investigation is under way, and what is the status of that? Will people who were involved in incidents face punishment? What advice would the Minister give to parents in Wicklow and throughout the country who had to drop off their children at crèches this morning, will collect them this evening and are now worried sick after the incidents that "Prime Time" correctly exposed?

Deputy Derek Keating: Information on Derek Keating Zoom on Derek Keating Since last night many words have been used to describe the distressing and disturbing events we witnessed in the "Prime Time" programme but there is only one word we should use - abuse. Last night, we saw further evidence of children being abused in Ireland. We saw babies being thrown onto mattresses, babies being shouted at, babies blackmailed, babies being bullied and threatened. We even saw a case where a baby was left in a room alone as punishment: punishment for a little baby.

It is understood that up to 25% of staff do not have adequate qualifications or training in early child care services, and up to 50% of staff are not adequately supervised or do not have continuous professional development courses available to them. I would be appreciative of the Minister's response on that.

The Taoiseach said today that the Government's response to this issue would not involve the ticking of boxes. Will the Minister give us her opinion and that of the Government on mandatory reporting of abuse?

Last night, Professor Hayes stated that quality in child care depends on staff. What new measures are needed to be put in place to ensure that the correct type of people are employed in early child care services?

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy Last night, people were shocked, horrified and traumatised having witnessed cruelty, emotional abuse, physical heavy-handedness, and a blatant abuse of parents' trust. There was a clear failure to deliver professional care and high standards for children in early child care settings. We cannot have a quality service without a quality workforce.

In terms of what needs to be done, the Health Service Executive must immediately establish a helpline for parents; provide additional inspectors where gaps currently exist; publicise inspection reports; and publish the two critical items of legislation.

This crisis provides the Minister with an opportunity to secure the much-needed additional resources from her Cabinet colleagues to ensure full implementation of Síolta, Aistear and the workforce development plan.

I ask the Minister for a definite timeframe for the publication of the Children First guidelines and the setting up of the child and family support agency. Can we have a timeframe for the implementation of the workforce development plan? Will she consider the possibility of introducing CCTV cameras, where parents are agreeable? Will she withdraw State funding for facilities found guilty of breaches and replace the model of inspection of compliance with a model focused on outcomes for our children?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald As shocked as people were watching last night's programme, we all understand that these are some of the consequences for society when caring roles are relegated to second class. I am sorry to say that in many of the decisions taken by the Minister's Government, that trend of undervaluing carers and carers' work has continued. The programme clearly illustrated huge deficiencies in respect of not just the qualification of staff but the suitability of some staff in these crèches. They include issues around regulation and inspection. These issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency, and no State funding should go to any facility that is not properly inspected, regulated and with suitable and suitably qualified staff.

The second issue that arose from last night's programme is one of child welfare. As other speakers stated, what we witnessed was bullying and brutalisation of very young children. When will the Children First guidelines be put on a statutory basis to oblige the responsible and professional people working in this sector to report any misconduct of this nature?

Are the crèches that were exposed on last night's programme still open today? Did they take children into their care today? If the answer to that question is "Yes", in the name of all goodness how could that be the case?

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway This is not the first time I have raised the issue of the provision of quality child care places with the Minister because what she has been faced with is a legacy of an approach by previous Governments where child care was merely a tax incentive for builders to provide crèches, and no more than that. Child care places were seen as no more than a labour activation measure for women. What is evident in the damning, distressing footage we saw last night is that nowhere in the provision of care were the needs of children being met.

I ask the Minister to ensure, after the horrendous footage we saw last night in the crèches, that funding must be linked to quality. I am not talking about infrastructure or access to the best, new and brightest toys. I am talking about the warmth of the relationship between the care giver and the child because that is what counts. That is what will achieve the best outcome and impact on the provision of child care for children. It is not just a labour activation measure for women to return to work. It is about the provision of quality, inclusive, holistic child care for our children.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell How do I summarise in 90 seconds what we all witnessed last night? It is near impossible, but what we witnessed on the video footage was a fundamental breach of trust in terms of the most vulnerable people in our society by those turning a profit. The individuals responsible, and all child care professionals, should be in this area because it is a calling, they have a basic love of children, and they want to nurture and educate those children for the many hundreds of thousands of parents who are unable to do so for a short period every day.

Qualification should be mandatory for every individual who works in a crèche or child-minding facility, and those individuals should be thoroughly vetted and monitored on an ongoing basis because parents must have confidence in them. Some Deputies mentioned the crèches still operating today. Parents must have confidence in those facilities in terms of the care of their children.

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