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Crèche Inspections (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 805 No. 2

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Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway We should not cause panic among parents and as a parent of a young child I understand how much we rely on child care. I contacted my local crèche this morning in Dungarvan just to say I was thinking of the workers there. It has been a very difficult day for them, and these people are very committed to their job and giving care and attention to children on a daily basis. Most in the House would probably agree with that statement.

The Minister spoke about Pobal analysing the results of the community employment schemes around the country. Anybody with experience of services funded by Pobal would say that its reports always focus on numbers but we must move away from them if we are to speak about quality child care provision. It is not just about numbers, how many new pieces of equipment have been bought or how many children attended a service but rather what the child and the carer do in the service which has the biggest impact. It is unfortunate that it took this investigation to bring the matter to the fore. I am not sure the inspections as they stand would have outed the sort of poor practice we saw last night, which is really scary. We must focus on that and I know the Minister is really committed to the area. I hope to continue working with her to ensure we can bring improvements to fruition.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I thank the Minister for her response. The point just made by Deputy Conway is true and it may be the case that inspections may not have picked up the problems we saw last night. That is all the more reason for us to get the Children First Bill published, as it is crucial at this point. Deputy Harris indicated we must empower parents so they can have confidence in the child care service providers they use and we must ensure that the response of the Minister, the Government and the House adequately provides such empowerment.

With regard to enforcement of regulations, where a child care provider fails the HSE child care standards from 2006, it should be closed and funding should be stopped. It is an occasion where the Minister needs a big stick because if something like this recurs, it would be disgraceful.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin The issue of child care standards must be examined in the round. I bring to the Minister's attention that there are 35 child care positions advertised on the JobBridge website today. These are internships so we must ask how appropriate these are. I have no problem with such placements but they should be made in addition to full staffing levels and not instead of properly trained staff, as I suspect they are so often.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Last night we got a glimpse of a sample of the for-profit sector and it is entirely unacceptable that corners are being cut and children are paying the price while some of the companies involved are returning substantial profits. In the community sector the reality is the Government is cutting funding for child care facilities. We are all familiar with the fact that so many of those facilities in our constituencies are struggling to survive and the funding arrangement makes little or no provision for management or supervision of those services, which are being cut to the bone.

The Minister cannot get quality on the cheap and she should not expect parents to police these matters. Parents have a right to expect that where facilities are being provided for our most vulnerable and where State funding is forthcoming, the State should be playing its part in ensuring that quality is there. That is clearly not happening and action must be taken in the area. The Government must take its responsibility seriously.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I thank the Minister for her reply and I know her commitment to the area is unquestioned. In her reply she indicated that none of the children depicted in last night's programme would have been in receipt of the free preschool year as they were too young. If we are to convince the Irish people that we need a second free preschool year, we will have to deal with younger children and we must be able to ensure Irish people will have confidence in the system and that the second preschool year will be worthy of taxpayers' investment.

I would like the Minister to respond to my question about direct provision centres as the issue is connected to how we deal with children under the care of private providers funded by the State and those funded directly by the State. The Minister knows that direct provision centres are dealing with children who are not being adequately cared for. We all know about this so we cannot let the opportunity go by without addressing that issue. As others have said today, we need a fuller debate at an early stage to flesh out these issues in a more prolonged debate.

Deputy John Lyons: Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons At the nub of the debate is the idea that when every parent who loves his or her child leaves that child to the door of an institution, he or she wants the child to be safe and cared for. That is all we ask for. We know the Minister has the commitment, as became clear with her response. I am sure anybody listening shares my wish that when a child goes to a crèche or any institution like a crèche, the child's educational and developmental needs should be met. Above all, they should be safe and cared for.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I thank colleagues for raising the range of issues. The question is whether a more robust inspection system would have found the problems instanced last night. The international evidence is that if there is an inspection system which engages in a positive way with providers, working with them to improve standards and which collaborates over time, there is a higher chance that the kinds of scenes we saw last night would be avoided or uncovered through an inspection system. Nevertheless, it would not be guaranteed, and there is a range of other issues that must be addressed in order to provide the safe environment about which Deputy Lyons has spoken. That would encompass dealing with issues.

A certain focus has not been evident historically, and there are large legacy issues in the area that we will not be able to address overnight. Nevertheless, I should be clear that they will be addressed. I have stated that what I saw last night was emotional abuse and there is no question about that, as children's developmental needs were ignored and responses were inappropriate in many instances. There is a big job to be done.

There are many excellent community crèches and child care services where parents are receiving a high quality service. We also have good private facilities. Nevertheless, we must have a robust inspection system and deal with the issues raised by many Deputies, including sanctions, compliance and consequences like prosecutions. All those elements must be addressed. At times, this may not be the way we want to go as we want to primarily provide a high-quality service but all the elements must be addressed.

In April this year there were a total of 270 community child care schemes and every Deputy in the House knows about the quality in many of those community services. There is still work to be done with qualifications and access-----

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall There are problems in many of them.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald There is a range of issues and the work has been ongoing. Last night's programme threw a sharp focus on the issues but there are initiatives under way at present. I reassure Deputies and parents that these are working towards registering all child care facilities. It is unbelievable that in this country we have allowed people to open child care facilities by simply notifying the HSE. That cannot go on and it will stop. It is the legacy of what we have allowed to happen in the sector. The responsibility for that would encompass the approach to children in a very general way.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall The responsibility lies with the Minister.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The Government has been in power for two and a half years. Will the Minister answer the questions we put?

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