Digital creche access puts parents in the picture

How creche and day-care facilities are using new technology to ensure children are not being mistreated

Many parents have called for the installation of CCTV camera equipment in all registered creches so staff could be monitored at all times. Photograph:  Getty Images

Many parents have called for the installation of CCTV camera equipment in all registered creches so staff could be monitored at all times. Photograph: Getty Images

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 01:20

Last year, an RTÉ Prime Time investigation entitled A Breach of Trust exposed the mistreatment of children in three creches in Dublin and Wicklow. The subsequent reaction from parents and creche owners alike was one of shock, dismay and reaction.

Many parents called for the installation of CCTV camera equipment in all registered creches so staff could be monitored at all times.

However, this “solution” was problematic on two fronts: firstly, the use of CCTV equipment – as a substitute for on-the-ground supervisory staff – is in breach of the Data Protection Act. Secondly, video surveillance of children could also be abused, if such material ended up in the wrong hands.

Despite this, a number of creches use some form of CCTV monitoring equipment. The Cocoon Childcare company, which runs 16 creches in Leinster, for example, offer a “WatchMe! LIVE” internet facility, which provides still shots of children in their care periodically.

However, this figure is negligible, less than 10 per cent, according to Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), the representative organisation for the sector.

Creche and day-care staff are required to keep up-to-date notes on all children in care. Logs are kept for attendance, nap times, nappy changes, appetite and what children eat, their activities etc. This is frequently written by hand. But this system is open to abuse as it was found staff in some creches were simply filling out the details once at the end of each day or even each week.

Monitoring system

Irish company CrecheCom has developed a creche monitoring system which gets around data protection issues and also encourages honesty among day-care staff.

“Staff record data on the children in their care in real time on a tablet-based system and it makes responsible monitoring of children much easier,” explains CrecheCom CEO Kieran Walkin.

“Logging info through our tablet-based system is far less laborious than logging it by hand and encourages more responsible care as parents and guardians can access, via smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, the creche system in real time and see how their child is getting on.

“Staff can update each child’s progress at any time as well as uploading photos. When they are encouraged to collect the data in real time, we believe they are more likely to collect more accurate info.”

Likewise, parents can use the system to communicate with staff should they need to.

“We use it first and foremost to document the children’s day for their parents as a peace of mind tool,” explains Nikki Erasmus from Inspire Childcare in Naas, Co Kildare.

“It is updated live so that parents can get a feel for the child’s day as it is happening. We can upload pictures as activities are occurring – we have found this facility to be fantastic for parents who delight in receiving these.

“Secondly, we use it as a management tool – to ensure the children are participating in quality programmes. It can also be used as an administration tool to log staff hours and log children’s hours by signing them in and out. We can also manage nutrition through menu management.”

One of the other main functions of the software is to plan and implement a curriculum for children. CrecheCom has done this along NCCA Aistear and Síolta guidelines.

“Ultimately, our new curriculum module provides staff with a means to record important developmental assessments and observations in line with current regulations. Our new reports module provides childcare providers with a simple way of retrieving records and reports for inspectors. They can also be accessed remotely,” says Walkin.

Help in other ways

Walkin believes the system might help in other ways. “Creches are supposed to be inspected once every six months by the HSE. But there aren’t enough staff to do those inspections,” he says.

“Some creches we’ve been to haven’t had an inspection in three years and are eager for the opportunity to showcase the quality of their businesses to parents.

“In fact, I can say that all of the businesses we work with provide exceptional services and are dedicated to continual improvement.

“We can provide assistance to the government inspectorate by tracking creche inspections online wherever possible.

“At the very least we can provide creche owners with a new digital means of recording data that frees up valuable time.”

There are about 4,600 creches in Ireland. The CrecheCom system is being used in 30 of those with another 30 in the pipeline as well as interest in the UK. Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, believes a comprehensive digital system like this could be welcomed in the industry.

“There’s no doubt that a lot of new parents are naturally predisposed to engaging with some sort of online entity for giving and receiving information about their child,” she says. “From our point of view there appears to be a number of entities developing similar products in this space at the moment.

“There is a huge amount of paperwork and records that need to be kept by the early childhood education sector. Every piece of information about a child in care needs to be documented, so naturally we would love to see a fully integrated package.

“However, no digital communications and recording system, regardless of how elaborate, could replace regular face-to-face conversation between staff and parent. That is the benchmark for good quality services for children. No amount of technology will ever replace that.”

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