Creche inspection reports to be made available online from July - Fitzgerald
Minister for Children tells Oireachtas health committee harsher penalties to be introduced for breaches of childcare regulations
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald will appear before the Oireachtas committee this evening to discuss concerns over standards in creches. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Parents will be able to read inspection reports for creches online by July 1st and from September childcare providers will have to register before setting up, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said.
More penalties and harsher sanctions will be introduced for breaches of childcare regulations and inspectors will be able to take action without having to bring crèches to court, the Minister told the Oireachtas committee on health and children.
The HSE was looking at increasing the number of inspectors since there were just 37 full time inspectors operating nationally. “I am engaging with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure, on additional resource implications,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
The committee was examining the issue of childcare following an RTÉ Prime Time film showing the mistreatment of children at three creches. The Minister said the footage was “distressing, shocking and absolutely unacceptable”. The compliance and contracts of the creches involved were being assessed while a HSE and Garda investigation continued, Ms Fitzgerald added.
New creches offering pre-school services would have to be passed as complying with regulations before they opened up from September, she said. Existing creches will have to register when they renew their contracts for the free pre-school year. Currently creches notify the HSE 28 days before they open without having to comply with rules.
An interim review by Gordon Jeyes, chief executive designate of the new Child and Family Agency, of creche inspection reports would by ready next month which would identify non-compliance with rules “with particular reference to the for-profit sector”, she added. Changes would also be made to how the inspections were carried out with a new focus on quality of care.
Support for increased training requirements for creche staff was being looked at by the Department of Children, she said. From September 2015 staff leading the teaching of children in the free pre-school year will have to be qualified to a high level, from the current Fetac 5 to Fetac 6.
The problems in crèches has been “difficult and embarrassing”, said Mr Jeyes. The balance between the “public good and the private transaction” was not working, he said. Reform was going at “the pace of Ireland 2013” during recessionary times when investment was difficult. A moratorium on hiring in the HSE had meant a lack of inspectors, especially in the Dublin area where crèche inspections are carried out every 18 and 24 months, the committee heard.
Greater inspections were carried out on animals than pre-school facilities said Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil TD. Senator Jillian van Turnhout said more inspections were also carried out on restaurants than crèches.
Irene Gunning, chief executive of the Early Childhood Ireland, said regulation and inspection also needed to be extended to informal childminding and after-school care. The group said while there had been a focus on creches which made money most were small operations which did not make profits. Of the 4,600 providers in operation 70 per cent were privately run but just 214 were creche chains.
Toby Wolfe, acting director of Startstrong, which campaigns for better childcare, said change in the sector had to be backed up by public investment and leadership. A European Commission report in 2011 showed 60 per cent of childcare workers should be graduates while in Ireland the figure was just 10 per cent. State funding for crèches had to be linked to the delivery of quality care, he said. “We need high rates of public investment and higher rates rather than higher profits,” he added.