Inconsistencies in regional childcare inspections, says Roisin Shortall

Former junior minister at health says child care services can’t provide key data

Róisín Shortall. Photograph: Alan Betson

Róisín Shortall. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 22:27

The level of State inspections of childcare facilities is “entirely inadequate”, said Independent TD Róisín Shortall adding there are also worrying inconsistencies across the regions.

The former minister of State for public health said that, on foot of information acquired via a parliamentary question, there were 2,432 inspections carried out by 42 inspectors last year.

Lending its voice to the issue, Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), the organisation representing stakeholders in the childcare sector, said the information betrays a lack of inspectors which makes it difficult to provide a “competent and robust” service.

Ms Shortall pointed out that the number of inspectors varies considerably in different parts of the country, and are not necessarily relative to population size.

“Dublin north east, comprising north Dublin and the north east of the country, has the lowest number of inspectors, only five in total, despite the fact that the child population is one of the highest,” she said.

“The ratio of inspectors to the child population in the area is one inspector per 21,052 children. By comparison, the western area has a ratio of one inspector per 6,893 children.”

Her analysis follows an RTÉ Prime Time documentary last year which led to concerns about the standards in Irish crèches and childcare facilities.

The information was obtained from Tusla, the child and family agency tasked with overseeing child-protection measures following its establishment at the beginning of the year.

Lack of information

Ms Shortall said information was lacking on the number of children catered for by childcare providers and the cost of early year inspections.

“Surely as the State agency with responsibility for early childcare inspections, Tusla should know how much the State is paying for this service. The Government must give much greater priority to this area, which is so critical to children’s welfare and development,” she said.

Teresa Heaney, ECI chief executive, said the information revealed by Ms Shortall illustrated that Ireland did not have the number of inspectors to deliver the required “regular and consistent” inspection regime.

“Some of our members are waiting five years in between inspections, which is just not good enough,” she said.

“Inspection is good for everyone and our 3,400 members, who support over 100,000 children in pre-schools and crèches across the country, welcome a more collaborative, consistent and frequent process.

“We need regular and consistent inspections across the country and that can’t be done when the number of inspectors to conduct these inspections just isn’t there.”