RTE’s Prime Time investigation into the standards of childcare in the country’s crèches heard claims that youngsters had been treated like “rag dolls” rather than children.
The hour long ‘A Breach of Trust’ programme, which had been highly anticipated since publicity emerged last week, on Tuesday night examined three specific crèches and their level of care as a barometer of the wider industry.
RTE said the programme – which relied on secret filming – had uncovered “various degrees of mistreatment of young children in specific rooms of the crèches”.
It began with the Giraffe crèche in Stepaside which had been the recipient of an award in 2012.
Blurred out images of the facility showed children being frequently strapped into chairs, despite there being no need, for up to two hours a day and in obvious distress.
Prof Sheila Greene, a developmental psychologist, said the practice was "very, very inappropriate and boarding on the abusive".
In a number of claims, the programme said there was not enough staff to take care of the number of children and that they falsified their daily diaries, documenting how they are getting on, and that they did not adequately monitor dietary requirements.
The crèche chain, which received well over €1 million from the State last year, has issued a statement saying it was profoundly sorry for any distress caused, that it had suspended a staff member and that it was investigating.
Prime Time said it had selected facilities that had previously attracted complaints but that were now compliant with regulations.
It examined the extent to which crèches around the country followed the Childcare Regulations 2006 which are enforced by the HSE. Overall, it said, 75 per cent of crèches in Ireland are in breach of regulations.
In the three cited, it said there were incidents that were serious enough to warrant inclusion in the programme, although there was no sexual abuse or violence.
At the Little Harvard crèche in Rathnew, Co Wicklow, a researcher posing as someone on work experience captured footage of further concern.
A staff member appeared more interested in her mobile phone than in the children; one made no eye contact when feeding an infant and children were left with little supervision despite playing with left over building materials outside.
They were also seen to fake the register of attendance due to concerns with losing out on funding which is dependent on a certain level of attendance.
Sleeping infants were left alone and a 20-month-old boy was put in a separate room to sleep behind two closed doors. An 18-month-old girl was put behind a closed door as punishment for three minutes and was clearly distressed.
Other footage at the crèche showed children being left for up to two hours in high chairs with nothing to occupy them.
In a statement the crèche took issue with the programme and said its findings, based on isolated incidents, were incorrect. It is currently investigating.
The third facility, the Links crèche in Malahide, was accused of having staff that took a disciplinarian approach to children.
It was found to be fabricating its reports on activities and child development. At one stage a teething child was left to sit on the floor because he was uncooperative.
In another scene, a child trying to eat with its hands is shouted at: “Don’t put your f***ing fingers in it!”
Professor Greene commented that images of how the children were being handled was associated more with rag dolls than children.