Cork crech rejects claims of eight breaches of childcare regulations

Public health nurse says creche wasn’t properly staffed for the number of children on the premises

The HSE yesterday began a prosecution of a Co Cork creche owner over eight alleged breaches of childcare regulations, including it being insufficiently staffed to care for the number of children on the premises.

Hazel O'Mahony, owner of Tiny Tots Creche, Killeagh Gardens, Killeagh, Co Cork, denies eight breaches of the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006, pursuant to the Child Care Act 1991, at the creche during an inspection on November 22nd, 2012.

HSE South assistant director of public health nursing Eleanor Buckley told Midleton District Court how she and a colleague, environmental health officer Lorraine Potter, visited the creche on the day in question and found, at one point, 37 children being cared for by staff.

Ms Buckley said there were nine children ranging in age from 10 to 19 months being cared for in the baby room and this rose to 10 children for a short period. There were two staff caring for them, whereas the recommended number under the guidelines was three.


She said at one stage in the baby room there was just one staff member who had to go to the adjacent baby-changing area and the babies were unattended, resulting in one boy climbing up on to a 60cm-high table before Ms O’Mahony came into the room and took the child down.

Toddler room
Ms Buckley said there were also nine children in the toddler room ranging in age from one year and nine months to two years and 10 months. Under the regulations there should have been two staff on duty to care for nine children in this age range.

However, when the HSE team entered the toddler room, they found that one of the two staff present had come via the interconnecting changing room from the baby room, which meant the baby room was now down to just 33 per cent of its appropriate complement under the regulations.

Ms Buckley said that at one point there were 17 children in the preschool room, which caters for three to five year olds, but that this later rose to 19 children. The appropriate staffing levels here, given the age of these children, was two but one of these included Ms O’Mahony. Given that Ms O’Mahony had to go around to heat up food left by parents for their children at lunch hour, it meant Ms O’Mahony was unavailable in the preschool room for a period, thus reducing staffing levels below the recommended level for a period, said Ms Buckley.

Vomiting bug
The solicitor for Ms O'Mahony, Frank Buttimer, said his client would be strongly contesting all alleged breaches of the regulations and the court would hear evidence that a staff member became sick from a vomiting bug shortly before the HSE team arrived and was sent home.

Ms O’Mahony then sought relief staff from a creche run by her sister in Midleton and a sixth staff member arrived within a matter of 15 minutes or so to bring the staff complement back up to six people, which his client believed was the correct staffing level, he added.

Ms Buckley also said they had found no evidence of drinks being offered to babies, and they also found no records on when babies had their nappies changed or when they were fed, or cots being ready for them to to sleep. Mr Buttimer said this would all be strongly denied.

The case continues today when Ms O'Mahony and her staff will give evidence to Judge John O'Neill, who remarked that as the case progressed it was becoming clear that there was a huge gulf between the HSE and Ms O'Mahony and her staff regarding what had happened on the day.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times