Creche fire regulations delayed amid fear of closures

Many smaller facilities warn they may not meet mid-December deadline for documentation

A representative group said some smaller childcare facilities would require costly modifications or rebuilding work if they were to get fire certs. File photograph: Frank Perry/AFP/Getty Images

A representative group said some smaller childcare facilities would require costly modifications or rebuilding work if they were to get fire certs. File photograph: Frank Perry/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government has delayed the introduction of new fire safety regulations for creches amid concerns it could prompt the widespread closure of smaller childcare facilities.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, wrote to all childcare operators this week requesting that they submit mandatory documentation by December 12th if they are to continue operating in the new year.

However, it says a requirement for childcare facilities to carry out fire risk assessments which are needed to obtain fire certs will now be delayed until June 30th of next year.

Many smaller childcare operators had warned that they faced imminent closure due to a difficulties carrying out mandatory fire risk assessments and obtaining fire certs.

Seas Suas, a representative group for independent childcare and early education providers, warned that many smaller operators would still be under acute pressure to meet the mid-December deadline for provision of documentation in relation to issues such as insurance cover and Garda vetting.

In addition, it says some smaller childcare facilities will require costly modifications or rebuilding work if they are to get fire certs.

“There is now huge pressure on providers to provide reams of paperwork online,” said Seas Suas chairwoman Regina Bushell.

“This is the busiest time of year and comes at a time when the new national childcare scheme is being introduced. They are very worried that they will not meet the deadline.”

While the number of childcare facilities impacted is not clear, it would certainly be in the hundreds, sources said.

Some childcare facilities have announced their closure due to what they say are the prohibitive costs of meeting the requirements for fire safety certs.

Cherry Blossom in Sandyford in Dublin, a creche with 21 children, informed parents this week that it will close permanently at Christmas.

The creche which has been operating for 15 years operates out of a semi-detached home.

Its owner Edel Gargan said she cannot get a fire cert which is mandatory in order to meet the registration requirements. She said she has been told it would cost €20,000 to make the necessary structural changes, which she could not afford.

“Parents are devastated and there is nowhere for them to go. They really have no one to mind them, everywhere around here is full,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said that while childcare providers must apply for “re-registration” by December 12th in order to continue operating, no documentation on planning issues is required until June 30th.

She said the requirements had been in place since 2016 and Tusla had been “actively engaging with and supporting providers over the past 18 months” around meeting them.

“We understand that some providers may still be having challenges and always endeavour to support them. For example,some providers were finding it particularly challenging to carry out fire risk assessments,” she said.

“In order to support providers Tusla is permitting them to proceed with applications without the risk assessment document included, and to submit this document by June 30th, 2020. The agency will continue to support providers to fulfil their requirements.”

Planning permission

A spokesman for the Department of Children said planning documentation required by Tusla by June 30th may involve evidence of planning permission, or evidence of an application for planning retention, according to the age of the service.

He said many services were non-purpose-built and there was no “difficulty accommodating non-purpose-built services within the regulations”.

He said the Department of Children had contacted Tusla in relation to Cherry Blossom in Sandyford, and Tusla had stated that it had not required the service to close.