Department official warns against cutting funds to non-compliant creches

Bernie McNally to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children

RTÉ Investigates revealed a pattern of disturbing practices in a chain of Hyde & Seek Dublin creches. Photograph:  Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

RTÉ Investigates revealed a pattern of disturbing practices in a chain of Hyde & Seek Dublin creches. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

Cutting funding to creches that are potentially non-complaint with regulations could result in parents paying increased fees, a senior official in the Department of Children has said.

Assistant secretary general Bernie McNally is set to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children following an undercover investigation that revealed a pattern of disturbing practices in a chain of Hyde & Seek Dublin creches.

The committee is expected to question the department on why public funding continues to go into services where there is non-compliance with regulations.

“If the DCYA was to cut this funding at present when there is little spare capacity in the system, it is parents who would suffer most through facing increased fees for the same service,” McNally says in her opening statement.

She is also set to outline how the RTÉ Investigates programme was “deeply distressing for all of us to watch”.

“The appalling mistreatment of children and the terrible management practices were unacceptable and inexcusable. I know that Tusla, in collaboration with the gardaí and the fire safety authorities, are pursuing those responsible.”

‘Inconvenience’

Ms McNally will outline that although the department believes that the vast majority of early learning services are safe, the “actions we saw in the RTÉ programme were, we believe, a horrific exception”.

Ms McNally is expected to say that it would not be in the interests of children or parents if Tusla closed down services immediately whenever they observe non-compliance.

“We know that parents rely on the continued operation of services in order to go to work every day. Closing down a service at short notice can cause enormous inconvenience to families.

“Wherever possible, and where there is no serious risk to children, helping services to improve is the right thing to do. Clearly, where there is evidence of a serious risk to children, and a failure of the operator to immediately address it, all the force of the law must be applied to closing the service.”

In her opening statement, she also says that while there is a need to keep parents informed of what is happening when issues are found, this also poses “challenges to due process”.

Enforcement powers

Fine Gael TD and chair of the committee Alan Farrell will be calling for legislation to allow Tusla to immediately shut down or suspend creche services where there is evidence of malpractice.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she plans to strengthen quality requirements for early years services and has written to the chair of Tusla requesting that they outline the necessary changes to strengthen their enforcement powers.

Ms Zappone has also asked officials to examine how parents can be informed at the earliest possible opportunity of concerns being investigated.

As it stands, Tusla can only publish reports after due process and this process can often take a period of time during which parents will be unaware that the regulator has concerns.

Footage in the investigation showed babies that restrained in high chairs for lengthy periods, causing them to become highly distressed. In one instance a child was placed alone in a room with the door closed for misbehaving.