RTE crèche documentary exposes 'emotional abuse'

Revelations of RTE Prime Time investigation deeply distressing, says Fitzgerald

 

The State’s childcare inspection regime needs to be strengthened, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said today after a documentary broadcast last night showed what she described as young children being subjected to “emotional abuse”.

Ms Fitzgerald said she found the RTÉ PrimeTime investigation A Breach of Trust “deeply distressing” and that some of the instances it highlighted were “absolutely unacceptable”.

Secretly recorded footage at three crèches in Dublin and Wicklow showed childcare staff manhandling children, screaming at them and snatching toys from their hands. Some of the footage, which was recorded by an RTE researcher who had gone undercover as a worker at the childcare centres, showed toddlers strapped in highchairs for hours on end without anything to stimulate them and childcare staff fabricating diaries relating to the children’s activities.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny this morning described the programme as a “shocking exposé’’ but said it was also important to say that not all child care services were similar.

The centres involved are Little Harvard in Rathnew in Co Wicklow, Giraffe in Belarmine, Stepaside and Links in Malahide, Dublin. Footage from the Links creche showed one child being thrown onto a mat during sleep time and having their head covered with a blanket.

The Minister said parents who watched the programme would have been “haunted” by the images broadcast.

“The instances we saw in relation to young children and the way they were being dealt with, the way they were being fed and the lack of understanding of a child’s development at the age of two, all of those instances were dreadful to watch, deeply upsetting, unacceptable and cannot continue,” she said on RTÉ Morning Ireland. “That is why I want this focus on the early years, the under fives.”

Ms Fitzgerald added: “I felt that I witnessed emotional abuse of children on the programme last night.”

Twitter reaction to #rtept

However, in passing comment, she said she was conscious that Garda and HSE investigations into the incidents were under way.

Crèches and pre-schools in some parts of the country have not been inspected by authorities for up to four years, despite hundreds of complaints from parents regarding standards across the sector.

Asked if she felt the current inspection regime was inadequate, Ms Fitzgerald replied: “The whole area of under fives has been inadequately focused on in the past 10 years. I believe that we have not put enough attention into these areas.”

Ms Fitzgerald said that past child protection scandals had taught the State that “you have to change the culture, you have to be vigilant, you have to monitor, you have to train and you have to have people with qualifications”.

She added: “All of that applies to this sector. This sector has grown incredibly quickly over the years of the Celtic Tiger.”

Official regulations advise that all pre-school services should be inspected at least once a year, or more frequently in the case of crèches where there are concerns over care or education.

The Health Service Executive, which is responsible for inspecting pre-school services, has confirmed that up to last month there had been no inspectors in five of its local health office areas.

The Minister said the Irish rate of inspections of childcare facilities, at once every 18 months, was higher than the norm in the UK, where inspections took place once every two or three years.

“We do have inspections happening. The question is the quality of the inspections, the range, the follow up and compliance,” she said. “We do need a stronger inspection regime. We do need more follow up and we do need the inspections to take account of a broader range of issues.”

She said the need for more inspectors could “certainly be addressed” and that recruitment was underway in some areas.

Asked if she accepted responsibility for current inadequacies in the childcare system, Ms Fitzgerald said she accepted responsibility “for being absolutely clear what the problems are, how to address them and having a vision and plan to deal with those issues”.

She said it was extremely important that parents knew that not every childcare facility has the type of issues shown in the programme. She said parents should link with inspectors and their childcare providers to ensure they were happy.

The Minister said families concerned by the broadcast could ask their childcare facility or local HSE office for a copy of the inspection reports related to their crèche. She hoped inspection reports would be published on the HSE website in the coming weeks.

Speaking in Brussels this morning, Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton said Ms Fitzgerald will deal with the issues raised in the programme in a “robust” way.

“I think it’s been recognised that for decades now the approach to the care of children, and the level of inspection and oversight has been weak. This Government has taken a robust view that we need to develop that through many parts of our health service,” said Mr Bruton. “I think you will see much more benchmarking of services through the health service. I think this is a case where that robust approach needs to be developed and that is the determination of the Minister.”

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