Tusla chair criticised RTÉ over delay reporting creche concerns
Pat Rabbitte hit out at ‘significant delays in reporting and provision of footage to Tusla’
The chair of Tusla, Pat Rabbitte, privately hit out at RTÉ in a letter to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The chair of Tusla, Pat Rabbitte, privately criticised RTÉ in a letter to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone over the broadcaster’s delay in sharing with the agency child protection concerns it had uncovered in an investigation of a Dublin creche chain.
Mr Rabbitte, a former minister for communications, criticised the “lack of compliance with Children First and mandatory reporting of child protection concerns” in a letter to Ms Zappone.
An RTÉ Investigates programme featuring footage taken by undercover researchers earlier this year exposed shortcomings at Hyde & Seek, a multimillion-euro company that runs several creches in Dublin.
The footage showed cots packed into rooms leaving it difficult to access babies in the event of an emergency, and children being fed cheap instant meals instead of the dishes advertised to parents.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has responsibility for the inspection of childcare services and the agency’s oversight role came in for criticism on foot of the RTÉ programme.
Mr Rabbitte said the board of Tusla was concerned with the “significant delays in reporting and provision of footage to Tusla by RTÉ” in an August 6th letter sent to Ms Zappone, released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information request.
The board had serious concerns about the quality of care in the creche chain exposed, “but more importantly the impact of abusive adult behaviours towards children,” he said.
In a statement a spokeswoman for RTÉ said the broadcaster “fully understands and complies with obligations under Children First”, which mandates reporting of child protection concerns to Tusla.
“Throughout the investigation, RTÉ was acutely aware of its legal obligation to protect children – and that the public interest was best served by exposing both regulatory failure and the childcare regime at the creche involved,” the spokeswoman said.
“It would be extremely disappointing if anyone chose to focus on the messenger rather than the serious failings uncovered.”
Mr Rabbitte told the Minister Tusla would be recommending an interdepartmental group set up to monitor Children First legislation take new steps to ensure “all people and relevant services understand and comply with their obligations”.
The RTÉ Investigates programme was broadcast on July 24th, and co-owner of the creche chain Anne Davy stepped down from “front line childcare provision” in the days before it aired.
Tusla officials previously criticised RTÉ during an Oireachtas committee hearing on the controversy held in late July. Brian Lee, Tusla director of quality assurance, told the committee the agency had received a “very poor and incomplete child protection report on 17 July”.
“The RTÉ Investigates programme, and this only came to our attention last week, started to identify concerns in those services last April. It took two-and-a-half months for those to be brought to our attention,” Mr Lee said.
The RTÉ spokeswoman said its team had drawn up a “mechanism to assess the risk to the children inside the crèche” while investigating the story, with input from two independent childcare experts.
“In early July these experts assessed the risks were such that they needed to be reported to Tusla. The [undercover] care workers’ written reports were in one incidence praised by Tusla as comprehensive,” she said.
“Before broadcast, Tusla officials were shown the programme and the footage from inside the creches was shared with Tusla to assist with their enforcement operations,” she said.
A Tusla spokeswoman said under Children First the broadcaster had a responsibility to report information on children that may be at risk of harm as soon as is practical.
“RTÉ has stated that filming commenced in April 2019. The first communication from RTÉ to Tusla was in July 2019,” she said, adding the agency acknowledged the “importance of programmes such as the RTÉ Investigates series”.