Critical risks have been identified in 37 creches across the country where serious non-compliance with regulations were identified, it has emerged.
Tusla’s director of quality assurance Brian Lee said there are there are four points on Tusla’s internal risk register namely critical, high, medium and low. There are currently 37 facilities deemed “critical”.
Officials from Tusla and the Department of Children appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Children on Wednesday to discuss the fallout from an RTÉ Investigates programme which revealed disturbing practices at a chain of Hyde and Seek creches.
The committee heard how installing CCTV cameras inside crèches across the country is the “obvious solution” in light of child protection concerns in the sector. Officials from both Tusla and the Department of Children indicated that they would support the roll-out of CCTV in the early years childcare sector.
Mr Lee said he “would support any particular regulation that would support the protection of children in early years services.
“Anything like that would have to take into account data protection, but certainly from a Tusla point of view, I would absolutely support any measure like that,” he said.
In relation to concerns around GDPR legislation, he said child protection concerns “trumps GDPR concerns any day of the week.”
The interim chief executive Tusla Pat Smyth said installing CCTV “would need huge safeguards even though it is the obvious solution”.
Assistant secretary general in the Department of Children Bernie McNally said it represents a good solution.
“It is an option, but we do have to look at the pros and cons. Is it something that has to be discussed further, yes.”
Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said she believed it was important to review the issue in the near future.
Cease and desist
Tusla also told the committee that it does not have statutory authority to shut down unregistered creches.
Mr Lee said that if a service is not registered, Tusla’s “only course” of action is to write a cease and desist letter and if that is unsuccessful to take legal action which can take many months.
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell described the scenario as “shocking”.
Mr Lee said that if there were child protection concerns in any creche irrespective of what regulatory processes are underway, teams from Tusla have the power to contact parents and inform them of this. The type of behavior seen in the undercover investigation into the Dublin creches is unlikely to be discovered by inspections, Mr Smyth said.
He said that while regulation and inspection is an “essential component” in identifying and addressing risks within the early years sector, the Inspectorate alone “cannot regulate for individual behaviours which are not in evidence during inspections or not reported to Tusla through other appropriate channels. It is the professionalism of individuals that keeps children safe and also ensures the delivery of good care.”
In relation to the programme itself, he said Tusla had “no evidence” of the serious child protection concerns.
“The behaviours displayed are unlikely to be evident during an inspection and we rely on good professional practice and appropriate mandatory reporting under Children First, or through Tusla’s unsolicited information office for the notification of child protection concerns.”
The investigation was carried out into Hyde & Seek, a multimillion euro company that runs four creches in Dublin with a fifth opening shortly.
The RTÉ programme featured footage taken by undercover researchers over a number of weeks which showed cots packed into rooms, leaving it difficult to access babies in the event of an emergency.
Further footage showed children being fed cheap instant meals instead of the dishes advertised to parents.
The programme also showed babies that were 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.