Tusla ‘will take action’ following report on Dublin creches

Katherine Zappone ‘deeply upset’ by undercover creche investigation

An undercover reporter for RTÉ Investigates, working at Hyde & Seek creche on Shaw St, Dublin, finds a distressed child left alone in a closed room for misbehaving. Video: RTÉ

 

Tusla will take action, up to criminal prosecutions, to remove Hyde & Seek creches from the register so they can no longer operate, according to director of quality assurance at the agency Brian Lee.

Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio 1, Mr Lee said the child and family agency added conditions to the service in terms of limiting actions they take, that they had issued immediate action plans and immediate responses, that they had enforcement meetings with the service provider, but that they are all “clearly failing”.

The investigation had left him “sick to the stomach” about what he had seen, Mr Lee said.

An undercover investigation had revealed a pattern of disturbing behaviour and practices including fire-safety breaches and rough handling of children. The investigation was carried out by RTÉ Investigates into Hyde & Seek, a multimillion euro company that runs four crèches in Dublin with a fifth due to open shortly.

Footage taken by undercover researchers over the past several weeks shows cots packed into rooms leaving it difficult to access babies in the event of an emergency.

There was evidence of poor training and knowledge on the part of staff; training for one new staff member appeared to consist of reading them a four-page leaflet. Two staff members did not appear to know that Sids stands for Sudden Infant Death syndrome.

Other footage shows children being fed cheap instant meals instead of the dishes advertised to parents.

A statement on behalf of a group of Hyde & Seek creche parents said they were “devastated” by what was revealed in the programme, and that their trust was “badly misplaced”.

The parents criticised Tusla for not providing the framework within which regulation breaches could not occur.

“Our trust has been betrayed,” the statement read. “We call on all parties concerned to immediately address how this happened, and to credibly explain how they will make amends.

“It appears the current oversight system, even when it detects breaches, is inadequate to ensure the same, similar, or more serious breaches do not occur again.”

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has said she was deeply shocked and appalled at the manner in which children were treated in a chain of Dublin creches.

Ms Zappone told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that she had been deeply upset by the revelations and she urged parents to “listen to their gut” if they were concerned about their child’s care.

She was particularly concerned that despite regulations and improvements that “this appalling behaviour is happening.”

However, when asked if she would be seeking the closure of the Hyde & Seek chain, she said that as Minister she did not want to say anything that would “inhibit the process.”

She advised parents to check the Tusla website for reviews of child care facilities and warned that Tusla can only know of problems if they see them and if they are brought to their attention.

“If they (parents) have any form of concern, if they report it to Tusla, they will go in very quickly.”

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said the issues raised must be discussed with Tusla and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, as a matter of urgency. He said Tusla and Ms Zappone must come before the Oireachtas Committee on Children to address mistreatment of children.

“While Tusla have called for further evidence from Primetime, it is clear that all facilities in this group must be closed until such time as guarantees are provided to the Dublin Fire Brigade that fire safety concerns are addressed and that the care provided in all units of the group are beyond reproach,” he said.

Members of Seas Suas, the representative body for independent early education and childcare providers, said the fact Tusla was aware and was investigating this creche and yet it continued operating, despite major breaches and serious fire safety concerns, showed the current inspection regime was “not fit for purpose”.

A statement from the group said Tusla needs to be given “enhanced powers” to react quicker to reports, and deal with major and serious breaches of regulations, instead of targeting good creches over breaches of minor, often inconsequential, regulation.

Seas Suas pointed out there was a shortage of qualified staff available in Ireland, which may lead to a reduction in the amount of childcare places available.

The children’s charity Barnardos said Wednesday’s programme was “deeply distressing” for parents and children impacted and said childcare cannot be about maximising profit.

“It is clear that the practices exposed in last night’s programme were driven from the top down,” Barnardos CEO Suzanne Connolly said.

“Inspections are a point in time, we need to take greater consideration of the culture within the organisation. While many private settings provide a high quality child-centred service, organisations driven by a for-profit motive will most likely not have the care of children as their first priority.”