A recent investigation by RTÉ’s Prime Time programme has shed light on the mistreatment of children at a number of crèches in Dublin and Wicklow. The programme, “A Breach Of Trust”, exposed a number of shocking practices at these childcare facilities and caused a social media storm in the days and weeks that followed. As such, there has been scrutiny of our regulations governing pre-school care of late.
The Child Care Act 1991 sets out that the Health Service Executive is charged with the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending these services (“pre-school children” defined as “children under 6 years of age, who are not attending a national school or equivalent”). In furtherance of this, pre-school care providers are required to notify the HSE that they are providing childcare services.
In addition to this requirement, the HSE also conducts inspections of childcare facilities in order to ensure that standards are met. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has recently stated that these inspections are to be made available to the public on the HSE website in the near future.
Further information for parents on local childcare services is also available from any of the 33 City/County Childcare Committees, which serve as not-for-profit committees that facilitate the provision of childcare services at a local level.
Specifics on the regulations envisaged by Part VII of the 1991 Act are contained in the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 and the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. These cover:
- Sessional services
- Part-time day care
- Full day care
- Pre-school service in a drop-in centre
These regulations also include an explanatory guide to the regulations and give guidance on the following:
- Health, welfare and development of the child
- First aid and medical assistance
- Management and staffing (including Garda vetting)
- Adult/child space ratios
- Behaviour management
- Register of pre-school children
- Information for parents
- Premises and facilities
- Safety measures
- Food and drink
There are also a number of exemptions from the requirement to notify the HSE of provision of childcare services. These include the following:
- Where the carer is a relative of the child or the spouse of such a relative
- Where the carer is caring for 1 or more pre-school children of the same family and no other children (other than their own) in their home
- Where the carer is caring for not more than 3 pre-school children from different families (other than their own) in their home
In response to the recent controversy, there have been calls from both opposition and Government parties to reform the regulations in this area. Fianna Fáil have called for the fine for childcare providers who breach the regulations to be increased from a maximum of €1,270 to €100,000 and/or up to two years in prison. Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald has also announced a plan to improve the quality of childcare services in the State using a multifaceted approach, among which are plans to increase the qualification standards of childcare staff, implement new pre-school standards, introduce registration of all childcare providers, as well as the aforementioned publication of HSE inspection reports of childcare facilities.