Source: Eilish O’Regan Health Correspondent – Irish Independent 21 February 2014
It is more than six months since a television documentary raised serious concerns about standards in a number of creches.
In addition, Gerry McKiernan, service director with the Child and Family Agency, said that an unpublished report by the HSE had found that child safety, management and record-keeping remain issues of particular concern in pre-schools and crèches.
Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that “a core problem for the service was that there were vacancies for inspectors in some parts of the country”, so in some areas there were no inspections.
She said that eight posts were currently being filled to address this problem.
The minister admitted that the early years sector has been neglected.
“This may seem a strange comment, given the huge investment by government over the 10 years starting in 2000, and my department’s annual expenditure of over €260m.
“However, in previous times the focus was very much on building up the bricks and mortar of childcare facilities.
“While I have reopened the childcare capital programme, allocating nearly €8.3m in 2012 and 2013, my focus nonetheless is very much on supporting the people who make up the staff of these facilities and to improve quality standards.”
She told the committee: “We have to understand that this has contributed to the challenge we now face. Pay levels and status of early years staff are low.
“This is a sector with nearly 5,000 services and over 22,000 staff. Change … will not happen overnight and I think it is important to understand that and to set ambitious but realistic objectives.”
She said that following the RTE Investigation Unit programme on creches, the managers of the services “made commitments as to the changes they would make”.
Ms Fitzgerald added: “All three services have engaged with this process and are linked in with their local county childcare committees who are ensuring they meet our expectations. I am aware the HSE also followed up with a number of further visits.