25/07/2019

'Shock And Anger' Over Revelations In RTÉ Crèches Investigation

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone has expressed her "shock and anger" at the mistreatment of children in crèches revealed in an RTÉ Investigates programme.

The Behind Closed Doors programme focused on crèches that are part of a single family-run group of businesses. It is understood that the services are, and have been, subject to investigation by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which is the independent statutory regulator and inspectorate of early years services.

Commenting on the undercover footage, Minister Zappone said: "I was appalled and horrified. I share parents' distress at seeing young children being subjected to such abhorrent behaviour. I am disgusted by what I saw."

Minister Zappone acknowledged that many parents who saw the programme will be worried for their own children who attend crèches. However, she assured parents that a number of authoritative and independent sources have assured her that the vast majority of services meet required standards.

She also expressed her confidence in Tusla, the independent regulator of these services, and gave assurance that Tusla has been taking robust action to address the poor standards and management failings in the crèches that were focus of the RTÉ Investigates programme. However, the evidence presented last night was new and not available to the Inspectors up to now. She acknowledged that Tusla has closed five services in the last 18 months and is at advanced stages of enforcement process with many others. Evidence such as that gathered by RTÉ or provided by parents and staff can assist Tusla with its enforcement procedures.

Tusla has inspected the crèches covered in the RTÉ programme a number of times under the new Regulations that came into force in 2016. Whenever it has identified failings, it has required changes. Tusla has been actively pursuing enforcement actions in relation to the services. Tusla took one of the services to Court earlier this year for operating without registration. The service is now registered with conditions, which Tusla continues to actively monitor.

While stressing that mistreatment of children is never acceptable, Minister Zappone cautioned that due process must be followed in all Tusla's investigations. This is ultimately to protect children and ensure that justice is served.

The RTÉ investigation offered many reminders of the 2013 RTÉ investigation, A Breach of Trust, be it that last night's programme was in relation to one service owner in particular. Minister Zappone noted that standards have risen across the board since 2013. While RTÉ has again captured management failings and mistreatment of children on camera, Minister Zappone believes information available points to these being the exception.

Minister Zappone said: "While there is clearly more to be done to improve quality standards, we have come a long way and we must maintain this momentum for several years to come. My Department has introduced a minimum qualification for all staff working with children in crèches or pre-school services, we established a national Quality Development Service where experts are available to mentor and advise Early Learning and Care practitioners, and this year I introduced – for the first time – Regulations for school-age childcare."

Minister Zappone continued: "In addition, Tusla was given new powers in 2016 and I have substantially increased Tusla's funding, which has enabled it to nearly double the number of inspections since 2014 and to address malpractice where it is found. Tusla has deregistered 5 services in the last 18 months, others have closed down as a result of its efforts, 95 services have had conditions attached to their registration in 2019 alone, and the services filmed by RTÉ had already been the subject of on-going investigation and action by Tusla. Tusla's enforcement activity is gathering strength and pace and my Department will do everything it can to support further development."

Minister Zappone reiterated the commitment in First 5 (the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families) to review the Regulations for early years services. As part of this review, she said that she will be asking officials in her Department to examine whether Tusla needs and can be given additional powers to close down or suspend services immediately where it has critical concerns, and to examine ways to ensure that parents are informed at the earliest possible date of the findings of its investigations. She encouraged all parents and staff to report poor practice so that it can be effectively addressed, and she thanked those who have provided such information to Tusla to assist with regulatory and enforcement actions.

(MH/CM)


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