A Dublin creche has been fined €1,000 and allowed to stay open after a staff member was secretly filmed “rough-handling” and shouting at children.
The Links Creche and Montessori Ltd, at Abington Wood, Swords Road, Malahide, Co. Dublin, and its director Deirdre Kelly, from Saint Olaves, Kinsealy, Co Dublin had been investigated for breaking the Childcare Act and pre-school services regulations.
The prosecution was brought by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA) as a result of the expose “Breach of Trust”, by RTE's investigations unit, which aired in 2013.
RTE provided the CFA with 40 hours of footage secretly filmed by an undercover reporter. A two-day hearing was scheduled to take place later this month however all charges against Ms Kelly were dropped at Dublin District Court today.
Pleas of guilty were then entered by her company, the Links Creche and Montessori Ltd, to eight remaining charges for "failing to take all reasonable measures to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of a pre-school child attending the service”.
The charges also involve regulations to “ensure that no practices that are disrespectful, degrading, exploitative, intimidating, emotionally or physically harmful or neglectful were carried out in respect of any child”.
None of the hidden camera footage was shown and the undercover reporter was not required to give evidence during the hearing today.
The incidents happened on eight dates from February 25th until March 21st, 2013, and 99% of them involved one “rogue member of staff” who no longer works there, Judge John O'Neill was told.
Solicitor David McCoy, for the CFA, gave a summary of the incidents. He said that on February 25th a toddler had soiled herself and was “shouted at by a staff member”.
Two days later, a staff member would not give a child a soother and shouted at the child, pushed the child on the floor before shouting and grabbing their beaker. On March 5th, Mr McCoy continued, a child was lifted from a mattress and put on the floor. On the next day a creche worker grabbed a beaker from a child who became wet; the child was “rough-handled on a chair” and was later forcibly put on a mat on the ground.
Mr McCoy said that on March 14th, a girl was “slammed in a chair and shouted at for trying to feed herself”, was then “cursed at” and later “rough handled on another chair”. On March 19th, a crying child was left unattended and later a staff member “shouted in the child's face”.
The CFA solicitor said that on March 20th, a creche worker was shouting at a child, grabbed their beaker and threw it and toys at the child who was rough handled by being flipped, lifted and then dropped on a sleeping mat. On the last date, one of the children who did not like their dinner was shouted at, the court head. Mr McCoy said RTE handed over footage to the CFA who carried out an investigation.
Defence counsel Justin McQuade said Ms Kelly accepted that these matters were extremely serious and the CFA agreed there was a high level of co-operation with inspectors who investigated the complaints.
Mr McQuade said the recent inspections of the pre-school facility had resulted in a “glowing report” and there were no further breaches of the regulations. Counsel said the creche was a modern, purpose-built facility which provides excellent childcare services. He asked the judge to note that 99% of the incidents involved a single staff member who had worked there for 12 months and since then that worker was “dealt with in an appropriate fashion”.
He also said that there was between 40 and 200 hours of video footage showing proper and appropriate childcare and no untoward activity. He said Ms Kelly's company employed 200 people in her facilities and he pointed out that one of her other premises had also been subject to an undercover investigation but “nothing came to light”.
He asked the court to note that there was “an abundance of material from parents who had children in the creche, wishing her well and thanking her”.
The creche owner, who has run the business for 11 years, remained silent throughout the hearing. Mr McQuade said Ms Kelly was a “very private lady who has been subject to a fair amount of unwanted public attention”.
The court also heard that her company has agreed to contribute approximately €2,000 to the prosecution's costs.
Counsel defending said the childcare provider had rigorous employment procedures requiring Garda vetting and references but “notwithstanding that you had a member of staff, a slightly rogue member of staff, that was a bit noisy and a bit rough”.
Judge O'Neill heard the court had the power to fine the company up to €1,269. Mr McCoy, prosecuting, said the court can also make an order suspending the creche from providing childcare services, but “that is not something the CFA would be asking”.
The charges that were initially brought against Ms Kelly were for failing to have staff, students and volunteers with access to children vetted by gardaí, and it was also alleged she breached record keeping regulations. However, they were all withdrawn.
Judge O'Neill said no fault applied to her “in any shape or form”.
In relation to the charges against her company, Judge O'Neill said he noted their contribution to costs, the guilty plea and their co-operation, and that they had no prior convictions. The judge also said almost all the incidents involved the same staff member who no longer works there and he noted that parents who had availed of the creche were highly complimentary to the proprietor.
He said it, “appears to have been an isolated incident”.
Judge O'Neill fined Ms Kelly's company €1,000 on one charge and said he was taking the remaining seven counts into consideration. The fine must be paid within two months, the court ordered.