The HSE has defended its pre-school inspection service following criticisms by a District Court judge.
At Edenderry District Court, Judge Alan Mitchell said the HSE must be more proactive in cases where childcare providers are not improving their services after inspections.
He imposed a three- month suspended prison sentence on a pre-school operator who pleaded guilty to 20 breaches of childcare regulations.
He also banned Tracey Stynes, of Graceland Playschool, of Greenwood Park, Edenderry, from operating a facility for 12 months until she completes a management course.
He expressed his grave concern that Stynes’s facility has been inspected 11 times in the four years since it opened, yet standards had deteriorated. He questioned the purpose of inspections if conditions get progressively worse, and said Stynes may not have understood what was expected of her following previous inspections.
In a statement, the HSE said it has noted the judge’s concerns and said the HSE Preschool Service for the Midlands achieves an inspection rate of 95% to 98% and has four times the national average rate of prosecutions.
The court heard how the safety of children was at risk in a dirty and dangerous facility where their developmental needs were not met.
During a visit in March to the playroom attached to Stynes’s home, HSE inspectors found eight children aged between two and four and a half years old. In her private kitchen and sitting room, Stynes also had four children under two.
A looped metallic wire attached to the underside of the kitchen table posed “a serious risk of strangulation” and a dirty plank held up a shelf holding a TV satellite box which could easily have fallen on a child’s head.
The children had access to household chemicals and a broken picture frame, and had dirty couches and dirty buggies to sleep in. The outdoor area was not fenced giving children access to the road and unauthorised adults access to them.
Toys and equipment were broken and damaged and conditions were too dangerous for toddlers to explore. One child had a piece of broken clothes peg in his mouth and another was playing with a plastic bag during an inspection.
Stynes has spent €4,500 improving the facility since her follow-up inspection in Jun 2013 and had been “overly helpful” in taking in children for free to help families. She apologised and admitted she had let some things slip because of financial difficulties but said her circumstances have improved and she will offer a better service in future.
Judge Mitchell described her attitude as “laissez faire” and said she had neglected her duties.