Minister admits delays in filling child inspector posts nationally
Nine months after a TV programme revealed shocking standards of care in three creches, there are still no childcare inspections in some parts of the country.
RTÉ’s documentary A Breach of Trust focused on creches in Dublin and Wicklow.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald admitted that a number of child inspector posts were unfilled.
She said a “core problem” for the new Child and Family Agency was that there were vacancies for inspectors in some parts of the country, so in some areas there were no inspections.
She said eight posts were being filled to address the problem and that this year she had got an additional €500,000 in funding to help the Child and Family Agency to further strengthen the inspectorate.
Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy asked why it had taken so long to fill the vacancies: “It is not an acceptable length of time,” he said.
Ms Fitzgerald said it was important to have the money to recruit the inspectors and then put the recruitment process in place.
Service director of the Child and Family Agency, Gerry McKiernan, who has responsibility for the Early Years inspection services, said there had been two rounds of interviews in recent months for inspectors to fill the vacancies.
“Preferred candidates have been chosen for each location and are being deployed as we speak,” he said. Panels had also been formed from which any new posts would be filled.
The new posts would be deployed to where they were most needed and an assessment process was being carried out.
Mr McKiernan said 2,432 inspections of childcare facilities were carried out last year. More than 300 complaints were received and eight prosecutions were instituted. “I want to make it clear that we are open for business in relation to complaints, referrals and requests for advice and information,” he said.
When complaints were received a risk assessment was undertaken immediately, with the most serious prioritised for immediate investigation.
Mr McKiernan said the agency accepted that there had to be a national inspection process, with no region left uncovered.
However, even with the current inspection deficit, it was still possible to deploy staff from neighbouring areas to address issues that arose on any given day.
“That has been happening since the Breach of Trust programme and will continue to be the case until we have national coverage.”
The minister also responded to concerns about the length of time it was taking for Garda vetting of childcare staff.
An additional 40 staff had been appointed to the Garda Central Vetting Unit based in Thurles, Co Tipperary.
While there had been huge improvements, waiting times still varied between six and 10 weeks.
Ms Fitzgerald said her department had discussions with the Data Protection Commissioner and were looking at a range of potential solutions.
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