The Children’s Rights Alliance said scenes shown in the programme, including toddlers being placed in rooms on their own or being restrained for lengthy periods, was “harrowing” and “unacceptable”.
The alliance’s acting chief executive, Maria Corbett, said: “Clearly, there must be consequences for any incident of ill-treatment of children. There must also be a political response to improve the quality of care in creches and other child-minding facilities.”
She said five steps were urgently needed:
*That the country’s first National Early Years’ strategy be properly resourced and child-centred;
*An implementation plan is needed to support the roll-out of Síolta and Aistear, standards governing the early years’ sector;
*The HSE urgently inspect childcare settings that have had not been inspected in the past year, with inspection reports published and acted on;
*Upskilling and training for the workforce;
*And the quality across the early care and education sector be audited.
Amid calls for greater State involvement, Children At Risk in Ireland said it was now time for an end to “light touch regulation in the pre-school sector”.
CEO Mary Flaherty said: “Creches nationwide are breaching mandatory standards of good practice and the Government need to ensure levels of compliance are adhered to before they facilitate ongoing funding.
“Excellent early years practice (Síolta and Aistear) needs to be implemented nationally or mainstreamed into the early years sector. Staff need to be educated and supported, services must be registered and appraised, and funding mechanisms instigated.”
Start Strong, a coalition of groups focussing on early education, said action was needed to raise standards across the childcare sector.
Its acting director, Toby Wolfe, said: “High quality early care and education can be hugely beneficial for children, and we know that there is much good practice in services across Ireland. However, it is clear that there is also bad practice, which — as Prime Time showed — can be harmful to children. Overall, quality is variable, and the lack of assurance is unacceptable.”
He said investment was needed to achieve a 60% workforce in the sector, as “unfortunately, the problem of low wages, poor working conditions, and insufficient numbers of trained staff is widespread”.
On Twitter, children’s lawyer Gareth Noble of KOD/Lyons said: “[The] biggest problem in child law is that so much of what we do is reactive rather than proactive. Why were creche reports not always available?”
Irene Gunning, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland fines and reductions in state monies should be available as options in cases of non-compliance. She added that more training was essential.
Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said she was seeking a meeting with the HSE to discuss her “serious concerns”, amid questions over whether the footage in the programme were isolated incidents or representative generally of what was happening in creches.
“It’s really important that parents can trust the people who are looking after their children on a day-to-day basis,” Ms Logan said.
Elsewhere, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who has mooted a possible second free pre-school year, said she was “extremely upset and distressed” watching the Prime Time programme.
“I think for anybody who has been a parent or who has been involved with children in creches, the sight of a two-year-old being strapped into chairs at a time when they are at their most active and their most demanding, I thought that was really regrettable,” she said.
Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, formerly Children’s Rights Alliance CEO, said:
“My concern would also be if a parent was to report a concern with regard to a creche, will there be a response from the HSE?
“I’m not convinced that there will be a response, and that’s not acceptable.”
Marian Quinn of the Association of Childcare Professionals said training was “prohibitively expensive” and the funding structure needed to be changed.
*Creches operating without insurance for years.
While the most disturbing of the findings were in no way common to all creches, what was common and apparent across the whole industry was the breaching of staff/child ratios; the lack of proper training, the lack of transparency and accountability, inadequate regulations and the lack of political will to do anything about it.