“In past years, we have had far too much focus on building facilities and not enough on building children’s futures and that’s what we need to focus on now,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“It is unacceptable that, up to now, all anyone had to do was give notice of opening a facility to look after children,” said Ms Fitzgerald at the launch of the Association of Childhood Professionals.
She said the registration system and minimum training standard would be “built into” new contracts next year.
An undercover sting recently exposed the mistreatment of children in three creche facilities, with secretly recorded footage showing staff manhandling children, shouting at them, and snatching toys from their hands, and toddlers strapped in highchairs for hours.
Ms Fitzgerald said she had asked the head of the new child and family support agency, Gordon Jeyes, to examine inspection reports on private childcare provider chains to see what kind of pattern of care emerges.
She welcomed the establishment of the association that aimed to give a voice to an estimated 22,500 professionals.
Ms Fitzgerald said there was intense public focus on the quality of pre-school services and this represented a critical opportunity to deliver improvements and drive reform.
However, Ms Fitzgerald warned that there was no single solution to the challenge of delivering high quality childcare.
“We should not distil our national response to a narrow or overly simplistic focus on single aspects of the current debate such as, for example, inspections.”
ACP chairwoman Marian Quinn was delighted Ms Fitzgerald had set a deadline for the introduction of minimum qualification.
She said the area also needed accessible progression routes for training, a proper career path and remuneration structure.
“It is unsustainable to continue with the current very high rate of staff turnover and short-term contract working,” said Ms Quinn.
“Research shows that those who are best qualified are leaving the sector for areas with career paths.”
ACP is calling for an initial statutory minimum requirement for all childhood professionals on a Fetac Level 5 Childcare qualification, together with a national register, with only those who are qualified and registered being eligible for employment.
“This should apply for both those working in childcare centres and preschools and also for professionals who are contracted to care for children in the home,” said Ms Quinn.
Highlights from the Department’s of Children’s childcare improvement plan.
- Increase the required qualification standards of childcare staff.
- Introduce registration of all childcare providers.
- Develop a more robust, consistent and regular inspection system.
- Publish inspection reports.
- Ensure action is taken in response to findings of non-compliance.
- Increase sanctions for non-compliant childcare providers.