Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Child Care Services
Question 26: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she expects to finalise a plan to update screening and monitoring of childcare facilities; the number of inspections of childcare facilities carried out in 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33387/12]
Preschool services, including child minding services, are currently regulated under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991.
Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, including the inspection of child care facilities, was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. The notification and inspection service is managed by the preschool inspection teams of the HSE appointed by the executive as authorised persons for this purpose. These teams also provide an advisory service to the services which are statutorily required to notify in order to assist them in achieving and maintaining the appropriate standard. They also provide information to interested persons, including parents, on preschool services in the area.
Following inspection of a service the inspectors provide the service provider with a report on the outcome of the inspection. I understand the HSE is committed to working towards the on-line publication of the standard inspection reports of preschool facilities and I welcome that. In the meantime the HSE is encouraging child care providers to share the information in the reports with parents when requested, and that should happen.
I understand from information supplied by the HSE that 2,789 inspections were undertaken, 704 review and follow-up inspections and 755 advisory visits were made to child care facilities in 2011. By international standards, that is a high proportion of visitation, at 61%, to child care facilities in any one year. Some other countries have a procedure with a roll-over of inspections so that one facility might be inspected every two or three years.
The early years sector has grown significantly over the last decade and in parallel with this new quality and curriculum frameworks have been introduced. In light of all of these developments, the regulation of the sector will be reviewed as part of the early years strategy. For the first time we will have a national strategy and I recently appointed the group to work and develop the policy. It is being developed to cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as health, family support, learning and development and care and education. It will identify the structures and policies needed to improve early years experience in Ireland and examine child care issues.
Reports in the past couple of weeks illustrated some of the issues with some child care and crèche facilities. That emphasises the importance of ensuring there is a good inspection regime and every effort is made to ensure there is quality in the provision of child care facilities. One of the issues highlighted related to one person looking after 22 children in one crèche. The vast majority of crèches run very well but we must ensure there is a robust inspection regime and every service receives a visit in a year to reassure parents that children are being cared for appropriately in a safe environment.
I agree that we must have a very clear focus on quality and standards in early years. Significant improvements have been made but there must be ongoing work to ensure there is a robust system of regulation and inspection. That is one of the reasons I have included in the terms of reference of the new early years group to review the inspection regime and make recommendations on how it can be strengthened and how the standards which should be met can best be achieved. We also need more consistency in the inspections currently being done.