Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

3:35 pm

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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77. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will report on the progress of digitising inspection reports of child care facilities and on establishing a central database for such important inspection reports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53809/13]

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I ask the Minister the progress made on the central digitised database for the inspection reports on child care facilities sent to Pobal. This is an important issue in the light of the revelations on "Prime Time" earlier this year.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Preschool services required under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 to notify their services to the Health Service Executive are subject to inspection by the preschool inspectorate on a regular basis. Previously, the inspection reports were generally held by the inspectorate in paper format and access to them had been an issue of concern, with many parents being required to make freedom of information applications. As part of the comprehensive preschool quality agenda, I asked the HSE to prepare the reports in order that they could be published online. I am pleased to report that the HSE commenced publication of retrospective preschool inspection reports online. I understand 1,912 preschool inspection reports have been published online. This figure includes 1,877 retrospective reports for the period to 1 July 2013. I also gave a commitment that new reports would also be put online when they were completed. I thank the inspectors and the staff of the HSE for completing this mammoth task. The paper reports had to be published online in a suitable format. In addition to the 1,877 retrospective reports, 35 new reports were completed since 1 July.

Parents should ask their child care providers for a copy of a report on their service. The vast majority, if not all, providers will give parents the most up-to-date report available. It is an important part of the information which parents should be able to access. Many services have begun to publish their reports or have made them otherwise available to parents. Pobal is hosting the publication of the reports which are available on its website.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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It is welcome that 1,912 documents are now online. It is important that parents know what is happening in their children's care facilities. The same applies to parents who are considering sending their children to a new care service. Responsibility for the new system of registration for the country's 4,000 child care facilities will rest with the Child and Family Agency from January 2014. I understand the requirement is that services will register next year and re-register every three years. Does the Minister believe every facility will be inspected within those three years and does she believe we need to move to a system under which every provider would be inspected every year?

3:40 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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That is an interesting question. It varies from country to country. In some services we have a higher rate of inspection, for example, than in the United Kingdom, which has a rolling system of inspections over 18 months to two years. If there is a problem in a service the inspectors go back in to check that improvements have been made, and there can be more than one visit in certain services. As we have these services registered - they now must register - every service will be registered in the timeframe we have outlined.

In terms of the working model for the numbers of inspections, given that there are 4,500 child care services, one inspection a year is probably not to be expected, but there would be rolling inspections. If there were any particular difficulties there would be extra inspections, or certainly inspectors would go back if there were complaints from parents or if any concerns were noted in a given area. There are also the local child care committees, which should have a good experience of the state of services in their area and, if there are particular concerns, can draw attention to them.

We are at an advanced stage of recruiting five additional inspectors in areas where gaps have been identified - that is, Louth, Dublin south-east, east Wicklow, Cavan-Monaghan, Sligo-Leitrim and west Cavan. There is a budgetary allocation of €500,000 in 2014 to further increase staffing levels to strengthen the preschool inspection scheme. As these inspectors are put in place we will be in a better position to examine how frequently the services can be inspected. That will be a more realistic assessment than has been possible up to now.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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If Deputy Kyne is happy enough with that, we will go on to Deputy Broughan's question.