Update on Childcare Sector after Prime Time exposé

DÁIL QUESTION
addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Ms. Fitzgerald)

by Deputy Brendan Griffin

for WRITTEN ANSWER on 16/07/2013

*  To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the action her Department has taken since the broadcast in May of Prime Time’s undercover exposé of issues of serious concern in the Childcare sector and if she will make a statement on the matter.; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Griffin

REPLY.

As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, driving the early childhood care and education quality agenda is one of my key objectives.  I recently announced a number of measures as part of my response to the distressing events highlighted in the Prime Time programme.

 It is my intention to introduce new qualification requirements for the sector starting in September 2014.  This will be an important new development as, at present, staff working in childcare services other than under the ECCE programme, are not subject to any requirement in respect of qualifications.

 The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme introduced the first-ever requirement for minimum qualifications for staff working in the childcare sector.  The current requirement under the programme is that the pre-school leader delivering the pre-school provision must hold a qualification in childcare/early education at a minimum of Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications of Ireland (NFQ), or an equivalent nationally-recognised qualification or a higher award in the childcare/early education field.

 I have indicated my intention to increase the qualification requirements for all staff working in pre-school services.  The minimum requirement of Level 5 for pre-school leaders delivering the pre-school year will be increased to Level 6.  In addition, all pre-school assistants, and all other staff caring for children in a pre-school service, will be subject to a minimum requirement of Level 5.  This requirement will be effective from September 2014 for new services, and from September 2015 for existing services.

 Pre-school services are governed by the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 as provided in the Child Care Act 1991. Under the Regulations the Health Service Executive has responsibility for the inspection of services and the enforcement of the regulations. Inspection is carried out to monitor compliance with the Regulations thereby ensuring the health, safety and welfare of children and the promotion of their development.

As I have outlined in recent weeks, a number of steps are being taken to improve the current inspection system.  These include the introduction of National Quality Standards for pre-school services later this year as part of the inspection process.  In addition, my Department is working with the Pre-School Inspectorate to develop new protocols on regulatory compliance so that there is greater clarity and consistency of approach as to how inspection reports deal with findings of serious non-compliance vis a vis minor breaches and full compliance.

My Department is also undertaking a review of the penalties currently in place for breach of the Child Care (Pre-school) Regulations, as provided for under the Child Care Act 1991.  The review will look at increasing the range and severity of the existing penalties including the actions which can be taken by Inspectors without recourse to court prosecution, as is currently the case. 

 In relation to the publication of pre-school service inspection reports, the HSE Pre-School Inspectorate is working to put these online.  I gave a commitment to have new reports, once completed, put online from 1 July 2013 and to have all reports available online as soon as possible.  My Department is supporting the HSE and Pobal in this work, and I understand that the first of these reports has recently been placed online.

 A new registration system will be introduced in September of this year and new services wishing to open will be required to register with the HSE.  The HSE will determine whether the childcare service is compliant in terms suitability and service design before the service will be permitted to operate.  Following commencement of the service, actual care and welfare practices will be inspected.

My Department is currently developing a new Children and Young People’s Policy Framework which will set out high level goals for both my own and other Departments for the next five years. The Policy Framework is expected to be published later this year and will build on Our Children – Their Lives, Ireland’s first Children’s Strategy which was published in 2000. This is relevant to the Early Years Strategy as the Strategy is one of three, more detailed strategies which will be developed under the Framework.

The Early Years Strategy, which will be Ireland’s first ever national strategy for early years, is under development. It is expected that it will cover a range of issues affecting children in their first years of life such as child health and well-being, parenting and family support, learning and development, play and recreation and early childhood care and education.

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