'Sex assault of girl (4) shows why childcare workers should not be allowed to use mobiles at work'
The "appalling" sexual assault committed by a trainee Montessori teacher underlines the need for childcare workers not to use mobile phones at work, a childcare chief has said.
Teresa Heeney - chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, an advocacy group for 3,500 independent pre-schools and creches - said there were child protection issues and care issues involved in the use of mobile phones.
Montessori trainee teacher Kevin Muldoon (32) was jailed for five years this week after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl in a specialised playschool.
Gardai discovered 46 images of the girl sent from the man's phone to his email address, including images of her private parts and of him with his finger in her mouth.
When the unnamed Dublin playschool where the offence happened was contacted by the Herald yesterday, a man insisted the school had "nothing to say".
Ms Heeney said her organisation provides support and advice for pre-school centres which employ 20,000 staff nationwide, caring for 100,000 children.
"Early Childhood Ireland members are aware that it is inconsistent with good practice to carry mobile phones on their person while they are at work with young children," she said.
"And that's not just about child protection issues, but it is also about being present and engaged with the children while you are there.
"Mobile phones are a distraction. They are very pervasive and many of our members would have quite strict policies that phones are left in the staff room or lockers."
She said she wanted to reach out to the family of the young victim and express sympathy for the "awful experience they have been through".
"I also want to reach out to the tens of thousands of parents who have children in services countrywide who potentially are worried that there children are safe," she said.
"I want to tell them that members of Early Childhood Ireland are very aware that good recruitment practice, and good child protection practices, are something that you have to be vigilant about all the time.
"That includes good selection, good reference checking, good policies and procedures, good supervision, and, most importantly, good ongoing relationships and dialogue with children and families."
It appeared that garda vetting would not have identified Muldoon, as he had no previous convictions, which underlined the importance of ensuring "really robust supervision and recruitment policies and procedures", she said.
After this criminal case was brought to light, Early Childhood Ireland wrote to its 3,500 member centres to give them support to be able to engage in conversations and reassure parents, she told the Herald.
Ms Heeney said she felt some relief the victim had verbal skills to tell her parents about the "awfulness that had been done to her", and that her parents responded with speed.
She described the crimes as "awful and appalling".
A spokeswoman for Tusla, the State child and family agency, described Muldoon's crimes as "horrible".
She said all staff - including volunteer students - in pre-school centres must be thoroughly checked in terms of work references and garda vetting, and Tusla verifies that these rules have been obeyed when it carries out inspections.