herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Gardai to probe scandal at creche chain hit by expose

The Hyde and Seek creche in Finglas Road, Glasnevin
The Hyde and Seek creche in Finglas Road, Glasnevin
A still from the RTE Prime Time Investigates programme which uncovered disturbing practices at the childcare chain

The creche chain at the centre of a damning undercover exposé is to be investigated by the Garda Child Protection Unit.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has obtained a copy of the secretly-filmed television footage showing mistreatment of children at centres run by the Hyde and Seek company and handed it over to gardai.

Gardai in two Dublin stations are asking parents or guardians who have complaints to contact them.

A garda spokesman said they are "aware of issues raised by the RTE Prime Time Investigates programme" broadcast on Wednesday night.

"If any parent or guardian has any concerns in relation to this matter they can contact the gardai at Mountjoy on 01-666 8600 or Pearse Street on 01-666900," he said.

Assault

Gardai in Mountjoy are separately investigating an alleged assault on a young girl at one of the creches earlier this month.

Officers visited the premises and it is understood no arrests have been made.

A spokeswoman for Tusla said: "An Garda Siochana are notified where there is identifiable harm to children of a child protection nature."

Parents of children attending the chain's creches spoke yesterday of their distress at the revelations.

"We are devastated by what was revealed by the programme," a group of around 30 parents said in a statement.

"We trusted the creche to provide the standards of care it advertised and undertook to provide, at all times, and from all carers. This trust was badly misplaced."

Tusla said yesterday that it was already taking enforcement proceedings against the chain and it would be using the footage, taken by two undercover childcare workers, to speed up the action.

The programme showed flagrant breaches of safety, including blocked fire exits, crammed cots, a lack of garda vetting of staff, and children being forcibly held down to make them go to sleep.

Milk was diluted with water and children were served cheap noodles instead of the vegetable dish on the menu given to parents.

Tusla said it had closed down five creches since the beginning of last year for contravening child welfare and protection laws.

A spokesman for Hyde and Seek, one of whose owners, Anne Davy, has stepped down from front-line work, said they would be calling in external consultants to look at the service.

He insisted the "overall picture it painted does not reflect who we are, but there are specific issues we need to address and are addressing quickly".

"One of the first changes we make will be the recruitment of a new manager at our Tolka Road creche, which was the focus of much of the criticism in the programme," he added.

"We know we need to work to rebuild, retain and enhance the trust our parents have in us.

"We have spoken to many of them in recent days and would urge others with concerns to contact us.

"We are available to talk to and meet parents at any time."

Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said any childcare facility that continually flouts regulations must face sanctions, funding cuts and closure.

"The question has to be asked whether centres that fail to comply with regulations should get any government funding at all toward parents' childcare fees," she said.

Hyde and Seek received €1.25m in state funding to cover subsidised childcare over the last five years.

"A Programme for A Partnership Government committed to withdrawing funding from providers that do not meet quality standards in the free pre-school scheme," said Ms Ward.

"We are calling on the Government to expedite this commitment and introduce a new Quality Mark to ensure that public money doesn't go to non-compliant providers."

Tusla, which is responsible for regulating 4,500 creches and childminders, said that if a creche provider is prosecuted under the current regulation they are prohibited from operating an early years' service.

"If a provider is removed from the register they are entitled to make a new application which the Tusla Early Years' Inspectorate will consider," a spokeswoman said.

Appalled

She added that inspections should happen every three years, but they are done more regularly than this.

Where there is an immediate concern, it can trigger an immediate inspection.

All registered providers have been inspected and most are compliant with the majority of regulations, she added.

Speaking in Donegal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "I think I speak for everybody in the country when I say that I was really appalled by what we saw on Prime Time in relation to the way that children were treated.

"And I know that a lot of parents dropping their kids off to creche or to pre-school this morning must have been that little bit more worried or that little bit more nervous.

"But we do want to reassure people that this was just about one particular chain, and we're confident that what people saw last night doesn't reflect standards across the creche sector, or the childcare sector, or the preschool sector at all.

"We do have some very strong regulations and the number of inspectors has doubled."

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