Statement from Early Childhood Ireland re Inspection Process on foot of Irish Independent 2nd July feature
“On foot of the Irish Independent feature 2nd July regarding complaints from parents and the HSE inspection process for the childcare sector citing a number of unacceptable cases which are simply not defensible, Early Childhood Ireland has the following points to make about the inspection process in Ireland and how it can be improved.
“As the representative group for over 80% of preschools and day care centres supporting over 80,000 children nationwide, Early Childhood Ireland and our members fully support the Inspection Process.
“There is no excuse for the bad practice detailed in the Irish Independent feature. Strict ratios are there to protect children and they must be strictly adhered to; the health and safety of children is at the very heart of what our members do and, as such seeking medical attention when required and filling in timely and accurate accident reports are part of this process; there is no excuse for dangerous procedures in relation to child safety and proper disciplinary procedures and we will not defend the indefensible.
“However, it is important to widen this debate about the national Inspection Process and to make certain recommendations to improve it, something we are doing as part of our pre budget submission and our contribution to the Early Years Strategy.
“The national inspection process must be frequent, consistent and fully transparent and it is in everyone’s interest to put all inspection reports on line. It is also important to give those inspected a right to reply and to ensure that they have an opportunity to show how issues were / are being addressed.
“Today’s inspection rate of just over 60% of the registered 4,500 providers in Ireland is not good enough. However, it is not surprising given the shortage of inspectors around the country and the inability of the HSE due to the staff embargo to replace inspection staff when necessary. We are calling on the Government and the HSE to ensure that the inspection programme is broad enough to do a national job and to reach all 4,500 providers in a timely manner.
“Early Childhood Ireland also has a role to play in engaging with the HSE inspectors to ensure the inspection process is consistent around the country, which it is not at this point in time. Apart from having regular, consistent and transparent inspections Early Childhood Ireland would like to see an inspection process that focuses on the dynamic elements of quality for example, the child’s wellbeing, learning and development and the adult/child interactions as well as an inspection process that focuses on the static elements of quality such as space size, ratios and temperature.
“It is important when talking about Inspections to ensure a proper understanding of the strict ratios that apply in the early childhood care and education sector. Unlike the primary school sector, class sizes can’t be stretched year in year out. These ratios of 1:3 for babies, 1:6 for Toddlers and (since the last budget) 1:11 for preschoolers must be fully adhered to, for the health, welfare and well being of our children.
“In parallel with the debate about ratios of staff to children, we must also talk about quality and training. The Government effectively sets the price for childcare via the free preschool year. However, unlike primary, secondary and third level, there is NO payment outside contact time with children. That puts the onus on the preschool manager to fund training, mentoring, time spent on parent meetings and the time spent administering the free preschool year, OUTSIDE the government grant. This does not make economic sense and we would challenge any politician to spend just one week balancing the books in a preschool, while meeting the regulation requirements. We can’t have quality childcare in Ireland without continued investment in the quality and training of the professionals involved.
“Speaking of those childcare professionals. Many are paid minimum wage, some are paid below that. We have preschool and daycare managers finding it hard to stay afloat and finance is a key worry for our members, with many operating on a shortfall and others going out of business. Pay scales and career progression must be addressed, otherwise we will lose the best people from this sector.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of the child is what our members are all about. The feature in the Irish Independent must not be viewed in isolation, or somehow as a reflection of what’s the norm in the childcare arena. The case studies highlighted are the exceptions.
“There is no excuse for bad practice and those not adhering to the strict ratios and to the childcare regulations will be weeded out. However, there is excellent practice happening every day and it is so important for this Government to ensure we have an Inspection process that has the breadth and scope to work and that the professionals involved in the early childhood care and education sector are recognized for the great job they do every day.”