Speaking in the wake of yesterday evening’s RTÉ Investigates programme Behind Closed Doors, Minister Zappone expressed her shock and anger at the mistreatment of children in the crèches investigated.
Commenting on the undercover footage, Minister Zappone said, “I was appalled and horrified. I share parents’ distress at seeing young children being subjected to such abhorrent behaviour. I am disgusted by what I saw.”
Minister Zappone acknowledged that many parents who saw the programme will be worried for their own children who attend crèches. However, she assured parents that a number of authoritative and independent sources have assured her that the vast majority of services meet required standards.
She also expressed her confidence in Tusla, the independent regulator of these services, and gave assurance that Tusla has been taking robust action to address the poor standards and management failings in the crèches that were focus of the RTÉ Investigates programme. However, the evidence presented last night was new and not available to the Inspectors up to now. She acknowledged that Tusla has closed 5 services in the last 18 months and is at advanced stages of enforcement process with many others. Evidence such as that gathered by RTÉ or provided by parents and staff can assist Tusla with its enforcement procedures.
Tusla has inspected the crèches covered in the RTÉ programme a number of times under the new Regulations that came into force in 2016. Whenever it has identified failings, it has required changes. Tusla has been actively pursuing enforcement actions in relation to the services. Tusla took one of the services to Court earlier this year for operating without registration. The service is now registered with conditions, which Tusla continues to actively monitor.
While stressing that mistreatment of children is never acceptable, Minister Zappone cautioned that due process must be followed in all Tusla’s investigations. This is ultimately to protect children and ensure that justice is served.
The RTÉ investigation offered many reminders of the 2013 RTÉ investigation, A Breach of Trust, be it that last night’s programme was in relation to one service owner in particular. Minister Zappone noted that standards have risen across the board since 2013. While RTÉ has again captured management failings and mistreatment of children on camera, Minister Zappone believes information available points to these being the exception.
Minister Zappone said, “While there is clearly more to be done to improve quality standards, we have come a long way and we must maintain this momentum for several years to come. My Department has introduced a minimum qualification for all staff working with children in crèches or pre-school services, we established a national Quality Development Service where experts are available to mentor and advise Early Learning and Care practitioners, and this year I introduced – for the first time – Regulations for school-age childcare.”
Minister Zappone continued, “In addition, Tusla was given new powers in 2016 and I have substantially increased Tusla’s funding, which has enabled it to nearly double the number of inspections since 2014 and to address malpractice where it is found. Tusla has deregistered 5 services in the last 18 months, others have closed down as a result of its efforts, 95 services have had conditions attached to their registration in 2019 alone, and the services filmed by RTÉ had already been the subject of on-going investigation and action by Tusla. Tusla’s enforcement activity is gathering strength and pace and my Department will do everything it can to support further development”
Minister Zappone reiterated the commitment in First 5 (the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families) to review the Regulations for early years services. As part of this review, she said that she will be asking officials in her Department to examine whether Tusla needs and can be given additional powers to close down or suspend services immediately where it has critical concerns, and to examine ways to ensure that parents are informed at the earliest possible date of the findings of its investigations. She encouraged all parents and staff to report poor practice so that it can be effectively addressed, and she thanked those who have provided such information to Tusla to assist with regulatory and enforcement actions.
Notes for editors:
- The footage in the RTÉ Investigates programme, Behind Closed Doors, focused on crèches that are part of a single family-run group of businesses. The services are – and have been – subject to investigation by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which is the independent statutory regulator and inspectorate of early years services. Because of the risk of prejudicing the outcome of on-going investigations, neither Tusla nor the Minister is able to comment on the detail of Tusla’s investigations.
- Earlier in 2019, Tusla took the provider to Court for operating one of the crèches without registration. The service is now registered with conditions attached to the registration.
- Under Section 58D of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended by the Child and Family Agency Act 2013), where a person is convicted under that Part of the Act or is convicted of a related offence, Tusla may remove that person from the register. However, only convictions since 2016 may be taken into account. While the provider of some of the crèches shown in the RTÉ programme has prior convictions, these were from before 2016 and may not be taken into account by Tusla.
- The 2013 amendments to the Child Care Act 1991, and the 2016 Regulations that were developed as a result, have given Tusla important new powers, including: creating a register of services, giving Tusla the power deregister services, and giving Tusla the power to attach conditions to a service’s registration.
- Where Tusla seeks to de-register a service, it must give the service 21 days notice of its intention to do so, together with evidence for its action. The service may appeal this to the District Court. The time frame for this process varies.
- Investment in Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare services has increased by 117% over the last 4 budgets, to address access, affordability and quality.
- Reforms undertaken since the 2013 RTÉ Prime Time Investigates documentary, A Breach of Trust, include:
- The publication of all inspection reports. (Publication takes place at the end of a robust process that includes giving the provider the right of reply.)
- The introduction of a minimum qualification requirement for staff working directly with children in early learning and care services. (The minimum requirement is a full qualification in Early Childhood Care and Education at Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications. 22% of staff in the sector have degrees and this is incentivised through higher capitation payments from DCYA for graduates delivering the ECCE programme.)
- A move to systematically carry out inspections on an unannounced basis.
- A significant increase in funding for Tusla’s inspectorate, resulting in an increase in the number of (whole-time-equivalent) inspectors from 37 in 2014 to 58 today. As a result there has, since 2014, been a 90% increase in the number of inspections carried out each year. In 2018, Tusla carried out 2,513 inspections. (There are currently 4,435 early learning and care services registered with Tusla.)
- Major reform of the Tusla Inspectorate’s governance and management structure in 2015. The Inspectorate now operates on a national basis, with consistent operational policies and procedures, and enhanced line management and supervisory structures.
- Establishment within Tusla’s Early Years Inspectorate of an Unsolicited Information office in January 2018, to process information, concerns and complaints about early years services.
- Introduction of the first-ever Regulations for School-Age Childcare Services, which came into force in February 2019. As a result of the new Regulations, the registration process for all school-age childcare services is currently under way, and it will now be possible for Tusla to inspect school-age services, which was previously not possible.
- Introduction of – and substantially increased funding for – a range of quality initiatives, including: the Better Start Quality Development Service (established in 2014) which employs 130 mentors to advise and support early learning and care services; education-focused inspections of the ECCE programme by the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate (begun in 2016); a dedicated “Learner Fund” to support upskilling of staff (since 2014); and a significant increase in funding for staff training.
- Publication in 2018 of First 5, the Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young children and their Families, which sets out a 10-year vision to improve quality in the Early Learning and Care sector and includes a commitment to review the Regulations, to have a graduate-led workforce and to double public investment.