Expose sparks reform of childcare in Ireland

Katy Morton
Friday, June 14, 2013

Ireland's childcare system is to undergo major reform following a television programme that revealed below-standard care and mistreatment of children at some of the country's nurseries.

Ireland's children's minister Frances Fitzgerald said she found scenes from the programme broadcast on RTE 'distressing, shocking and absolutely unacceptable'.

She went on to say that the 'matters addressed in the programme deserve and demand a comprehensive response', and announced a number of changes to improve standards in the country's childcare facilities.

These changes include:

  • New national Pre-School Standards
  • A requirement that nurseries and creches register with the HSE (the body responsible for providing health and social care in Ireland and currently inspecting early years services), rather than notify the inspectorate of their intention to open a setting
  • Increasing sanctions for 'non-compliant' providers
  • Moving from regional inspection systems to a single, more robust national one
  • Publishing inspection reports online
  • Introducing minimum qualification requirements for those that work with children
  • Creation of a new Child and Family Agency that will have responsibility for child welfare and protection services, which includes taking over the inspection of pre-school services from the HSE.

The country's first ever Early Years Strategy is also expected to be published next year. Some of the items envisaged for inclusion in the new strategy include enhancing the quality of early years settings, improving educational outcomes and providing affordable childcare places to support parents to return to work.

A national curriculum framework for Early Childhood Care and Education in Ireland, entitled Aistear, currently exists to provide practical support and guidance to practitioners, but it is not statutory, unlike the EYFS.

A national quality framework for early education - Siolta - also exists, but it has only been available to a small number of settings as part of a pilot.

Creches and daycare services in Ireland are only required by law to meet the Childcare Regulations 2006, which they are inspected under.

Pre-school standards

Ms Fitzgerald told Nursery World that the new pre-school agenda will complement the Early Years Strategy and move to being play based and child-led.

She said, 'Pre-school education is critical for children and the economy. Ireland has a growing population and we have to invest in this resource.'

Inspection regime

There are plans to develop a comprehensive and broader-based inspection regime for early years settings.

The minister for children has said that inspections will 'move away from a narrow focus on compliance-only to a greater focus on children's outcomes, including educational development and child well-being'. The inspections will also be linked to the new Pre-School Standards.

Ms Fitzgerald said that the current regional spread of inspectors is being assessed with a view to redeploying inspectors to ensure effective coverage.

According to Irene Gunning, chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, a membership organisation for those who work with young children, the shortfall of inspectors and the fact that those who have left or retired have not been replaced has led to some settings waiting up to four years to be inspected.

Creches and daycare services are meant to be inspected once a year. She welcomed the proposed changes to inspections, saying there is not enough focus on practice and children's well-being.

Only one regulation (no.5) under the Childcare Regulations 2006 covers health, welfare and child development.

In Ireland, both public health nurses and environmental health officers inspect settings. Ms Gunning said she would like to see HSE also employ those with early childhood experience.

Other plans announced include a change in law to make it easier to prosecute providers that are not compliant with the Childcare Regulations.

Ms Fitzgerald has also confirmed that settings that demonstrate serious non-compliance could have their funding for the free pre-school year suspended or terminated.

Children are eligible for the free pre-school year, known as the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE), if they are over three years and two months old but younger than four years and seven months old on 1 September of the year they will be starting pre-school.


There are plans to develop the workforce and bring in a minimum qualification for those who work with children.

Ms Fitzgerald told Nursery World all practitioners will be required to have the minimum of a FETAC (Further Education and Training Awards Council) Level 5. On completion of a Level 5 students can apply to do a degree.



Ratios (based on full/part-time daycare)

  • 1:3 for children up to one
  • 1:5 for children aged one to two
  • 1:6 for children aged two to three
  • 1:8 for children aged three to six

Childcare inspections

Inspectorate HSE is responsible for inspecting pre-schools, playgroups, nurseries, creches, daycare and other services that cater for children aged 0 to 6 years old, under the Childcare Regulations 2006. Early years settings are meant to be inspected every year.



  • 1:3 for children under two
  • 1:4 for children aged two
  • 1:8 for children over three or 1:13 if led by a teacher

Childcare inspections

Ofsted says under the current inspection framework, it 'inspects all providers on the Early Years Register at least once every three to four years'.

From September, under the new framework, early years settings judged as 'requires improvement', replacing the satisfactory grade, will be subject to a re-inspection within two years. They will have a maximum of four years to become good.


The RTE Prime Time programme, A Breach of Trust, was broadcast on the Irish television channel at the end of last month.

Researchers went undercover in three creches in Dublin - Giraffe Childcare and Early Learning Centre in Belarmine, Links Childcare in Abington and Little Harvard Creche and Montessori in Rathnew.

The footage revealed that the settings were providing inadequate care, breaching regulations and in some instances children were being mistreated, including emotional and physical abuse.

Scenes showed children strapped into and left in chairs for hours, shouted and sworn at. In one setting, children were slammed on to mattresses when they did not settle down for a nap.

Staff admitted to fabricating children's daily records, and the cook at one setting said he did not have up-to-date information on the children's allergies.

Some of the settings failed to provide adequate sleeping arrangements and most did not adhere to the set ratios.

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