TV show exposes malpractice in Ireland

An undercover investigation by Irish TV channel RTÉ has exposed the mistreatment of children at a nursery group in the country.

  • Three Hyde & Seek settings in Dublin investigated
  • Undercover reporters reveal breaches and mistreatment

An undercover investigation by Irish TV channel RTÉ has exposed the mistreatment of children at a nursery group in the country.

RTÉ Investigates: Creches, Behind Closed Doors, which aired at the end of last month, revealed poor standards of care and serious breaches of regulations within three of Hyde & Seek Childcare’s four settings, including the mishandling of children.

It comes six years after RTÉ’s Breach of Trustprogramme which uncovered below-standard care and mistreatment of children at three Dublin crèches – Giraffe Childcare and Early Learning Centre in Belarmine, Links Childcare in Abingdon and Little Harvard Crèche and Montessori in Rathnew.

Owned by Anne and Peter Davy and daughter Siobhan Davy, Hyde & Seek Childcare’s crèches are located across Dublin city centre and cater for children from three months to the age of 12. The programme featured Tolka Road, Shaw Street and Glasnevin, the last of which went unregistered for 14 months with Tusla, the Irish equivalent of Ofsted.

RTÉ had two undercover researchers apply successfully for childcare positions within Hyde & Seek Childcare. Both had the required qualifications and were police-checked by the broadcaster, which also worked with two childcare experts, who provided an advisory role.

The researchers uncovered a failure to ensure staff were vetted before working with children and witnessed concerns about sleep room conditions. At the Tolka Road crèche, cots were so close together that staff found it difficult to provide appropriate care for children at nap times.

RTÉ observed frequent and significant breaches of adult: child ratios. On a number of occasions, one staff member was left alone with up to 20 children for periods of approximately one hour at a time. The programme also revealed instances of:

  • children being restrained in bouncers and high-chairs while, for example, staff carried out cleaning duties
  • milk being watered down
  • babies sleeping in bouncers
  • children not being given the meals advertised to parents. In one instance, babies were fed instant noodles
  • fire safety exits blocked.

RTÉ says poor practice was rarely performed by practitioners, but rather by the owner Anne Davy. In the footage, Mrs Davy can be seen forcing a child’s head down so he would sleep; covering another child’s eyes so she couldn’t make eye contact with staff; placing children on their stomachs to sleep, and waking up children if they fell asleep outside dedicated nap times.

In one instance, she gets annoyed at the toddlers in one of her settings because they are making the room untidy and threatens to speak to their parents. The children are then made to sit on the floor and not move or play with toys. Mrs Davy later admitted to RTÉ that she had ‘fallen short of what is expected, and regrets this’.

Previous breaches

In the past, Mrs Davy has been convicted for breaching a number of regulations. In 2004, for example, Tolka Road staff left a three-year-old boy on his own at a local playground. In 2007, she was found to have breached adult:child ratios and failed to keep records. During this time, the company changed name three times. Tusla inspection reports for Hyde & Seek crèches also identify numerous non-compliances.

According to Hyde & Seek Childcare, Mrs Davy no longer takes a role in ‘frontline childcare provision’ and a spokesperson for the company said, ‘The overall picture the programme 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 will make is to recruit a new manager for our Tolka Road creche, which was the focus of much criticism of the programme.

‘We have taken some steps to deal with urgent issues. For example, the fire safety issue in relation to the layout of the cot rooms in two of our creches has been resolved.

‘The programme suggested that at lunchtime in one of the creches there is a particular ratio problem, which we will address urgently. We dispute some of the details reported in the programme however.’

In response

Following the programme, Tusla, in July, inspected the Shaw Street crèche, which is subject to ongoing enforcement action. Hyde & Seek Tolka Road has been subject to a significant level of regulatory enforcement activity and referrals have been made to Tulsa’s child protection and welfare services.

Meantime, Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, Katherine Zappone, is looking into giving Tusla additional powers to close down or suspend services immediately when there are ‘critical’ concerns. She is also going to make establishing a professional regulator a priority.

Expert view

dr-mary-maloneyDr Mary Moloney from the Department of Reflective Pedagogy and Early Childhood Studies, University of Limerick, and chairperson of PLÉ Ireland, the national association of higher education institutions

‘The RTÉ Investigates programme was deeply disturbing. Parents, the public and early childhood providers are justifiably outraged and calling for the full rigour of the law to be applied. They are also asking how we can ensure that these practices cannot happen again.

‘While the Hyde & Seek debacle does not define the sector in Ireland, it does underscore an incompetent system that is characterised by fragmentation at multiple levels; governance, inspection, qualification and investment.

‘Difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff is widespread. Sectoral reform is a political and social imperative. While quality is driven by many factors, qualified staff and investment are critical. Although Ireland will move towards a graduate-led workforce by 2028, in the absence of consistent guaranteed investment, this objective alone will not stem staff turnover or guarantee quality of provision.

‘Qualifications alone are not a guarantor of quality, nor do they necessarily ensure professional practice. Currently, there is no deterrent for individual early childhood teachers who engage in unprofessional practice such as physical and emotional abuse of young children. As we look to the future, the sector needs:

  • ring-fenced consistent investment to ensure that the best staff can be recruited and retained
  • management and leadership training to build and support management capacity
  • a professional body to set standards, establish and maintain a national register of ECEC professionals, including registration and fitness to practice criteria and procedures for removal from the public register.’

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