The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has said that safeguards exist against low-quality early learning and care services.
Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee have said that the vast majority of early learning and care services in this country offer caring and nurturing services.
Safeguards include the Tusla Inspectorate, the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate of ECCE services, the Better Start Quality Development Services and local Childcare committees.
All staff working in early learning and care are 'mandated reporters' under Children First legislation and are required, in law, to inform Tusla of any welfare concerns.
Training has been made available to them to assist with this duty.
The Tusla Early Years Inspectorate was given significant additional powers three years ago. It has the power to:
- Maintain a register of early years’ services,
- Place conditions on that registration, or to refuse to register, or to remove a service from the register where that service is not operating in accordance with the regulations,
- Prosecute a service that has not complied with a condition of registration,
- Prosecute a person or persons who are operating an unregistered service,
- Re-examine the registration status of every service on at least a three-yearly cycle.
Tusla de-registered five services in the last 18 months, resulting in their closure, and attached conditions to 95 other services this year.
Other services closed voluntarily due to being unable to meet the standards required.
Tusla also uses an unsolicited information office to gather evidence against crèche businesses.
Only services that are registered services receive funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Registered services are published on Tusla's website, https://www.tusla.ie/services/family-community-support/pre-school-services/
Minister Katharine Zappone announced in recent days her intention to add to Tusla's powers. New powers being explored include:
- Power to close a service immediately where it has failed to register (rather than having to go to court),
- Power to immediately close a service (already registered) where Tusla has evidence of a very serious breach of regulations,
- Power to inform parents as early as possible regarding ongoing investigation/proceedings,
- Power to require services to display in a prominent position the registration status, and any conditions attaching to the service.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) is exploring powers to send in an interim management team, for services that have been closed, to enable families to opt for continued service provision under new management.