31 May 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Footage showing emotional and physical mistreatment of children in three crèches in Dublin and Wicklow will have shocked and appalled those who watched Tuesday night’s Prime Time investigation programme on RTE.

The programme itself, and its preceding publicity, raises legitimate public concerns about the adequacy of the safeguards in place in this area, and the manner in which standards at childcare facilities in this country are operated.

It is important, however, to strike an objective and proportionate response to the RTE exposé – witnessing children being treated cruelly or with disrespect generates powerful emotions, but these instances do not represent the norm, and the very many dedicated and compassionate professionals working in the childcare sphere will have been as upset as any parent to witness their perpetration.

This realisation does not mitigate the fact that such treatment should not be happening at all.

It is for the civil authorities to act upon the particular evidence the programme compiled and presented – while some staff have been suspended or dismissed as a consequence, there would appear to be substance for a criminal investigation of some of the actions depicted.

Wider statutory obligations arise in ensuring that no scope exists for abuses of the duty of trust that parents reside in those into whose care they entrust their children.

The announcement by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald that inspection reports on crèche facilities will now be published online within weeks is welcome – but surely this information should have been expediently and openly available as of right before now?

It seems evident that the demand for childcare facilities in this country has expanded over recent years at a rate beyond the capacity of both the providers and the statutory authorities to meet while ensuring that training and monitoring standards are uniformly high.

There is a remnant of a view in Irish society that it is for parents themselves to care for their children until they reach school age, and that devolving this function to outside agencies is an abrogation of responsibility.

While the view may receive some resuscitation in the current controversy, it is an anachronistic one.

What was once the standard family model no longer universally pertains, and modern economic reality as well as changed gender roles in society dictates that paid childcare is a necessity rather than an option for many.

In social conditions where both parents must work out of necessity rather than choice, childcare services have become essential.

This unprecedented demand has created unprecedented pressures on training providers and health care inspectors to ensure that the standards of education and care delivered to children are of the highest, and the physical environments in which the service is delivered meet health and safety requirements.

The forces of demand and supply in this area have followed their own immutable course, but it is questionable whether sufficient resources have been provided by successive Governments to ensure that in all instances the desired standards are being met.

The question also arises as to whether the career path in childcare has come to be regarded as an ‘easy option’, and is entered into by some without full cognisance of what can be exacting emotional demands – is there a small but nonetheless significant number of people who find themselves working in an area of care they are not temperamentally suited for?

The work being done by organisations in our own circulation area, such as the Border Counties Childcare Network, to ensure that high standards of care are provided, and that children are looked after in childcare environments with respectful affection and provided with a range of stimulating activity, is extremely commendable.

It should act as an antidote to the outbreak of moral panic that the Prime Time programme will inevitably ignite – and reassure parents that the nurturing of their children in crucial formative years remains in the overwhelming majority of cases in very safe and kindly hands.

But the RTE investigation can serve an important cautionary purpose.

It should alert parents to the crucial importance of being discriminating and continually attentive in the choice of childcare provision they avail of, whether that is the child-minder they invite into their own home or the crèche or play school facility they leave their children to each morning.

And it should caution the relevant Government Departments that they must match with commitment of funding and human resources their oft-repeated rhetoric about the cherishing of children.

The horrible crime of selling drugs is occurring far too frequently in Monaghan and Cavan, Judge Sean MacBride stated at Monaghan District Court this week.

Judge MacBride was commenting when imposing a substantial custodial sentence on an 18-year-old person convicted of the crime.

The notable success of the Gardaí in our circulation area in apprehending drug dealers, and the consistent severity of court sentencing they are subjected to, supplies reassuring evidence of the protections the institutions of criminal justice are attempting to provide to our local communities against this rising problem.

But the prevalence of so-called ‘soft’ drugs usage in our midst is only partially reflected in the statistics of arrest and conviction.

Judge MacBride’s remarks on the extent of drug dealing – and the shockingly young age of the latest offender in this regard to appear before him – raises disturbing questions over prevailing attitudes to this form of crime.

A product is only peddled if there is demand for its supply – and there is much evidence, both from our courts and anecdotally, that the provision and consumption of cannabis and similar drugs is highest in our locality among people who are still in, or have just emerged from, their late teens.

A misguided cachet of ‘cool’ often attaches to this form of activity among young people, who are thankfully still at an age when they can be disabused of this notion by responsible adult example and clear parental guidance.

But we wonder if adult attitudes to some forms of drugs offending have grown ambivalent in our county, and if this is a reason for the numbers of young people dabbling with a potentially very destructive activity?

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