Pre-school service regulation.
The HSE has overall charge of safety and welfare issues in pre-school services. In this context, pre-school children are those under six years of age, who are not attending a national school or an equivalent. They include playgroups, crèches, nurseries, child-minders, and similar services looking after more than three pre-school children.
Providers of pre-school care must register with the HSE. They are required to take steps to safeguard the health and welfare of children attending their services in accordance with the standards and requirements laid down by law.
The regulations divide pre-school childcare services into different categories.
Sessional services are playgroups, Montessori group, play schools and child-minders looking after more than three children. There is generally a pre-prepared program one up to 3.5 hours per session and possibly one to two sessions a day.
Part-time day care is a structured day care service for pre-school children for more than 3.5 hours and less than five hours per day. Full-time day-care is structured day care service more than five hours a day. They would typically include nurseries and crèches.
Child-minders care for children in their own home. They are covered by the legislation only when they look after more than three children.
A special child-minding tax relief provides that a child-minder minding up to three children may earn up to €15,000 a year without paying income tax thereon. They must however declare this in their income tax return. They must notify their local Childcare Committees that they are providing the services.
A pre-school service drop-in centre provides service where a pre-school child is cared for over a period of not more than 3 hours per day while the parent or guardian is attending an event or availing of a service.
Preschool care providers are exempt from notification to the HSE in the following cases:
- a relative of the child or spouse of such relative.
- a person looking after one or more pre-school children of the same family and no other such children other than his or her own in their own home.
- is not caring for more than three pre-school children from different families other than in their own home.
A person carrying on a pre-school service must ensure that each child’s learning, development and well-being is facilitated within the service provided. There must be appropriate experiences, activities, interactions, materials and equipment, having regard to the age and the developmental stage of the child and the child’s cultural background. They must be suitably equipped for stay backs and arrangements for emergency.
There are minimum numbers of staff prescribed. They must be suitable and competent. They are required to be over 18 years of age with adequate, appropriate experience in caring for children of this age. There must be vetting of all staff and volunteers who have access to children. Garda vetting is required. There are prescribed adult-child ratios and space ratios.
The regulations make different requirements in respect of sessional services, full-time, part-time day care, drop-in centres, child-minders and overnight pre-school services. The numbers of adults required is dependent on the age of the children. The ratio is one adult to three children under one years of age. There is prescribed floor area per child. The HSE may apply conditions in respect of the maximum number of children over and above the regulations.
Corporal punishment is not permitted. There must be written policies and procedures to deal with difficult behaviour which assist the child to manage his behaviour.
A register must be kept of pre-school children, containing details of each child attending including names, addresses, contact numbers and doctor’s number.
Parents must be given information regarding the service. This includes details of staff, persons in charge, ratios, maximum numbers, facilities, opening hours and fee.
Preschool premises including child-minders and drop-in centres and crèches must ensure the comply with the standards prescribed.
- The premises must be a sound and stable structure and suitable for providing services.
- There must be adequate space per child as specified.
- Fixtures, premises and fittings must be kept in a proper state of repair and condition in a clean and hygienic condition and protected from infestation.
- There must be adequate and suitable facilities for the child to rest and to play indoors and outdoors during the day.
- Furniture, work and play surfaces must be clean, non-toxic and kept in proper repair.
- The building must have adequate ventilation, lighting, sanitary accommodation, water storage and disposal.
- There must be adequate fire safety measures. Staff must be suitably trained. Staff and pre-school children must know the evacuation procedure.
- Heat surfaces must have guards and be thermostatically controlled.
- Gardens and play areas must be fenced and doors and gates must be secured to prevent children straying.
- Ponds, pits and other hazards must be fenced to ensure safety.
There must be suitable, nutritious and varied
There must be suitably equipped fire equipment and first aid box. There must be adequate arrangements to summon medical assistance promptly in the case of an emergency. There must be a protocol for the administration of medication.
There must be a designated person in charge who is able to deputise at all times. Such a person must be on the premises at all times when the service is being provided.
Staff must be vetted by way of reference from previous employers, reputable sources, Garda vetting or where not available, necessary police vetting from other jurisdictions.
There must be procedures to ensure no practices that are disrespectable, degrading, exploitative, intimidating, emotionally or physically harmful, neglectful are carried out in respect of any child.
Notification of a pre-school services is required to the HSE at least 28 days before commencement. A temporary drop-in centre requires 14 days’ notice . The form of notification is specified. A person carrying on services must notify certain changes in key particulars.
Representations must be made in respect of proposed conditions. The authority takes account of representations in making its decisions. The HSE should have regard to the age range, ratio, size and space in fixing the maximum number of pre-school children who may be catered for.
The register required to be kept must contain details of commencement and termination of attendance, names of parents and guardians, names and addresses of child, details of illness, disabilities, allergy, special needs, special care requirements, telephone number, record of immunisations, written parental consent for medical treatment in an event of an emergency. The register is open for inspection by parents, guardians, persons working at the service, and authorised officer.
Persons carrying on a service must keep records in writing of
- names, address, qualification and experience of all employees, volunteers and students.
- records relating to employees,
- details of maximum pre-school children catered for,
- details of types of services,
- details of staff-children ratio.
- types of care programs, facilities available,
- opening hours and fees,
- policies and procedures,
- details of attendance on a daily basis, staff rosters,
- details of medicine administered,
- details of accidents, injuries, and incidents involving a child attending the service.
The above records are open for inspection by an authorised person. Most information other than employee information is available to children and the parents.
There are detailed requirements in relation to premises and facilities. The premises must be a sound and stable structure, safe and secure. There must be adequate space per child. There must be suitable and secure storage facilities for cleaning chemicals, unsafe and toxic, dangerous and hazardous materials.
There must be adequate and suitable storage for prams, pushchairs, play equipment, and personal belonging. Premises must be rodent proof. There are requirements in relation to heating, sanitary accommodation, lighting and ventilation etc.
The HSE may require relevant information from a preschool service provider, which must be furnished.
Annual fees are payable to the authority in respect of registration. They varied on the type of service.
There are exemptions as above for persons
- taking care of one or more pre-children school by a relative of that child or spouse.
- taking care of one or more pre-children school of the same family.
- taking care of not more than three pre-children school of different families (excluding one’s own children).
Each of the above case apply to child minding in one’s own home.
The HSE has powers in relation to regulation of children’s residential centre. These include
- institutions managed for and on behalf of a Minister for the Government
- HSE premises ,
- institutions where the majority of children are being maintained for treatment for acute illness.
- institutions for the care and maintenance of physically or mentally handicapped children.
- certain certified school.
A children’s residential centre may not be undertaken other than by a provider who is duly registered by the HSE. The register must contain details of the premises, operator, accommodation, date of registration. The register is available for inspection by the public.
There are procedures for application of registration, variation and revocation of registration. Conditions may be attached. Information in a prescribed form is required.
Two months’ prior notice to such application is required to the health authorities for registration of a centre. Changes in key details affecting the centre must be notified for entry in the register.
Where in the authority proposes to refuse to register a residential centre, attach, renew, change conditions or deregister it, it must notify the registered proprietor, giving its reasons. The entity may make representations within 21 days, and these have to be taken into account. There is provision for appeal to the District Court.
The Department makes regulations for ensuring proper standards in relation to children’s residential centres. This includes requirements in relation to adequate and suitable accommodation, food and care. It provides for the proper conduct of the centre. Regulations provide for such matters such as
- maintenance, care and welfare requirements.
- numbers, qualification and staff qualification.
- design, maintenance, repairs, cleaning, ventilation, heating and lighting.
- standards of accommodation including space, facilities, washing facilities, sanitary conveniences.
- prescribed requirements for food.
- requirements for records and provision for examination by authorised officers.
- provisions for inspection and enforcement.
Breach of the regulations is an offence. A person convicted of an offence may on application of the Board within a certain period of conviction be declared disqualified.