The Psychological Society of Ireland



The Psychological Society of Ireland,
Floor 2, Grantham House,
Grantham Street, Dublin 8, D08 W8HD.


Wednesday 29th May 2013 

Concern over practices in early years settings

Advice for parents


RTÉ’s Prime Time documentary, A Breach of Trust, which aired on Tuesday 28th May 2013, showed instances of appalling practices in three crèches in Wicklow and Dublin. In light of the documentary a number of serious concerns have been raised about the quality of early years services in Ireland and the potential impact on children’s well-being and development.

Dr Catriona O’ Toole, Registered Member of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), is a psychologist at the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). Dr O’ Toole was interviewed for her opinion as part of the documentary and stresses, “It is important for parents to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Stability of care is an important consideration for children so it is important to assess your own individual situation.”

Infancy and early childhood is a time of rapid growth and development and it is vital that young children are nurtured by warm and responsive carers with whom they can develop strong attachments. Childcare need not be detrimental to children. In fact, research has shown that childcare can be beneficial, but only if it is of high quality. The quality of services in Ireland is variable so it is important that parents monitor their childcare arrangements keep a close eye on their child’s behaviour.


Dr O’ Toole has offered some steps for parents or guardians to take in assessing the suitability of their own childcare arrangements.

  • Judging the quality of crèches

    Childcare quality is typically assessed in two ways.

    1. One way is to consider the structural or regulable features of the childcare setting. These include
    adult-to-child ratios, group size, and caregiver’s education level.

    Higher adult-to-child ratios, smaller group sizes and higher staff qualifications levels are associated with better outcomes for children.

    The Prime Time documentary showed that some crèches are misleading parents and are in clear breach of childcare regulations. Crèches are required to register with the Health Service Executive (HSE) who monitors these regulations. Parents can request inspection reports from the crèches themselves, and the Government has promised to make these reports available to the public in a matter of weeks. While the adequacy of inspection reports has been questioned, they may provide some important information on basic regulable features of the setting.

    2. A more direct measure of quality is to consider the actual day-to-day interactions that the child experiences. The structural features are important because they set the stage for these vital interactions. Parents may be able to ascertain the quality of interactions that their child experiences by considering the following questions: are caregivers generally in good spirits when interacting with my child? Do they smile often at my child and make frequent eye-contact? Do caregivers make positive physical contact by holding hands, giving pats on the back, giving cuddles? Do caregivers respond to my child’s vocalisations? Do they take a positive approach even if my child is having trouble managing his/her emotions or behaviour? Do caregivers promote my child’s development by arranging stimulating activities or by drawing on an appropriate early year’s curriculum?

    Many parents may be uncertain about the quality of interactions their children experience, perhaps because they have only limited contact with staff at drop-off and pick-up times, or because of the movement and turnover of staff within crèches. However, given how crucial these interactions are for children’s development, it is important for parents to regularly talk to their child’s carers and observe their style of interaction.

  • Gauging your child’s well-being

    Young children are particularly vulnerable because they do not have the language skills necessary to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Even preschool children with good verbal skills will have difficulty articulating their feelings and making sense of their experiences. It is necessary, therefore, to infer their well-being from their behaviour and general demeanour.

    Parents are generally very instinctive about their children’s behaviour. If your child seems generally happy, engaged, and eager to get involved in crèche activities, these are positive signs. If your child shows affection toward staff members and initiates interactions with them, this is positive.

    It is common for children to have days when they do not wish to attend crèche or when they cry in the morning upon being dropped off. This is not necessarily indicative of problems. However, sudden or dramatic changes in behaviour are warning signs that something is wrong, and should not be ignored.

    For instance, it is concerning if a child who is typically active and outgoing becomes withdrawn, or if a generally agreeable child suddenly begins experiencing bouts of anger or defiance. Unusual changes in your child’s sleep patterns may also indicate problems.

    If you notice your child becoming unusually clingy, do not ignore it. Some separation anxiety may be normal, but an ongoing pattern may indicate that your child is not receiving the care and attention that he or she requires.

    Perhaps the most alarming warning signs are physical injuries. Bumps and scrapes are common in young children, but clearly any ongoing pattern of bruises or other injuries may be indicative of inadequate supervision or worse.


  • What to do if you are concerned about your child’s experiences in crèche

    Talk to the individual staff members who are involved in your child’s day-to-day care. Tell them of your concerns.  Have they noticed similar issues? Do they take your concerns seriously? Do they work with you to identify solutions?

    Talk to the crèche manager. Look for assurances about the crèches practices, discipline policies and so on, and ask about the steps that can be put in place to ensure a positive experience for your child.

    Ask whether the crèche has an open-door policy for parents. If the crèche practices this open-door policy then it should be okay if a parent asks to sit quietly at the back of the room in order to observe their child. If the crèche does not have an open-door policy, then a parent is entitled to ask why not and still ask to be enabled to observe their child.

    Ask to see the crèche’s HSE inspection reports. Crèches should be willing to discuss inspection reports with parents, individually or in groups.


If parents or guardians continue to have concerns about the care their child is receiving, then a complaint can be made to the HSE Preschool and early years services.

If the concerns about an aspect of a child’s behaviour or emotional wellbeing are of a serious nature that warrants further attention, it is advisable to contact your local HSE centre or a Registered Member of the PSI by using the Find a Psychologist page on the PSI website by clicking here or visiting -

Following the airing of the Prime Time documentary, Barnardos and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) offered help lines to those who were affected by issues in the programme – Barnardos 01 454 9699 and the ISPCC 01 676 7960.

The Irish Times published an opinion piece from Dr Catriona O' Toole on Wednesday 29th May 2013. To view this piece please click here

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