Belfast Telegraph

Some children being minded in homes that are not very safe – Taoiseach

The Dail heard just 120 childminders are registered with the Child and Family Agency Tusla but Leo Varadkar said he does not want to over-regulate.

The Government is proposing new rules for childminders (PA)
The Government is proposing new rules for childminders (PA)

By Aine McMahon PA

The Taoiseach has said some children are being minded in homes that are not very safe but he is reluctant to over-regulate the informal childminding sector.

As few as 120 in-home childminders are registered with the Child and Family Agency Tusla, the Dail has heard.

Since 2016, there is a legal requirement for in-home childminders to register with Tusla if they are minding four or more pre-school children.

The low uptake has been put down to reservations among some childminders not currently registered for tax being brought into the tax net.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said childminding in the state is largely unregulated.

We definitely don't want to over-regulate, or be too heavy-handed in any reforms that we bring in. Leo Varadkar

Mr Howling said the Central Statistics Office puts the number of childminders at 35,000 but moves by the Government to regulate the sector may drive some childminders out.

“There is a risk that some childminders could be driven out of this important sector by heavy-handed regulation, and that in turn would affect thousands of parents who obviously rely on the current childminding arrangements in order for them to go to work every day.

“According to the Government’s plan, legislation will be implemented over the course of the next five years, requiring childminders to gain qualifications and to be Garda vetted.

“Their homes will also have to be inspected to ensure that they meet the set of requirements.

“In principle, these are sensible proposals. But, there is a risk that it will be implemented in a heavy-handed way and that’s the concern that I’m hearing across the country.

Mr Howlin asked if the Government could give reassurance to childminders that they would not be prosecuted for non-compliance.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said often children are minded by someone they know or an au pair for a few hours every day and it is convenient for parents who cannot or do not want to put their children into a creche.

“We don’t want to over-regulate, undermine or get rid of that system because if we did it would be disaster for tens of thousands of people would find that they didn’t have any way to look after their kids any more.

“We definitely don’t want to over-regulate, or be too heavy-handed in any reforms that we bring in, in this area.”

“At the same time we do need to put children first and we can’t ignore the fact that there are some children who are being minded in homes that aren’t very safe.

“Those children could get injured, and there are health and safety issues in those houses that are providing informal childcare at the moment.

“We also need to bear in mind that some people who are childminders – as we learned to our detriment when it came to foster parents in the past – had a bad record when it came to how they dealt with children, and we need to make sure that we don’t make those mistakes again.

“So, this is a work in progress. I think we all acknowledge we need to get the balance right in terms of protecting children, but also making sure that we don’t close down an entire informal sector of childminding which serves families well but we need to get the balance right.”

Mr Howlin questioned some of the requirements the Government has proposed for childminders, asking if they are necessary.

“Officials have admitted that childminders must sign up to strict standards of care, or face prosecution. For example, Garda vetting is clearly essential but do childminders need to have a level five qualification in order to continue to operate as a childminder?”

“Providing a safe and caring environment for children does not necessarily require that level of formal qualifications, and there are many individuals involved in childminding right now, who never had the opportunity to go to third level education.

“This requirement is seen by those rightly as being extraordinarily onerous. Childminders are also concerned about the level of inspection of their family homes that may result from these new regulations,” he said.

“There needs to be greater recognition that childminding is an activity carried out in the private space of people’s homes, rather than in any formal or structured business setting.”

PA

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