Pre-school services, including childminding services, are currently regulated under the Child Care (Preschool Services) (No. 2) Regulations 2006, as provided for under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991.
Under the regulations, the National Children and Family Office of the Health Service Executive (HSE) is responsible generally for inspecting preschool services with the objective of securing the health, safety and welfare of children attending them. Pre-school inspection teams appointed by the Executive have responsibility for the notification and inspection procedures in relation to childcare services that are statutorily required to notify under the Regulations. These teams also provide an advisory service to these childcare services in order to assist them in achieving and maintaining the appropriate standard. Following inspection of a service the inspectors provide the service provider with a report on the outcome of the inspection.
I understand from information supplied by the HSE that 2,789 inspections were undertaken, 704 review/follow up inspections and 755 advisory visits were made to childcare facilities in 2011.
The majority of preschool services are now participating in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme and all participating services must be fully compliant with the Regulations. Pobal, who assist my Department with the implementation of the ECCE programme, carry out compliance visits annually to ensure that each service meets the terms and conditions of the programme. Also, my Department can ask the HSE or Pobal to carry out a compliance visit at any time if it is considered that this is necessary.
My Department has commenced work on Ireland's first-ever Early Years Strategy and in the terms of reference, as approved by Government, I expressly included the need to consider ‘a robust system of regulation and inspection' for the new Early Years Strategy. I have asked the recently established Expert Advisory Group to prioritise a review of this matter.