There are approximately 4,500 Tusla registered early learning and care and school-age childcare services operating in Ireland. Tusla has assured me that there is a high level of compliance with regulations across the country. This finding is also supported by education-focused inspections of the ECCE programme conducted by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills and by visits from the Better Start Quality Development Service, which has visited over 3,000 services in the last few years.
At the Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting on 31st July 2019, Tusla stated that 37 services were then at “critical” stage in its enforcement process. It is important to stress that this status implies a high and intensive level of scrutiny by Tusla. It does not imply that children attending these services are at risk or should be removed from the services.
It is essential to note that where there is evidence of a serious risk to children, Tusla bring this to the attention of the social work services, in which instance parents are informed.
It is usual practice that the majority of services at “critical” level make the necessary improvements to the standards of care and are then de-escalated from this level of concern. The number of services at “critical” status is continually changing as some services come off the list and others come on to it. Of the 37 services highlighted at the Joint Oireachtas Committee, a significant number have already made the necessary improvements to the standards of care required and have been - or are to be - de-escalated.
It is not possible to provide names and locations of the services at "critical" level at any one time as sharing this information could prejudice future enforcement action and/or prosecution of any such services that do not demonstrate to Tusla that they are taking sufficient action to meet regulatory requirements, which would not be in the best interests of children and families.
In respect of its regulatory and prosecutorial role in relation to early learning and care and school-age childcare services, Tusla acts as an independent legal entity with responsibility for supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children. It would be inappropriate and acting beyond our powers for my Department to interfere with the functions of the statutory regulator.