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Owner of creche chain accused of 'huge breaches' after being filmed roughly handling children in care

An RTÉ documentary into practices at Hyde & Seek was broadcast earlier this evening.

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

THE OWNER OF a chain of creches in Dublin has been accused of a “huge breach” of childcare regulations after being filmed roughly handling young children in her care.

Anne Davy, the owner of Hyde & Seek Childcare, stepped down from her duties with the company today before the airing of an RTÉ Investigates documentary about the chain this evening.

During the documentary, Davy is seen placing children on their stomachs to sleep at one of the chain’s creches on Tolka Road in Dublin 3.

And when one staff member defends a child for falling asleep, Davy says: “This is a business, it’s not a babysitting [facility].”

At one point, Davy is filmed covering a baby’s eyes in an attempt to coax it to sleep, and continuing to block its vision despite her hand being pushed away by the child.

The creche owner was also shown holding another child down on its stomach for a number of minutes in an attempt to force it to sleep.

Davy offered to teach an undercover RTÉ researcher how to put a child to sleep on its stomach, saying that this was done to prevent eye contact between children and carers.

In a statement to the broadcaster, Hyde & Seek said that experience had taught its staff that “putting children on their stomachs sometimes helps children to settle”.

However, some researchers suggest that the practice can lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of seemingly healthy babies who are less than a year old, which usually occurs while they are asleep.

When an undercover researcher receives training earlier in the documentary, two unidentified staff members appear unfamiliar with the term SIDS, although a statement by Hyde & Seek said that they may have only been unfamiliar with the acronym.

Prohibited practices

Other footage also showed a different staff member holding a child down in a cot when it refused to sleep, and pushing its head back down on to a mattress when it became upset and tried to resist.

Hyde and Seek later said that the staff member involved no longer works at the company.

Early education lecturer Mary Moloney told RTÉ that footage of the rough handling of children showed a “huge breach” of childcare regulations at the creche.

“In terms of behaviour management – practices that are degrading, disrespectful, aggressive – they are prohibited,” she said.

You lay a baby, gently, when they are going to sleep and again, placing a child on their tummy when they are going to bed and ensuring they fall asleep in that position, there’s potential for very serious consequences.

In a statement this morning, Hyde and Seek Childcare said Anne Davy would take no future role in the front line childcare provision.

The company acknowledged “that in recent months she has occasionally fallen below the standards of our behavioural management policy”, adding that she had found herself being “short, rather than simply direct” with children.

Garda vetting

The documentary also showed a number of other issues at the Tolka Road creche, as well as at two others operated by the company at Shaw Street in Dublin 2 and on Prospect Avenue in Glasnevin.

The Glasnevin branch of the business, where parents pay around €1,000 per month, opened in 2018 but went unregistered with Tusla for 14 months before it was legally compliant.

Earlier this year, the company pleaded guilty at the Dublin District Court to non-registration but was read the Probation Act.

Hyde & SEe The Hyde & Seek Creche in Glasnevin, which was constructed by the company in recent years Source: Google Street View

The documentary revealed that Tusla received a partly completed registration for the creche from the company in June 2017, but that both Hyde & Seek and the agency failed to follow-up on it before the creche opened in January 2018.

An undercover RTÉ reporter (who was trained and garda vetted) was also given a position at another Hyde & Seek creche without having their qualifications checked or being garda vetted by the company – contrary to Tusla regulations.

Hyde and Seek told RTÉ that they did not start the vetting at the interview process, because it did not give the company enough time, while Tusla said it took the absence of garda vetting “very seriously”.

Fifth creche property

RTÉ also uncovered a number of fire safety issues at the chain’s creches, including at Shaw Street, where cots were crammed together and the sleep room was used as a store-room for spare cots and furniture.

Chartered surveyor Kevin Hollingsworth told the broadcaster the footage showed a “very serious issue” because staff could not access children to assist them to escape the building if there was a fire.

Meanwhile, an undercover reporter at the Tolka Road branch also reported seeing a blocked fire escape in a cot room, as well as no staff training in fire safety or fire drills.  

They also reported frequent and significant breaches of carer-to-child ratios, with up to 20 children left in the care of one worker for hours at a time.

In the same creche, the staffing situation became so bad that the chef was instructed to help out with childcare.

Other issues revealed in the documentary included a child being left in a high chair for up to 40 minutes, the restraining of children in cots while staff carried out cleaning, and the use of stickers to mark fire escapes instead of electronic signs.

At one point, Davy is told telling a staff member to forge an activity log for a child who had not completed any activities, although Hyde & Seek later told RTÉ that this was not meant to be taken literally.

It emerged that although Davy will no longer carry out her duties, Hyde & Seek has acquired a fifth creche property in Dublin.

Small number of parents

Speaking to reporters this morning, RTÉ revealed that it was first contacted about issues at the creche chain by a small number of parents a few months ago.

A spokesman said that there was no connection between these individuals, adding that the broadcaster believed that the parents who contacted them did not do so in a coordinated manner.

Around 100 families have since contacted RTÉ Investigates about issues at Hyde & Seek after it emerged the broadcaster was producing a documentary about the chain.

TheJournal.ie understands that a number of parents removed their children from the creche after revelations about its practices emerged in recent weeks.

The documentary-makers have also been contacted by former staff at the chain following the revelations.

RTÉ first contacted the company on 12 July, but a spokesman for RTÉ Investigates said that the company did not initially engage with its production team.

Letter to parents

The spokesman also claimed that Hyde & Seek did not engage with parents who contacted them with concerns, but that the company subsequently contacted them on Sunday morning to say that what appeared in the documentary was inaccurate. 

The correspondence, seen by TheJournal.ie, says the company operates its creches to a high standard, and that they are regulated by TUSLA to ensure compliance.

The company described the allegations in the RTÉ documentary as “unfair”, but also said that the programme raised some valid issues, including at the cot room at the Tolka Road creche.

“We have since changed the layout in that room and just last week we had an unannounced visit from a Dublin City Council Fire Officer, and we are happy to say that there were no fire safety issues at the premises,” it read.

The letter added that Hyde & Seek has recently monitored practices at its creches on CCTV and believes the standard of care there at all times has been “excellent”, adding:

Most importantly, the sole objective of our staff is to ensure the safety, well being and happiness of your child. We will continue to focus on what we do – giving your child a safe, stimulating environment in which to spend time during the day,

RTÉ’s spokesman said that Hyde & Seek has since engaged with the documentary’s production team in recent days, and has also started to engage with parents after viewing the footage that was broadcast tonight.

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