The law in Ireland provides for the regulation and inspection of pre-school childcare services. Under the Child Care Act 1991 the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland is charged with ensuring the health, safety and welfare of preschool children attending services. Pre-school children in Ireland are defined by law as “children under 6 years of age, who are not attending a national school or equivalent”. Pre-school childcare includes pre-schools, play groups, day nurseries, crèches, childminders and other similar services looking after more than 3 preschool children.
Inspection and notification
Pre-school care providers are required to notify the HSE that they are providing services. In addition, they are required to take all reasonable measures to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending their service. Specifics about the regulation of pre-school child care services are set out in the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 and the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. These Regulations which came into effect on 3 September 2007 set down the high standards of health, safety and welfare that must be in place before care services can be provided.
Overall, the Office of the Minister for Children has responsibility for these Regulations and for developing policy in this area. The HSE is required to inspect and regulate pre-school child care services and has published a list of tips on choosing a pre-school.
What pre-school childcare services are covered?
The different types of pre-school childcare services in Ireland are described in the Regulations as follows:
Playgroups, crèches, Montessori groups, playschools, naionraí and childminders looking after more than 3 children offer sessional pre-school services. Services normally offered are planned programmes, consisting of up to 3.5 hours per session (for example, a morning or an afternoon). They generally cater for pre-school children in the 0-6 year age bracket.
Part-time day care
This offers a structured day care service for pre-school children for more than 3.5 hours and less than 5 hours per day.
Full day care
This is a structured day care service for more than 5 hours per day. Providers include day nurseries and crèches.
They care for children in the childminder’s own home. (Only childminders caring for more than 3 children are covered by the Child Care Act, 1991.) Throughout the year, they offer this service for the full working day or for different periods during the day. Parents and childminders negotiate their own terms such as hours, rates and duties.
A childminding tax relief applies to people who mind up to 3 children in the minder’s own home. No tax is payable on their childminding earnings provided the earnings are less than €15,000 per year. If the earnings exceed this amount tax is payable on the full amount. Childminders must include their childminding income in their annual tax return. They must also notify their local City or County Childcare Committee that they are providing a childminding service.
Pre-school service in a drop-in centre
A pre-school service in a drop-in centre refers to a service where a pre-school child is cared for over a period of not more than 2 hours while the parent or guardian is availing of a service or attending an event. Such services are mainly located in places such as shopping centres or leisure centres.
Certain pre-school care providers are exempt from notifying the HSE including:
- A relative of the child or the spouse of such a relative (that is, the brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent or step-parent of the child)
- If you are caring for 1 or more pre-school children of the same family and no other children (other than your own) in your own home
- If you are caring for not more than 3 pre-school children from different families (other than your own) in your own home
The Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) Regulations 2006 and the Child Care (Pre-School Services) (No 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 are made under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991 and prescribe the measures which must be in place to meet the requirements of the Act. The Regulations include an Explanatory Guide to Requirements and Procedures for Notification and Inspection which offers guidance on good practice in relation to areas covered by the Regulations which include the following:
Health, welfare and development of the child
A person carrying on a pre-school service shall ensure that each child’s learning, development and well-being is facilitated within the daily life of the service through the provision of the appropriate opportunities, experiences, activities, interaction, materials and equipment, having regard to the age and stage of development of the child and the child’s cultural context.
First aid and medical assistance
There should be a suitably equipped first-aid box for children and arrangements to call medical assistance in an emergency.
Management and staffing
The law makes provision that a person carrying out a pre-school service must ensure that a sufficient number of competent adults are supervising the children at all times. (“Competent”adults are adults aged over 18 with adequate appropriate experience in caring for children under 6 years and/or who have appropriate qualifications to care for these children).
There should be appropriate vetting of all staff, students and volunteers who have access to a child by obtaining references and Garda vetting (when the Garda Síochána have procedures in place to make it available).
Adult/child and space ratios
|Pre-school service||Age of children||No. of adults||No. of children||Floor area per child|
|Sessional services||0-1 years||1||3||2 sq. metres, maximum of 20 per room|
|1-2.5 years||1||5||2 sq. metres, maximum of 20 per room|
|2.5-6 years||1||10||2 sq. metres, maximum of 20 per room|
|Full/part-time day care*||0-1 year||1||3||3.5 sq metres|
|1-2 years||1||5||2.8 sq. metres|
|2-3 years||1||6||2.35 sq. metres|
|3-6 years||1||8||2.3 sq. metres|
|Drop-in centres||0-6 years||1||4 (only 2 or less under 15 months)||2 sq.metres, maximum of 24 per room|
|Childminders||0-6 years||1||5 (including his/her own)||No more than 2 children under 15 months|
|Overnight pre-schoolservice||0-1 years||1||3|
*When a full day care service also takes children not on a full day basis, sessional service adult numbers apply.
The HSE can limit the maximum number of pre-school children who may be catered for at the same time. This provision is aimed at preventing over-crowding in pre-school services. If the HSE proposes to limit numbers, the pre-school child care provider will be notified and has the opportunity to appeal or make representations about this decision.
Anyone providing a pre-school childcare service should ensure that no corporal punishment is inflicted on any child attending the service. There should be written policies and procedures are to deal with and to manage a child’s challenging behaviour and to assist the child to manage his or her behaviour.
Register of pre-school children
A pre-school child care provider should keep a register of with details of each child attending the service including name, date of birth, contact numbers for parents and child’s doctors.
Information for parents provided by service
Parents should be given information about the service including details of the person in charge and other staff, the adult/child ratios, the maximum numbers and age range of the children, the type of care, facilities, opening hours and fees.
Child care premises and facilities
Pre-school services (including childminders, drop-in centres, crèches, etc.) are obliged to ensure their standards meet certain standards provide certain facilities. These rules include ensuring that:
- The premises are of sound and stable structure and are suitable for providing pre-school services
- Adequate space per child, is provided in the premises
- Fixtures, premises and fittings are kept in a proper state of repair repair and in a repair and in a clean and hygienic condition and protected from infestation
- Furniture, work and play surfaces are clean, suitable, non-toxic and retained in a proper state of repair.
- There are adequate and suitable facilities for a pre-school child to rest and to play indoors and outdoors during the day
Pre-school childcare providers are required to ensure that the building has suitable and adequate heating, ventilation and lighting; sanitary accommodation, waste storage and disposal.
- Adequate arrangements must be in place for extinguishing fires. Staff must be trained in use of equipment. Staff and pre-school children should know evacuation and other procedures
- All heat emitting surfaces in the premises have fixed guard or are thermostatically controlled
- Gardens and play areas are fenced and doors and gates secured to prevent children straying
- Ponds, pits and other hazards are fenced to ensure safety of children
Food and drink
A pre-school service should ensure that suitable, sufficient, nutritious and varied food is available for a pre-school child attending the service and there should be adequate and suitable facilities for the storage, preparation, cooking and serving of food, and adequate and suitable eating utensils, hand washing, wash-up and sterilising facilities should be provided.
In August 2004 the Department of Health and Children issued the Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-School Services which advise that children in day care for more than 5 hours per session (full day care) should be offered at least 2 meals and 2 snacks, one meal should be a hot meal.
The pre-school service provider should ensure that the pre-school children are adequately insured against injury while attending the service. If you need further information about the standards and regulation of childcare services for pre-school children you should contact your local HSE pre-school officer or inspection team at your Local Health Office.
Parents seeking information on local childcare services and other issues relating to the care of young children should contact their local City/County Childcare Committees (CCC).