Records now available: Childcare health and safety reports released

  • Reluctant release: the Department of Health has now shared a document of more than 1,200 pages from its Environmental Health Unit, covering nurseries, daycare centres, preschools and at-home daycare providers (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Reluctant release: the Department of Health has now shared a document of more than 1,200 pages from its Environmental Health Unit, covering nurseries, daycare centres, preschools and at-home daycare providers (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Parents and a child safety campaigner have welcomed a decision by the Government to release records about health and safety standards at all of Bermuda’s childcare facilities.

The Department of Health, which issues licences and is responsible for ensuring childcare providers meet safety standards, initially refused to disclose its inspection reports, along with records of complaints, investigations and outcomes, in response to a public access to information request.

However, after a review by the Information Commissioner, it has now shared more than 1,200 pages from its Environmental Health Unit, covering nurseries, daycare centres, preschools and at-home daycare providers.

The Royal Gazette has collated the information into searchable PDFs, available on our website, to give parents easy online access.

The disclosure of the documents came more than three years after the initial Pati request was submitted.

Vanessa Robinson, a mother of one, said: “It is such a huge success for parents to finally have access to information, which will enable them to make an educated decision on where to send their children for childcare.

“As parents, we’ve had to rely on advice from others who have experienced a nursery. Where to go, and where not to go, will have such an impact on the future for our children, and also the comfort in knowing our children are well taken care of.”

Mrs Robinson added: “I have no doubt that the right decision has been made to finally share this information, and that parents across Bermuda will be referencing this information as a valuable decision-making tool.

“Rather than fearing reputational damage, I hope that childcare facilities will also see this as a positive release of information, and we will see a shift where childcare providers are enthusiastic about sharing their flawless health and safety records.”

Emma Farge, a mother of two, said it was “scandalous that, until now, the Government has kept parents in the dark about matters that could impact the immediate safety of their young children”.

She added: “As a mother, I’m so relieved that this is in the process of changing and that nurseries will be subject to public scrutiny.”

Mieah DeFontes, who is expecting her first child in September, said she and her partner would use the information to research nurseries and other childcare providers for their baby.

“Unfortunately, while the Government has a list of licensed caregivers, it doesn’t really provide anything other than when they were last licensed or reviewed,” she said.

She added: “What I’m interested in, is where a resolution has been decided, and where there has been an occurrence that could have been prevented; something that parents and future customers should know about. Right now, I have been asking as I go on these [nursery] tours, and taking their word for it.”

Ms DeFontes said revealing unsubstantiated complaints in a small community such as Bermuda could do harm.

“Just because a parent makes a complaint, doesn’t make it valid,” she said. “I think we have to be careful. While access to information is important, I completely get that there is a distinction between access to any old complaint, and the ones that parents really need to know about.”

Ms DeFontes said she would welcome an annual or twice-yearly disclosure from the department of relevant information, such as substantiated safety complaints, along with the outcomes of investigations.

The Department of Health initially refused to release the health and safety records because, it claimed, retrieving them, would “cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption” of its work.

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez rejected that, and ordered the department to reconsider its refusal.

The department accepted that full disclosure of the records “may reduce possible consequences” for current and future children, and would provide “notice and heightened awareness to daycare providers and centres that the community is interested in, and watching over, the care of our children”.

The department still refused to name the nurseries and childcare providers last year.

It gave 15 arguments against full disclosure, including that “failing to protect personal information, commercial information, and information received in confidence, can have serious consequences for individuals, employees and businesses”.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said yesterday that the decision to now disclose all the information was taken because “the records released are considered Pati discoverable and were therefore released accordingly”.

She added: “We are currently reviewing all of the files, and making more information publicly available. The format for the release of the information is currently under consideration.”

Childcare facilities are supposed to be inspected on an annual basis to ensure they are in compliance with regulations before having their licences renewed. An earlier Pati release from the department showed that a nursery, where three toddlers went missing from last summer, was not inspected at all by environmental health officers in 2017.

The two-year-olds left First Church of God Nursery and Preschool and wandered across a busy road into a backyard where construction work was under way, before they were rescued by a member of the public.

The Department of Health issued a warning letter to the nursery.

Sheelagh Cooper, founder and former president of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said the charity commissioned a review of childcare facilities 25 years ago, which found that regulations governing daycare and nursery schools were “woefully inadequate”.

Ms Cooper claimed: “Not a great deal has changed since then, which could explain the reluctance of the department to release the figures requested under Pati. There probably should be a publicly available, and regularly updated, report for parents who are considering various facilities.”

The ministry spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Health is committed to families having security in their child care choices. We published the Child Care Standards in 2017 and updated these in 2018.

“The ministry is also dedicating resources to the oversight and support of our childcare settings, through the Child Care Quality Assurance Programme.

“We recognise that these settings are the key to our children’s success, as they can spend up to eight hours, five days a week, 50 weeks a year in daycare. We need to ensure they are safe, as well as in a quality setting that supports their development.”

The records released by the department go up to May 31 last year. The Royal Gazette has requested more recent records.

• To view the childcare records, click here

Please note, it is a large file, containing more than 1,200 pages, and may take some time to load.

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Published Jul 30, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 30, 2019 at 2:24 pm)

Records now available: Childcare health and safety reports released

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