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Parents must be extra eyes at daycare centres

Minister of Health Kim Wilson (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The health minister has called on parents to help raise safety standards in daycare centres for children.

Kim Wilson said that parents should share concerns with the Ministry of Health to ensure daycare providers were registered, licensed and up to standard.

She added that the ministry was revamping the childcare supervision system to provide “proper oversight” of the sector.

Ms Wilson told the House of Assembly yesterday: “We take the safety and development of our children extremely seriously, which is why we have dedicated our resources to this area. It is also why the ministry is appealing to our parents to help us.

“We need to hear parents’ concerns about the care of their children. Problems with a daycare centre or home will be handled confidentially. While we would like to, we cannot be at every daycare, every day. But you are, and can be our eyes and ears every day.

“Not only should you expect better care, but you can ensure that your home daycare providers are registered and daycare centres are licensed by the Ministry of Health.

“If they are not registered or a daycare centre is not licensed, there will be no way for us to assure a level of quality in the environment and the person caring for your children.”

Ms Wilson, who provided an overview on efforts to improve daycare supervision, added: “We know there is much work to be done and I hope this update can serve as a rallying call to everyone involved in these settings — staff, owners, parents, daycare providers — to come together to help raise standards in the care of our children.”

The First Church of God daycare centre in Pembroke was ordered to make a series of improvements last August after three toddlers got out of the premises and wandered off by themselves.

Heavenly Blessings Nursery and Preschool in Pembroke was closed after a 12-month-old boy sustained a serious head injury last October.

The Supreme Court heard last month that owner Vernesha Symonds was not licensed at the time.

The Royal Gazette has requested health and safety records for the island’s childcare centres under public access to information in recent months, but only limited information has been released.

Ms Wilson told the House: “The ministry has been handling a Pati request to release a number of documents concerning daycare centres and home daycare providers. It makes sense.

“Our inspections provide one piece of oversight of settings where our children spend the bulk of their day. We absolutely understand the public’s interest in getting the full picture.”

But she added: “We need to be clear about the full process to ensure there is context with the documentation.

“The inspections cover everything from the water, fire certificate, ratios of teachers to children and qualifications of the teachers.

“It’s an enormous job and the inspectors have to play both a regulatory and a supporting role.”

The minister said officers used their reports to document requirements and shortcomings, make recommendations and note if follow-ups were needed.

She said: “The inspection documents are not crafted notes. They are points in time at a centre or home with follow-up sometimes occurring by e-mail or phone.

“The point is, inspection forms will often only tell one part of the story and not provide the outcome of the recommendations made. We are constantly working to ensure compliance.

“Some of the documents that have been requested require us to secure the consent of the affected parties. We are in the process of writing to the centres and home providers to seek this consent.”

Ms Wilson added that closure of a daycare centre would have a “crippling” impact on working families.

She said: “If we were to shut a daycare the reasons must be imminent risk to children’s health and safety.

“This is the same standard used in other jurisdictions. Our parents need the support of their daycare and children need the consistency. We are always striking that balance.”

To read Kim Wilson’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”