Electric cables within reach of youngsters, children being given the wrong medicine and nursery staff having to be prompted to care for distressed children:
the latest findings of the Care Inspectorate about childcare in Scotland will inevitably worry parents. They will wonder, could this be happening at my child's nursery? What really goes on when I'm not there?
For the vast majority, the news is reassuring. The inspectorate has found that more than 80% of childminders and more than 90% of nurseries received good, very good or excellent grades following a series of unannounced visits by inspectors. That means that most children attending nursery or being cared for by childminders in Scotland are being looked after well.
Unfortunately there are also some childcare facilities that are failing to provide adequate care. As well as recording a 4% increase in complaints in six months last year, the inspectors have uncovered a litany of flaws. Some nurseries have failed to carry out even basic background checks on new staff to verify whether they have a criminal history in relation to children. What more fundamental safeguard could there be? Shortcomings like this cannot be tolerated in any childcare setting, anywhere in Scotland. Among the nurseries to be criticised by inspectors are three, one each in Angus, Fife and West Lothian, where standards of care have actually dropped since the last inspection visit. This underlines just how crucially important is the regime of regular inspections, to ensure poor performance is caught and rectified promptly.
The key is to ensure that those nurseries identified as not good enough are given the support and staff training they need to improve. The Care Inspectorate should not hesistate if necessary, however, to force change, as it has the power to do.
Childcare provision in Scotland is set to be expanded from this autumn, when free places will be made available for 8400 two-year-olds from workless households. This will be expanded to a total of 15,400 two-year-olds a year later. The SNP has also highlighted the need for massively increased childcare provision for three and four-year-olds, and has promised that under independence this would be free for everyone. Goodness knows, there is a need for more childcare that is flexible and affordable, particularly for parents who are being forced to take work during antisocial hours to make ends meet. All of this will clearly require a major, rapid expansion in the number of childcare facilities and the number of carers and nursery nurses, but if even some existing nurseries are failing, it raises the question of whether this can be done while maintaining high standards.
Society is changing. Both the youngest and the oldest are being cared for to a greater extent than ever before in facilities separate from their families and home. Most nurseries, like care homes, are well run, but poor quality childcare must be eliminated. The low standards evidetnt in a few nurseries cannot be allowed to persist anywhere in Scotland.