New parents' guide to pre-school services

Barnardos, Ireland’s leading children’s charity, has recently published a parent's guide to pre-school regulations.

 The main purpose of the guide is to provide parents and guardians of young children with information about the Pre-School Regulations, 2006 and the guide can also help parents select the best quality childcare for their children – detailing what to look for, what questions to ask and what standards to expect. 

 Following the Government’s Child Care Regulations 2006 which came into effect last month (September 2007), the Barnardos Parent’s Guide to the Child Care (Pre-School Service) Regulations 2006 looks at the different types of childcare and provides a checklist for parents. 

 Guide author Marie Willoughby said “the range and quality of childcare services varies significantly and parents need to know the minimum standard that they can expect from their pre-school provider….It is important to remember that these regulations are basic standards that are required by law of all childcare providers and parents are entitled to expect this standard, at the very least.”

 The Regulations, for example, set out very specific requirements in relation to the amount of space necessary for each child in a childcare service. They also require that ‘suitable, sufficient, nutritious and varied food’ is available for children attending pre-school and childcare services.

 Pre-schools (including childminders, drop-in-centres, crèches, etc.) are required to keep a register with details of each child in their care. Details of any accident, injury or incident involving a child attending the service must be recorded and parents informed. In the case of a serious accident involving a child, parents should be told immediately.

 Pre-schools are also required, under the Regulations, to have clear written procedures for taking children on outings and clear written guidelines on identifying and reporting child abuse.

 Under the Regulations, parents are entitled to ask for and be given information on the name, position, qualifications and experience of the person in charge; details of the maximum number of pre-school children at any one time; and the age range of the group.

 Parents are also entitled to know staff/child ratios in the service (the minimum ratios are set out in the guidelines); the type of care or programme provided in the service; the facilities available; the opening hours and fees and the policies and procedures of service.

 The guide adds that when it comes to approaches to discipline, it is very important that parents and carers work together to ensure that children are supported to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and self-confidence in surroundings that provide emotional warmth and approval.

 The Barnardos guide also outlines:

What children need to support learning in the early years

The importance of play for young children

• Which pre-school childcare providers are subject to the government regulations, and which are exempt

• Suitable adults caring for children

Regulations on childcare premises and facilities

• Safety

• And very importantly How to identify quality childcare

 Parents should not settle for just any childcare. There is more to quality childcare than just meeting legal requirements. During the early years it is especially important that children have a quality childcare experience that addresses their developmental needs. The following is a checklist that may be helpful when searching for an appropriate pre-school.

Full day care checklist

• Is the environment safe, clean, warm, bright and airy?

• Is the atmosphere welcoming and friendly?

• Are you satisfied that there are enough staff members to care for and supervise the children?

• Are you satisfied that the staff members are capable of caring properly for the number of children in their care?

• Are they qualified and experienced?

• Will your child receive continuity of care? Look at the number of staff changes and how the rosters are managed.

• Are the facilities for resting and sleeping areas suitable for your child’s needs?

• Does the space available meet the requirements?

• Is the food preparation area clean and are adequate health and safety precautions taken by adults preparing food?

• Do the staff members have sufficient information about your child to be able to deal with an emergency?

• Would you feel welcome to discuss your child with the staff?

• Does the atmosphere and environment give you confidence in the service?

 Checklist for sessional pre-schools

• Is there a balanced programme of care and stimulation offered to the children?

• Is there a good selection of toys and play equipment available?

 Checklist for childminders

• Have you asked for references?

• Is there a second person on the premises? Is there an easily accessible telephone?

• Can you work out a contract which suits you and your child?

• What is included in the fees?

• If your child does not attend, are you charged for that time?

• If the childminder needs time off, how much notice can you expect?

 For more information you can contact the Barnardos’ National Children’s Resource Centre (NCRC), Tel: 01 453 0355 or 1850 222 300. The NCRC provides information on all issues relating to childcare. You can download the Parent’s Guide to the Child Care (Pre-School Service) Regulations 2006 at

 Síolta (The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education) has been designed to assist all those concerned with early education in Ireland (including parents). A Parents’ guide to Síolta including four manuals, a resources section and a CD-Rom is available from the Síolta website

 The reports from the HSE Pre-school Inspections (based on the Pre-school Regulations) of all childcare services are expected to be available to the public on the HSE website towards the end of this year. The purpose of this is to help those choosing childcare.


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