by Andrew Carey
HSE inspectors expressed serious concerns about the operation of a Limerick creche after they found children sleeping on a beanbag, in a high chair and in a sleep room without a monitor when they visited the premises last February.
Fiona Donehy, owner of the Tí na Leanaí creche at her home in Ballysimon, pleaded guilty to four breaches of childcare pre-school regulations at Limerick district court on Tuesday.
HSE childcare inspector Jane Hayes told the court that up to 150 cot deaths were recorded in the 1990s but since the ‘safe sleep’ regulations were introduced in 2006, the number had reduced to just 25 in 2011.
On the date of the inspection, two children aged two and a year and a half were found asleep on a beanbag in the play area and a third child was asleep in a high chair.
“We would have concerns about children sleeping on beanbags as there is a risk of suffocation. The child sleeping in the high chair was awoken by others in the play area. They had been asleep for almost half an hour.
Another child was found asleep in the sleep room adjacent to the main area and the sleep monitor was not turned on. A 15 month-old child was asleep in a standard cot and the hood of his jumper was over his head.
As heat is released through the head, this created the risk of the child overheating.
A sleep check form was filled out by a childcare assistant noting the child’s breathing pattern, skin tone, and condition and Ms Hayes said that this was done before the assistant actually checked the child.
A second HSE inspector, Marie Riordan, told the court that Tí na Leanaí was registered to care for no more that five children but that Ms Donehy was caring for 15 children, three of whom were absent on the day of the inspection. Six children were being cared for full-time and another five were being provided with Montessori sessional care.
Child drop-off records were not kept and Ms Riordan said these were important in the event of a fire.
Ms Riordan accepted that Ms Donehy indicated in 2007 that she may offer full crèche facilities in the future but nothing more was done. While she was now co-operating with the HSE, she was being discouraged from operating a full-day service.
Judge O’Kelly adjourned the case until next week to consider a report submitted by a childcare expert engaged by Ms. Doheny.