Parents left devastated over closure of creche due lack of staff for Play Pods

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A Limerick creche located in the most deprived area of the country has been forced to temporarily close, just three weeks after reopening, as it did not have enough employees to adequately and safely staff Play Pods, introduced at early learning centres under Covid-19 requirements.

The King’s Island Community Creche is located in the heart St Mary’s Park, which last September, according to research commissioned by Pobal, was identified as the most impoverished part of the country.

The “deprivation index” found there were 77.25 per cent of lone-parent families in the area, with 69 per cent of men and 40.4 per cent of women unemployed.

Local parents said they were “shocked” when they received a letter from management at the creche last Thursday informing them it was closing until further notice.

Katie Rainbow, whose three-year old son, Kayden, attends the creche, said the closure would have a devastating impact on them both: “My child has no siblings; we live in an apartment without a garden or any outside access; the creche is his escape everyday, and now it’s gone.”

“He’s missing out on his play therapy, he needs interaction with his friends. Covid-19 was bad enough for children, they’re bored, they’ve suffered, and now our creche, which has been a godsend, is closed,” she explained.

“Theres nothing I can do, the local pre-school is full; two others nearby have closed; there’s nothing in our area. This is more added stress already on top of my shoulders, I’ll be pulling my hair out,” added Rainbow, 29.

She may now have to give up working as a cleaner to look after her son, she said: “I’m a single parent and I have no other parent to mind my child. I relied on this creche. Its not fair, I don’t know if it’s going to reopen, we’re left in limbo.”

Post the pandemic, the creche, operated by the Northside Family Resource Centre (FRC), employed 17 staff to look after a compliment of 72 children. It reopened on June 29th with 15 staff to cater for 27 children but could not continue to meet the ratios required under the legislation after six employees went on sick leave.

Ciara Kane, chief executive, Northside FRC, said an immediate recruitment programme was underway, and she hoped it could re-open in September.

“I’m absolutely heartbroken, lockdown has taken its toll on families here in very different ways. I was so anxious to get the children through the doors, because this is where they need to be, and this is what is good for the family because they have chosen to put the children here,” Ms Kane said.

“We have just spent that last three weeks settling a cohort of very small children back into our care again, the last thing any of us want is to disrupt that for them again, and create uncertainty on top of a very uncertain time for them, so my main objective is to get reopen, as soon as possible, once I can get it staffed safely,” she added.

A letter sent from the creche to parents read: “It is with deep regret we are forced to temporarily close King’s island from Monday July 27th. The closure has been forced on us because we cannot adequately and safely staff the Creche under Covid-19 re-opening requirements.”

“We accept that this will cause difficulties for many families and we have not taken this decision lightly. At all times, the care and safety of children is our priority.”

Meanwhile, Ms Kane revealed it was unlikely a Northside FRC-run after-school programme for 48 local children, would continue when schools return in September.

“We haven’t determined whether it is viable to reopen as we have to see what provision (from the Minister) will be made for After-school Services. After the experience in King’s Island Creche, Northside FRC will not open the After-school service unless we can guarantee sustainability,” she added.

Ms Kane said children attending the service “are typically referred by local schools for a variety of reasons, including parents in work or education, food poverty, additional learning needs etc.”

The after-school programme includes “therapeutic services to set children’s emotional needs”, Ms Kane said.