Regulation of pre-school childcare services
The law in Ireland provides for the regulation and inspection of pre-school childcare services. Under the Child Care Act 1991 as amended by the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) is charged with ensuring the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending services. Pre-school children are defined by law as “children under 6 years of age, who are not attending a national school or equivalent”. Pre-school services include pre-schools, play groups, day nurseries, crèches, childminders and other similar services looking after more than 3 pre-school children.
Inspection and notification
Pre-school care providers are required to notify the Child and Family Agency that they are providing services. In addition, they are required to take all reasonable measures to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending their service. Specifics about the regulation of pre-school childcare services are set out in the Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016. These Regulations set down the standards of health, safety and welfare that must be in place before such services can be provided.
Overall, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has responsibility for these Regulations and for developing policy in this area. The Child and Family Agency is required to inspect and regulate pre-school childcare services and has published a list of tips on choosing a pre-school.
What pre-school childcare services are covered?
The different types of pre-school childcare services are
described in the Regulations as follows:
Playgroups, crèches, Montessori groups, playschools, naionraí and childminders looking after more than 3 children offer sessional pre-school services. Services normally offered are planned programmes, consisting of up to 3.5 hours per session (for example, a morning or an afternoon). They generally cater for pre-school children in the 3-5 year age bracket.
Part-time day care
This offers a structured day care service for pre-school children for more than 3.5 hours and less than 5 hours per day.
Full day care
This is a structured day care service for more than 5 hours per day. Providers include day nurseries and crèches.
Childminders care for children in the childminder’s own home. Throughout the year, they offer this service for the full working day or for different periods during the day. Parents and childminders negotiate their own terms such as hours, rates and duties. As part of the National Childminding Initiative the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has published guidelines for childminders (pdf).
A childminder can care for no more than 5 pre-school children ar any given time, including the childminder's own pre-school children. Only childminders caring for more than 3 children are covered by the Child Care Act, 1991.
A childminding tax relief applies to people who mind up to 3 children in the minder's own home. No tax is payable on their childminding earnings provided the earnings are less than €15,000 per year. If the earnings exceed this amount tax is payable on the full amount. Childminders must include their childminding income in their annual tax return. They must also notify their local City or County Childcare Committee that they are providing a childminding service.
Pre-school service in a drop-in centre
A pre-school service in a drop-in centre refers to a service where a pre-school child is cared for over a period of not more than 2 hours while the parent or guardian is availing of a service or attending an event. Such services are mainly located in places such as shopping centres or leisure centres.
Certain pre-school care providers are exempt from notifying the Child and Family Agency including:
- A relative of the child or the spouse of such a relative (that is, the brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent or step-parent of the child)
- If you are caring for 1 or more pre-school children of the same family and no other children (other than your own) in your own home
- If you are caring for not more than 3 pre-school children from different families (other than your own) in your own home
Child Care Act 1991 (Early Years Services) Regulations 2016 are made under Part VII of the Child Care Act 1991 and prescribe the measures which must be in place to meet the requirements of the Act. Areas covered by the Regulations include the following:
Health, welfare and development of the child
A person carrying on a pre-school service shall ensure that each child’s learning, development and well-being is facilitated within the daily life of the service through the provision of the appropriate interaction, materials and equipment, having regard to the age and stage of development of the child and appropriate suitable care practices.
First aid and medical assistance
There should be a suitably equipped first-aid box for children and arrangements to call medical assistance in an emergency. A person trained in first aid for children must be available at all times.
Management and staffing
The law makes provision that a person carrying out a pre-school service must ensure that a sufficient number of suitable and competent adults are working directly with the children at all times. The DCYA has published a list of recognised qualifications for the purposes of the DCYA childcare programmes.
There should be appropriate vetting of all staff, students and volunteers who have access to a child by obtaining references and Garda vetting.
Adult/child and space ratios
|Pre-school service||Age of children||No. of adults||No. of children||Floor area per child|
|Sessional services||0-1 years||1||3||1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room|
|1-2.5 years||1||5||1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room|
|2.5-6 years||1||11||1.818 sq. metres, maximum of 22 per room|
|Full/part-time day care*||0-1 year||1||3||3.5 sq metres|
|1-2 years||1||5||2.8 sq. metres|
|2-3 years||1||6||2.35 sq. metres|
|3-6 years||1||8||2.3 sq. metres|
|Drop-in centres||0-6 years||1||4 (only 2 or less under 15 months)||1.818 sq.metres, maximum of 24 per room|
|Childminders||0-6 years||1||5 (including his/her own)||No more than 2 children under 15 months|
Overnight pre-school service
*When a full day care service also takes children not on a full day basis, sessional service adult numbers apply.
The Child and Family Agency can limit the maximum number of pre-school children who may be catered for at the same time. This provision is aimed at preventing over-crowding in pre-school services. If the Child and Family Agency proposes to limit numbers, the provider will be notified and has the opportunity to appeal or make representations about this decision.
Anyone providing a pre-school childcare service should ensure that no corporal punishment is inflicted on any child attending the service. There should be written policies and procedures to deal with and to manage a child’s challenging behaviour and to assist the child to manage his or her behaviour.
Register of pre-school children
A pre-school childcare provider should keep a register with details of each child attending the service including name, date of birth, contact numbers for parents and child’s doctors.
Information for parents
Parents should be given information about the service including details of the person in charge and other staff, the adult/child ratios, the age range of the children, the type of care, facilities, opening hours and fees.
Premises and facilities
Pre-school services (including childminders, drop-in centres, crèches, etc.) are obliged to ensure their standards meet certain standards and provide certain facilities. These rules include ensuring that:
- The premises are of sound and stable structure and are suitable for providing pre-school services
- Adequate space per child is provided in the premises
- Fixtures, premises and fittings are kept in a proper state of repair and in a clean and hygienic condition
- There must be adequate and suitable furniture, play and work equipment and materials available on the premises of the pre-school service
- There are adequate and suitable facilities for a pre-school child to rest and to play indoors and outdoors during the day
Pre-school childcare providers are required to ensure that the building has suitable and adequate heating, ventilation and lighting and sanitary facilities.
All reasonable measures must be taken to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of a pre-school child attending the service and ensure that the environment of the service is safe.
Registered childcare providers must have a safety statement and a policies on a number of areas including managing behaviour, the administration of medication, infection control and safe sleep.
Food and drink
A pre-school service should ensure that food is nutritious and complies with dietary and religious requrements.
The Department of Health's Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-School Services (pdf) advise that children in day care for more than 5 hours per session (full day care) should be offered at least 2 snacks and 2 meals, including one hot meal.
The provider should ensure that the pre-school children are adequately insured against injury while attending the service.
How to apply
If you need further information about the standards and regulation of childcare services for pre-school children you should contact the early years/pre-school inspector.
Parents seeking information on local childcare services and other issues relating to the care of young children should contact their local City/County Childcare Committees (CCC).