Childcare services Kind & Gezin has criticised the decision made by a nursery in the province of Antwerp to reopen despite being suspended while an investigation into possible abuse was ongoing.
Amid an ongoing crisis in the childcare centre, which started when a six-month-old girl died as a result of injuries sustained while staying in a Ghent crèche, nursery De Vlindertjes van Elshout in Schoten reopened on Wednesday without approval, more than one week after it received a formal notice that its recognition was being suspended for two months as a matter of urgency.
"We are very disappointed, we really did not expect this and we regret it for all parents. The municipality has done everything in its power to find a temporary solution for parents in need of childcare together with local childcare institutions and neighbouring municipalities," Kind & Gezin spokesperson Nele Wouters told The Brussels Times.
She explained that the safeguarding inspectorate formally confirmed the re-opening. "There are indeed children being cared for there. How many I don't know, but in this case, whether it was three or 17 children, the nursery had been suspended and could not be opened, and it did so anyway."
The organisation reached out to the local mayor's office to ask for the centre to be closed. "We have no police powers and we cannot take children away from there, so we are waiting for the decision of the local police or the mayor."
When asked by The Brussels Times about the progress of the situation, the mayor's office said it was not able to give a confirmation of the closure.
Serious complaints received
Kind & Gezin received an anonymous complaint containing serious serious claims on 20 February. According to De Standaard, the manager had been sentenced to one year in prison early last year with a suspended sentence for the degrading treatment of some of the children.
These complaints were analysed, taking into account the history of the nursery, and on Friday 25 February the organisation took the internal decision to suspend the daycare centre as a matter of urgency based on the precautionary principle, introduced in light of recent incidents.
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"We have not done this before. Normally we establish and objectify anonymous complaints and reports in order to give them a legal basis, because unfortunately not every report is correct, but now, based on the anonymous complaint and elements in it, and in light of the context of the nursery, we decided to impose a suspension of two months," Wouter said.
She explained this decision was made to free up time to thoroughly investigate all the elements included in complaints. "If we know the childcare centre is not open, we can thoroughly investigate all the elements in peace and quiet while guaranteeing the safety of the children."
The decision was passed on to the centre on Monday 28 February and the municipality was contacted. "Our decision meant parents had to look for another childcare centre for at least two months, so we asked for their help in organising alternatives."
Kind & Gezin organised a meeting with all parents to explain the decision and shared with parents its communications with De Vlindertjes van Elshout. In the meantime, it also learned that the nursey itself organised a meeting with all parents, too.
Impact of re-opening on final decision
Normally, if an objection is lodged against a suspension, it is temporarily reversed; however, Wouters pointed out that in the case of an emergency suspension, what happened here, the objection is not reversed.
In this instance, it should be discussed with the Appeals Committee, which makes a final decision on whether the suspension can be lifted or not, "but it is not up to the organiser to ignore our suspension and say that we are going to reopen," Wouters said.
Wouters said that, in any case, the suspension will lead to a final decision: either the childcare centre will be suspended or the permit will be withdrawn. When asked whether the centre's reopening despite the suspension will impact this final decision, Wouters concluded that Kind & Gezin "takes it very seriously if a nursery ignores our suspension and do not comply."