Childcare in Flanders has come under fire in recent months following reports that nurseries were able to stay open despite claims of child abuse, highlighting issues with the process of inspection complaints about nurseries that have now been confirmed by an audit.
The audit was launched following the death of a six-month-old girl from injuries sustained while at a Ghent crèche. It evaluated the process of the inspection of reports and claims and how responses are enforced in the childcare sector. The results have now been published by Flemish Welfare Minister Hilde Crevits.
"This audit exposes important pain points, which I have also been able to see for myself over the past few weeks," Crevits said. In June, she already announced that the remaining daycare centres with reports against them would be subjected to an additional on-site inspection in the coming weeks.
An audit conducted by Audit Flanders confirmed issues regarding the processes surrounding reports, complaints and enforcement by the region's child health agency, Opgroeien, and the childcare health inspectorate, stating these are insufficiently under control.
Significant challenges ahead
In light of the results, Crevits stressed that a "clear and complete plan of approach" regarding nurseries with a record of abuse is needed in the short term to address the shortfalls, regardless of the recommendations of the ongoing parliamentary enquiry commission, of which the recommendations are expected to be announced next week.
Crevits added that the cooperation between both bodies must be better aligned, while the IT system for following up risk files also needs to be improved.
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"The safety of the children in our nurseries must come first. It must also be clear to childcare providers what they have to comply with and what they can expect if they don't," Crevits stated. "There is clearly work to be done, the challenges are not insignificant," she concluded.
Koen Daniëls, the Chair of the Investigation Committee in the Flemish Parliament, told Belga News Agency that the conclusions of the audit "contain many elements that have also come to the fore during the debates of the enquiry committee.
"This audit, together with the conclusions of the enquiry committee, will form a solid basis for the Care Inspectorate and the Flemish government's Agency for Growing Up to make thorough adjustments where things go wrong," said Daniëls.