In recent months, a series of reports regarding the abuse of young children in Flemish daycare centres have made headlines. As these incidents continue to surface, the region is now taking direct action on the issue.
After the re-evaluation of the reception locations where Opgroeien, the child health agency for the region, had already raised concerns, Flemish Minister of Welfare Hilde Crevits said she was "not reassured."
"In consultation with the top woman of Opgroeien and the top woman of the Care Inspectorate we have therefore decided to subject all the remaining daycare centres with reports to an additional on-site inspection in the coming weeks," she said in a statement. "We are doing this for the sake of caution."
This announcement follows reports that the West Flemish court is conducting an investigation into possible abuses at a childcare centre in Veurne after a little boy ended up in hospital after being shaken roughly a few weeks ago. Whether the facts took place there or elsewhere is currently being investigated.
"The investigation is being conducted against unknown persons, with the qualification of beatings and injuries against a minor," said prosecutor Frank Demeester, from the court, told Het Nieuwsblad. The woman in charge, who already abused a child to the extent they ended up in hospital in 2020, has not been arrested.
Problems piling up
The region's childcare crisis started in February of this year after it was reported that a six-month-old girl died as a result of injuries sustained while staying in a Ghent crèche, which was allowed to stay open despite multiple complaints and poor marks during inspections.
However, it was already reported at the end of 2020 that the Flemish authorities often do not sanction daycares in the region following serious acts of abuse or neglect, even if there is clear evidence.
“I myself have already received signals that the Health Care Inspectorate sometimes establishes facts, but then almost nothing comes from it,” Professor of Family Pedagogy Michel Vandenbroeck (UGent) said at the time.
In the months following the nursery death, other similar incidents came to light, including one woman who was convicted last year of abusing small children but was allowed to continue running her crèche, without the parents of children at the nursery knowing anything of the matter.
Urgent change needed
This resulted in the Flemish Government stating it would tighten the enforcement and quality policy in the care and welfare sectors.
“If a facility does not put the child, young person or resident first, the Flemish authorities must be able to sanction more quickly and, if necessary, close it down more quickly," the healthcare minister at the time, Wouter Beke, said.
The agency Opgroeien also decided to bypass all the necessary legal steps needed before collecting hard evidence of abuse if a substantial number of claims are made against a nursery, which means repeated reports of a child caretaker being heavy-handed is enough to fire the person from the childcare centre, even if there is no concrete evidence.
- Flanders invests less than €3 per child per hour in daycare
- Another nursery suspended following reports of injured child
Despite these new measures, an investigation commission on childcare in the Flemish Parliament received questions from several members of parliament, mainly focussing on the response of the Care Inspectorate to dangerous situations in childcare.
After hearing the disturbing stories about the abuse taking place in some nurseries in the region, the Head of the Department of Welfare, Public Health and Family agreed that the system is in urgent need of reform, particularly regarding the "advice on enforcement" after problematic situations, according to VRT News.