Disturbing footage of children being abused in Olio, a childcare centre in East Flanders, has been reported, leading to the public prosecutor asking parents of possible victims to go to the police.
Some of the footage, seen by editors of Het Laatste Nieuws, shows one child being thrown into a cot; another is held facedown into a mattress for 30 seconds while crying; another shoed an employee climbing onto a cot with a child in it to throw a blanket over the camera.
The nursery manageress (59) and her daughter (25) have been suspended but not arrested. Both have been forbidden to contact parents as the investigation into child abuse continues.
The footage came to light after Geert Buyse (the ex-husband of the manageress) installed the cameras when the centre was opened in 2019. Though he reported the disturbing images to police, Buyse has now been accused of being a "pervert". Buyse explained that he installed the cameras to check on sleeping children from a distance.
'Wanted to make it difficult'
Buyse rents the building to his ex but had wanted her to move so that he could expand his business. He decided to check the footage to see how many children were in the centre and if there were enough supervisors present. "I wanted to make it difficult for her," he stated.
Upon inspecting the footage, he noticed the cameras were sometimes covered while the children slept. He therefore decided to comb through old footage from October, which is where he saw the disturbing abuse at the hands of the centre employees.
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The nursery had never been reported previously, although one toddler was taken from the centre after coming home with two broken teeth that childminders could not answer for. An anonymous complaint in 2019 alleged of the exclusion of children, an aggressive communication style and a contractual dispute.
Substitute care is now being sought for the children and a hotline has been set up for parents who suspect that their child might have been victims. The hotline is available (093-63.72.31 and 093-63.72.32) on working days between 10 am and 12 noon and from 2 pm to 4 pm. Parents can also report to the victim support service of the Rhode & Schelde region police zone.
This latest episode has again raised the issue of Flanders' shortage of inspectors for childcare facilities. At the beginning of 2022, only fifteen inspectors were working; there are around 7,000 childcare centres currently operating.
Centres are sometimes inspected just once in eight years. The parliamentary committee of inquiry that monitors childcare abuse says this is far too little.
Flemish MP Celia Groothedde criticised the lack of inspectors: "Despite the warning signs, inspections remain inconsistent. That is very worrying. Regular inspections, preferably every other year, would improve quality. But the inspectorate has become merely an inspection body that lags behind the facts."