Flanders implements stricter enforcement policy for nurseries following child's death

Flanders implements stricter enforcement policy for nurseries following child's death
Children playing in a nursery. Credit: Belga

The Flemish government has responded to calls from opposition parties and will tighten the enforcement and quality policy in the care and welfare sectors.

The announcement comes after a six-month-old child died from serious brain trauma after being mistreated in a childcare centre with a long history of complaints and recent reports of neglect in some (former) residential care centres.

"Mistakes will always happen because you work with people. Nevertheless, we must do everything we can to avoid these mistakes," Flemish Minister of Welfare and Public Health Wouter Beke said.

"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."

On Monday, Kind en Gezin (child health agency)'s Opgroeien, which oversees child care in Flanders, already said it wants to bypass all the necessary legal steps currently needed to collect hard evidence of abuse if a substantial number of claims are made against a nursery.

"This means that if there are, for example, repeated reports of a child caretaker being heavy-handed, we can call on this person to be let go of the childcare centre, even if we have no concrete evidence," Nele Wouters, spokesperson for Opgroeien, told The Brussels Times.

Stricter punishment

Regulations will be made stricter by shortening and tightening enforcement periods and procedures, in parallel to increased sanction amounts and by applying the existing enforcement measures more quickly.

An audit has been requested to analyse the current governance model, the decision-making process and the implementation of enforcement in childcare to detect shortcomings. "Based on the findings, necessary adjustments will be made to better detect and deal with precarious situations in the future."

A stricter policy will be implemented from the outset to make it more difficult for an organisation to receive accreditation or a licence to open up care centres.

Care facilities under supervision will soon also be prevented from expanding their capacity and applying for additional accreditation until the situation is improved. A closer eye will also be kept on care facilities in financial difficulties to avoid this leading to deficits in care.

Increased transparency

Various MPs had called on more transparency regarding what nurseries were under inspection. Beke has now announced that, before the end of this term, all inspection reports for residential care centres will be published on a Flemish government website.

All inspection reports for residential care centres will be published. Credit: Belga

This will be extended to other sectors "as soon as possible." In the meantime, parents can request the latest inspection report of nurseries concerned from the Care Inspectorate via the passive disclosure procedure.

Beke will also develop a procedure to ensure stakeholders are informed when complaints are filed. This is currently not the case, because of irregularities in the Flemish care and welfare sectors.

Need for more personnel and centres

Reports have shown that there is a need for more personnel in care facilities in Flanders, as well as more care centres themselves. Beke said that, despite the efforts of the Health and Welfare department, this shortage cannot be reduced alone.

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"It is, therefore, a great pity that the federal labour agreement does not provide the impetus to reduce this shortage in Flanders," he stated.

All existing initiatives will become embedded in a local network, where they can exchange and support each other, but where it can also be quickly detected if a care centre is not working in a qualitative way, aimed at better detecting abuse of children or residents by staff members.

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