Tue | Jan 25, 2022

Day care danger - Scores of unregistered nurseries worry state agency

Published:Sunday | March 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Scores of babies are being placed at risk daily at unregulated day-care centres and nurseries which lack the necessary facilities to keep the children safe.

With mothers needing to return to work weeks after delivery, the nursery or daycare at the corner of the road seems the perfect answer to the question of what to do with their bundles of joy.

But many of these nurseries are unregulated, with no one checking if basic safety precautions - such as the covering of electricity outlets or having toys without small movable pieces - are being taken.

Children as young as six weeks old are left at nurseries, some of which operate as day-care centres and educational institutions.

Many of these facilities are operating on the verandas of private dwellings, while some operate in unsanitary spaces, causing some babies to fall ill.

The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) is responsible for regulating day-care centres and early-childhood institutions across the island, but it cannot close them down if there are breaches.

More than 3,000 early-childhood and infant institutions are registered with the commission, but it is the unregistered and unlicensed ones that are the commission's big concern.

"The parish councils, the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the Public Health Department are the three entities that can close down these operations," Delon Francis, customer service officer at the ECC, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We can make recommendations, but
we are not here to close people down. Rather, we are here to make sure
that they meet the required operating standards," added
Francis.

STATE OVERSIGHT AGENCY

The
ECC is listed as an agency of the Ministry of Education, established by
the Early Childhood Commission Act of 2003.

It has
overall responsibility for early-childhood development in Jamaica. Among
its functions is the supervision and regulation of all early-childhood
institutions (preschools, basic schools, day-care centres and infant
schools) to ensure that they are efficiently run and that they meet the
health and developmental needs of children.

But with
harsh economic times, operating a day-care centre appears to be the
fastest moneymaking opportunity for many recently unemployed or retired
individuals.

The ECC is having nightmares over these
illegally operating nurseries and has voiced its concerns. According to
Francis, it is almost impossible to adequately police these
institutions.

One unregistered nursery now operates
from the grilled veranda and one bedroom of a Kingston
house.

The centre has no name and is referred to as
'The Crèche' by the parents who leave their children there on most
weekdays.

At present, six children, whose ages range
from eight months to two years, are regularly cared for there by a
recently retired female and her unemployed
daughter.

The children share one crib and a child's
bed in the bedroom.

A television and a refrigerator
with coloured letters of the alphabet form part of the decor. A worn
sofa is on the veranda, which is fully grilled and screened with cloth
curtains.

"We are the only help these mothers have,
and we really care for the children," the operator told The
Sunday Gleaner
.

But that is not enough for
the ECC.

"We encourage individuals to come and
register with us. When they do, the commission's inspectors visit the
premises and issue a licence once standards are met. If there are
shortcomings based on the ECC regulations, they would be given time to
come up to standard," said Francis.

He added that
persons who want to set up nurseries or day-care centres should first
seek approval from the parish council and the fire and public health
departments.

Reports from these entities must
accompany registration requests and licences which are renewable
annually.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com