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Flanders to crackdown on crèches following complaints after death of infant

16:40 22/02/2022

The Flemish department for the health of Children and Family (Kind en Gezin) is planning reforms for the daycare sector following the death of a six-month-old girl at a crèche in West Flanders. 

Inspection reports for crèches will be easier to consult, and a list of problem crèches could be made public, De Standaard reports.

Flemish Minister of Welfare Wouter Beke (CD&V) said he also wants to be able to more quickly close childcare centres against which complaints have been filed.

“As far as childcare is concerned, we must move towards a system where there can be no more ‘lone rangers’ and where we do not have to wait for complaints from parents or findings by an (un)expected inspection,” reads a statement from Beke’s cabinet.

“Mistakes will always happen, because you work with people. Nevertheless, we must do everything we can to avoid these mistakes. 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.” 

Death of six-month-old girl at Flemish daycare centre

An infant died last week as a result of injuries related to head trauma that she received while in the care of Het Sloeberhuis, a daycare centre in Izegem in West Flanders.

A number of complaints had been made against the crèche and inspections repeatedly pointed out problems, including that both the daycare operator and her father— said to be responsible for the death of the infant— “do not know how to deal with small children”.

The complaints go back years: a 2016 report stated that “a child who cries is put in a dark room with the door closed so it doesn’t disturb the group, and a child is sometimes left to cry for up to an hour”.

In 2018, two parents reported “unexplained bruises” and injuries found on their children. 

Nevertheless, the centre was allowed to remain open and the administrator general of Kind en Gezin called the death a “shock for the entire nursery sector”.

“We did a lot of inspection visits,” Kartien Verhegge said, confirming that multiple complaints had been lodged against the crèche.

“We haven’t let this go. There is a problem in the approach, [and] we have to look at it very critically ourselves.”

New initiatives involve increased local cooperation

Kind en Gezin said that inspection reports for daycare centres have always been available upon a formal request, but wants to move to a more active sharing system in which this information can be more easily obtained. 

“We now want to see if we can actually draw up such a list of concerns,” explained Nele Wouters.

“We are considering how we can proactively share whenever there is a history of complaints. We are in the process of drawing up a framework and looking at what is legally possible and allowed.”

Beke said that all initiatives need to be embedded in a local network, where they can not only exchange and support each other, but also quickly detect if one or the other initiative is not working in a qualitative way. They can then make adjustments with the appropriate agencies.

When residential care centres and facilities for childcare, the disabled and youth care are placed under increased surveillance, the local authorities will be informed.

“A small minority ruins it for the large majority and those rotten apples must be removed,” said Beke, adding that they will also consider making the requirements to obtain a care licence or accreditation stricter. 

Photo: Stock image (ING)


Written by Helen Lyons