Expert says hostility and manhandling shown on RTE programme ‘deeply worrying’

Dr Catriona O'Toole of NUI Maynooth
Footage from RTÉ’s Prime Time documentary, A Breach of Trust, which aired on Tuesday May 28, 2013, showed instances of appalling practices in three crèches in Wicklow and Dublin.

Footage from RTÉ’s Prime Time documentary, A Breach of Trust, which aired on Tuesday May 28, 2013, showed instances of appalling practices in three crèches in Wicklow and Dublin.

In the wake of the documentary, a number of serious concerns have been raised about the quality of early years services in Ireland and the potential impact on children’s well-being and development.

Dr Catriona O’Toole, a psychologist at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, who was interviewed as part of the documentary. She spoke to the Leinster Leader in the aftermath about the fallout from the programme.

“The level of hostility and manhandling shown on Prime Time is deeply worrying,” she said.

“It is difficult to determine precisely the impact of these negative practices. A lot depends on how persistent or ongoing they may be for children. In general, persistent exposure to harsh, punitive and hostile interactions is linked to a range of negative outcomes in terms of children’s social, emotional and intellectual development.”

According to Dr O’Toole the quality of a parent’s own interactions with their children is extremely important. “Positive parenting promotes resilience in children and is an important factor in buffering children from the impact of negative experiences,” she added.

“There is now compelling scientific evidence to show that the period of infancy and early childhood are critical for children’s development. One reason is that the brain is immature at birth. The rate and intensity of brain development is particularly strong in first few years of life. We now know that the environments that children experience can actually affect the physical structures and functioning of the brain. It is vital therefore, that children are nurtured in warm and stimulating environments with caring adults who are responsive to their needs.”

Dr O’Toole stressed that infants and toddlers have a fundamental need for warm, sensitive caregiving.

“Human relationships are the building blocks of healthy development,” she added.

“Infants and toddlers initiate frequent interactions with adults. They need adults to respond by getting in synch and becoming attuned to their needs. The development of trust, empathy, and the quality of all subsequent interpersonal relationships are dependent on the establishment of these reciprocal interactions in the early years.”

- Paula Campbell