Steps for choosing a safe preschool. What training do the people to whom we entrust our children have

The increasingly numerous incidents in nurseries and kindergartens, where children are abused by the very people who are supposed to protect them, raise many questions about those in whose hands we leave our children in peace. Who are these people? What education do they have? How are they employed? “Adevărul” reporters talked to two kindergarten directors, one private and one state, who answered all these questions

Kindergarten should be a safe place for children, not an environment where they are abused. Archive

We take our child to daycare, kindergarten or afterschool with the thought that we are leaving him in safe hands, in the care of qualified, empathetic people, who, we believe or we hope, do their job with love. But, not infrequently, it happens that the little one is left in the care of people who have nothing to look for in the system. Educators who scream, threaten, punish and even hit. The most recent case is that of a caretaker from a private kindergarten in Popești Leordeni, who was caught physically and verbally abusing children. However, such abuses take place in many educational institutions, not only in Bucharest, but throughout the country. In Timiş, for example, the school inspectorate opened an investigation after another teacher – this time from a state kindergarten – was accused of beating a child with a cane. It is normal, therefore, to ask ourselves how do we find the perfect preschool? What should we pay attention to when choosing it?

“When you enter that institution, you realize the atmosphere there. How people are, how relaxed, happy or stressed they are. How much happiness emanates, after all, around children”, Prof. Dr. Constanța Ileana Ionescu, director of a state kindergarten in Bucharest, explained to “Adevărul”.

Paula Mogoș, director of a private kindergarten, stated that “it is very important for the parent to make a visit, to talk with the management, but also with the child's future teacher. It is important that the little one also comes to visit, to get used to the environment there. We have had parents who have even asked for the CV of our educators. There must be mutual trust, permanent communication, all for the good of the child”.

The advice of specialists is that parents should stop going to the praised tree, but to follow the degree of compatibility of the child with the environment in the kindergarten, with the atmosphere, with the people there.

“The chemistry between the child and the teacher is extremely important. If they are in symbiosis, then things cannot go wrong. Parents, in general, look for the quality of the educational act. They only think about the children's academic acquisitions. They forget, in fact, that at an early age children need love, affection, acceptance, connection with others, friends. They must first acquire basic, natural skills, abilities and capabilities without academic pressures. Until the second grade, at least, it is good to let the children evolve in this direction”explained Prof. Dr. Ileana Ionescu

Who are our children's educators?

The job of an educator, says the director, is done with heart and dedication. “You have to really like children, love them as they are. If you do not have the call to work with them, if you are not willing to have this jar of patience and allocate time to each individual child, you have nothing to look for there.”

As for the qualification of the educator, he is a very trained man.

“He is trained, first of all, in a pedagogical high school. After that, there is the University of Education Sciences, the Pedagogy department of primary and preschool education”Prof. Dr. Ileana Ionescu explains the professional path of kindergarten employees. “There are three years of courses completed with a degree. Then, after completing these courses, the graduate can pursue a master's degree in the teaching career. There are also postgraduate courses such as early childhood education”.

Therefore, the educator attends a school where he learns how to take care of our child. From all points of view.

Then, the possibility of professional conversion must also be taken into account. When you have completed studies other than primary and preschool education pedagogy but you want to work as an educator”, says the director. “Here we are talking about two years of study that ends with a professional reconversion exam”, The bottom line? In state education, there are hardly any teachers without specialization. “Unqualified substitutes are very rare. He may just be qualifying..”

What does it mean to be qualified beyond one or more degrees? “A qualified person doesn't really slip up. He doesn't go out of his mind, he doesn't react negatively. Maybe only if he is suffering from something or going through an extremely bad time like depression or an unfortunate event in his personal life. A qualified person with specialized studies and who has gone through the stages of initial training and then continuing training has no way of doing these things. Scream, threaten, hit, physically or emotionally abuse children placed in his care.” experts say.

And that's because educators are also evaluated from a psychological point of view. “We are talking about occupational medicine. At the beginning of the school year they give these tests and checks. What is mainly sought in the case of a teacher? Educators must have emotional balance, be able to manage crisis situations. But that doesn't mean they aren't human and don't have their moments. But these feelings must not manifest themselves in acts of violence”.

As for the procedure for hiring a teacher in the private education system, it is relatively simple. “We request qualification diplomas, recommendations from the last employer or some former teachers from the faculty the candidate attended. Then, the actual interview follows, and if the person in question also passes this test, they are employed with a fixed-term employment contract and a three-month trial period. During this period the employee is very carefully monitored both by the management of the institution and by his colleagues. Other procedures include the annual psychological exam, the legal record, the certificate of behavioral integrity. We then have more tests that are supported with children”, explained Paula Mogoș.

In three months of probation, it is impossible not to realize that the educator you hired has behavioral problems, she explains. “In the case of Popești Leordeni, I think that the behavior of that employee was known. As a director, you have no way of not knowing what was happening in your institution. And not only as a director. But as a colleague, see, hear… you can't close your eyes”. The director admitted that she also faced situations when she had to make radical decisions. “My colleagues came and told me that they noticed certain things. Depending on the respective deviations, the employment contract may be terminated. It's simple. Everything down to the baby!”

Why do such cases of abuse happen?

Regarding the case of Popești Leordeni, it is possible that it was also overlooked due to the lack of staff that kindergartens generally face, Paula Mogoș believes.

There are also situations where some kindergartens do not offer attractive salaries, and they cannot attract professionals, qualified people. To attract these people, you have to offer them something, motivate them, and then know how to keep them. And there is another aspect: there are many educators who no longer keep up with reality, with the world in which we live. “We have a totally different generation of children than we were 30, 40 years ago. And which cannot be educated like in the old days. On the other hand, it is possible to talk about a prejudice. I met teachers in the last year of professional activity who were more than loved by children, but I also met young people who had a completely different attitude”.

On the other hand, there are also people who get bored with what they do and can no longer manage the activity properly. “Today, unlike in the past, there is more work. You have to come up with modern methods, be more creative in the educational act, to be able to attract children's attention”.

And there is another problem: there is no qualified staff at the nursery. “They are only now starting to qualify for nurseries as well. Those with higher education have the opportunity to follow an early childhood education training course provided by the ministry. An accredited course. To be a childcare educator and to work in pre-school education you need a license and as far as I know there is an initiative that will start in the fall..a university degree course for early childhood education. You can't do education without training”, said Prof. Ileana Ionescu.

The state invests millions of euros in the education of educators

More than 140 million euros, European money, will be invested in learning modules for educators and carers. Employees will go through nutrition and physiology courses, depending on the age of the children they work with. Another module is first aid, mandatory according to the new education law. So far, the Red Cross has only sent volunteer trainers to a few kindergartens, which requested training on their own. Educators will also do a digital education course, so they can expose parents to the risks of a child left to surf online without control: from gadget addiction to the risk of falling victim to a sexual predator.

About the private kindergarten, the care center and the notion of afterschool

Private kindergartens have the same status as state ones. They go through the same evaluations and authorizations from the Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education (ARACIP). They also operate under the same education laws and employ staff as any other state institution. Parents must know that they are initially authorized to operate and then, after five years, they are required to request accreditation from the Ministry. “Some kindergartens delay this request but risk being closed. Others ask for it and get it Or not. It depends if they checked all the requirements”, explains director Paula Mogoș. Among them are qualified staff, appropriate space, furniture specific to the educational act, contracts, certificates…a rather thick file. “Accreditation with us was done as per the book. It was two days of fire. I went through many procedures, there were many documents to present, reports, interviews with parents, many requirements to check”. Then, after another five years, the kindergarten is to be evaluated. “It is checked whether it has kept its quality standards. If not, your accreditation may be revoked. And it closes.”

In private care centers, on the other hand, children are also supervised and educated here, but not according to a schedule as happens in kindergartens or nurseries. Here we have a legislative gap, admit the authorities who are preparing a law to regulate the operation of these institutions. Maria Dogaru, the president of the Agency that accredits and authorizes schools and kindergartens in Romania (ARACIP), said that the institution she leads does not currently have the legal leverage to control private care centers. “It was a niche left in the legislation, a vacuum that was taken advantage of”she said in a televised intervention.

As for afterschool institutions, they have a completely different status. “They do not have a program, a curriculum. They provide a complementary education service to the school. The children there do their homework, have extracurricular activities and are supervised. Afterschool solves a rather delicate social problem“, is the opinion of Prof. Ileana Ionescu. “Anyone can open an after school because such an institution is not under the ministry's hat. You must have a space where you carry out your activity, the staff does not necessarily have to be qualified, the methods of hiring the staff do not matter”concluded Paula Mogoș.