Ombudsman Riitta-Leena Paunio does not regard the way the Municipality of Liperi arranges pre-schooling and day care for six-year-olds as good. Pre-schooling is provided at day-care centres and takes place in the forenoon. Earlier, children had had the opportunity to spend all of the forenoon and then the afternoon until 5 p.m. taking part in the activities, which the municipality calls "play activities", at day care centres. All in all, a child's day can thus stretch to being the equivalent of full-day kindergarten care, but the number of personnel taking care of them can be set at less than there ought to be in full-day care.
Ombudsman Paunio stresses that adequate and skilled pre-school and care personnel is a prerequisite for guaranteeing children's safety, fundamental and human rights as well as pre-schooling and day care of a high standard.
The Ombudsman can not, however, rebuke the Municipality of Liperi for having acted unlawfully, because neither the Children's Day Care Act or any other piece of legislation specifies the difference between play activities and day care centre activities. However, what must not in the Ombudsman's opinion be decisive is what name a municipality has given to its activities, because this could give municipalities an opportunity to circumvent the regulations on personnel numbers and suitability.
The pre-school group at one day-care centre in Liperi had contained 20 six-year-olds, of whom an average of 16 had also participated on a regular basis in morning and afternoon play activities. The children had been in the care of a full-time pre-school teacher, who is a kindergarten teacher, a child minder and one full-time assistant as well as one part-time assistant who lacked the statutory qualifications.
The Ombudsman notes that if what is involved is full-day care, there have not been enough personnel meeting the suitability requirements as there must be under the Children's Day Care Act and Decree. If, on the other hand, the early-morning and afternoon activities are regarded as being play activities, the staffing level applicable to part-day care is being applied to pre-schooling, in which case the number of carers has been sufficient. What name morning and afternoon activities are called by also has an influence on, for example, whether or not parents receive a home care allowance.
Ombudsman Paunio has sent the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health a copy of her reply to a complaint by the Trade Union of Education in Finland for its information and to be taken into consideration when the Ministry is revising legislation on day care and other early education.
Additional information will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Aila Linnakangas, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3379