WA reminds services to review fences as provider cops $12,000 penalty for abscondment

by Freya Lucas

April 09, 2020

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in Western Australia have been reminded by their regulatory authority, the Department of Communities, to regularly review their practices and safety standards for fencing and perimeter security.

 

The warning will be of interest to those around the country, who may wish to use this time of lower numbers to ensure their safety measures are up to date, and to address any outstanding maintenance or OHS issues present on their sites. 

 

The reminder came after the State Administrative Tribunal ordered an ECEC care provider to pay a penalty of $10,000 following an investigation of an incident at an East Bunbury childcare service.

 

The investigation carried out by the Department of Communities found that a three-and-a-half year old boy left the service unnoticed and unsupervised and walked alone to his mother’s house, located in the vicinity of the service.

 

The service had not noticed the child was missing until the mother brought the child back to the service. Earlier that day, an educator at the service had observed the child and “thought he was not happy to be at the service that day.” The educator had also observed him attempting to climb the perimeter fence.

 

The educator did not pass on those observations to the other staff, and the service’s supervision policy and procedures did not require or advise educators to do so. Subsequently the child was able to scale the fence and abscond, returning home. 

 

In applying to the State Administrative Tribunal, the Department of Communities alleged that the provider failed to ensure that children receiving education and care at its service were adequately supervised at all times, in contravention of section 165(1) of the National Law.

 

The Tribunal found that the provider had contravened the National Law and ordered them to pay a penalty of $10,000 and $2,000 towards the Department of Communities’ legal costs.

 

Assistant Director General, Commissioning and Sector Engagement Brad Jolly said that whilst standards of safety in the overall sector are high “any occasion of a child being able to leave a secure premise unsupervised is unacceptable. Parents who place their children with a childcare service expect the safety of their children to be the priority for that service.”

 

The outcome of this incident, Mr Jolly said, should serve as a reminder to the ECEC sector of the need to be vigilant in monitoring children in their care.

 

“The Department of Communities has broad investigative powers to ensure children’s safety, health and wellbeing,” he added, emphasising that officers conduct targeted inspections of services, including unannounced or announced visits, and investigates all reported instances of non-compliance.

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