2-week coronial inquest to begin next week, as investigators narrow in on FDC provider
A two-week coronial inquest into the death of a New South Wales child while sleeping at an early childhood service in 2019 is scheduled to commence next Monday, with the ABC speculating that the findings “could transform the childcare industry (sic.)”.
Seven-month-old Jack Loh was attending a family day care (FDC) service in Randwick on 4 March 2019 when he was found unresponsive after a nap. A second fatality, concerning 16-month-old Arianna Maragol, who died while attending a long day care service in 2018, was also due to be examined during the inquest but has been placed on hold while ongoing criminal proceedings against the service operator take place.
Jack was attending only his fourth day at the service, which was operated under a scheme run by Kidstart Family Day Care, which the ABC reports “has been the subject of several compliance breaches and allegations of fraud”.
Four days after Jack’s death, the NSW Education Department suspended Kidstart’s operations, following up with allegations that the service failed to ensure children were protected from harm, to provide adequate supervision and to ensure that educators caring for and educating children held approved first aid qualifications.
Kidstart pled guilty to nine charges in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court and will be sentenced later this month, and the ABC emphasised that there is no suggestion Jack died as a result of Kidstart’s actions. His cause of death will be examined at the inquest.
The Loh family believe Jack’s death could have been prevented, and are calling for more rigorous auditing and assessments of childcare operators, after investigations of the family day care educator and her supervisor by the NSW Education Department revealed some concerns.
During an interview with the educator, she disputed records and compliance logs from the company’s nominated supervisor saying the supervisors inspections were “usually quite brief”, and never included the bathroom or sleeping areas, despite them being signed off on compliance checklists.
As a result of the investigation, the nominated supervisor was found guilty of three offences relating to her nominated supervisor role, including failing to protect children from harm and failing to meet sleep needs of children.
Unsafe sleep conditions
In documents tendered to the court, the FDC educator described finding Jack blue and unresponsive, wearing a dribble bib, and sleeping on a loose sheet and a pillow – three factors which Red Nose have stated may contribute to an increased risk of Sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).
The room was unventilated, and although a baby monitor was present, it was not switched on. After placing Jack in bed at 12:35pm, the educator checked on him again at 12:50pm after he cried.
When Jack was next checked, at 1:20pm, he was on his stomach, with the educator saying his face was “smothered” in the sheet. She then began to try and resuscitate Jack, however her first-aid qualification had expired five months earlier and she hadn’t renewed it.
There was no suggestion during the educator’s trial that she was responsible for Jack’s death. Her actions on the day of Jack’s death will be examined at the inquest. She was fined $7,500 and was placed on a conditional release order for 18 months.
In his autopsy, Jack was found to have a pre-existing heart condition which the family were unaware of before he died.
“We hope that the inquest can give us answers as to whether an unsafe sleeping environment could have contributed to his death,” his father told the ABC.
NSW Police investigation finds services registered to empty blocks
The NSW Police and NSW Department of Education shared findings with one another in response to their individual investigations of the service.
NSW Education Department investigators visited other Sydney addresses Kidstart declared as their registered educators, with Kidstart being responsible for compliance and managing CCS payments for more than 40 FDC services, caring for 180 children.
According to internal documents from the Department of Education obtained by the ABC, authorities who went to one ‘service’ in Punchbowl said the woman they spoke to had never heard of Kidstart. At another address, they found one of the nominated supervisors’ relatives who said they had never heard of the company.
In other instances, police visited locations that were listed as Kidstart services and discovered vacant blocks of land. In those services which were legitimate, and offered FDC services, compliance and hazard breaches were found, including expired first-aid kits and unsecured rat poison.
In a statement given to the ABC, lawyers representing Kidstart denied the company was engaged in fraudulent activity.