Educator cleared after allegations of inappropriate touching during ‘monster tickles’
A male early childhood educator in Victoria has had his working with children check restored after being cleared of allegations that he was inappropriately touching children during a game of what he called “tickle monster”.
While the educator had regularly played the game in front of other staff and parents, in October 2020 he was stood down from his position while an investigation into inappropriate touching during the game occurred.
The investigation was into allegations that he had touched the genital area of two four year old children during the game. He was formally questioned by his employer, education department officials and Victoria Police, however he was not charged with any offense.
While the educator acknowledged he may have inadvertently touched children in the way they described as they wriggled and squirmed during the game, he denied that the touching was deliberate.
In November 2020, the Department of Education barred him from working in early childhood and stood him down from his position, however the prohibition notice was later set aside by VCAT and his working with children clearance reinstated.
VCAT Deputy President Heather Lambrick found any touching by the educator near a child’s genital area or on a child’s skin was “neither intentional nor inappropriately motivated”.
“In regularly playing the raucous tickle monster game, (the educator) had no ulterior motive but played the game solely for the amusement and benefit of the children with whom he was playing the game and for no other reason,” she said.
“When children are squirming with horror and delight, there is of course the real possibility they can inadvertently be touched on a ‘private’ part of their body, either through clothes or if they are wearing shorts/skirts on their skin.”
Ms Lambrick said she “fully accepted (the educator’s) evidence that this is factually what occurred”.
The state justice department secretary emphasised that the accused was an adult educator in a position of trust, who put himself in a position of risk of touching the genitals of the children. It was contended it was a departure from the standards expected and the need to always respect the bodies of children.
In responding to this statement, Ms Lambrick said that she was satisfied that the educator posed no risk to children, and said that he had taken “total responsibility for his actions”.
“Whilst he has been shattered by the consequences of playing the game, he has fully reflected on his conduct and vowed never to repeat it,” she said.
The educator gave evidence that he intends to leave the sector permanently as a result of being traumatised by the allegations.
“He has been investigated, lost his job, had to endure two separate hearings before this tribunal, and explain and re-explain his conduct to his numerous character references,” Ms Lambrick said.
“He has children of his own with whom he wishes to actively engage. He should be permitted to do so.”
The full transcript of the hearing is available here.
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