Educator escapes conviction but receives fine in relation to minibus incident
An early childhood educator has been fined but avoided a criminal conviction in relation to a young child being left on a minibus outside an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service in Townsville last year.
The educator was acting as the manager of the service at the time when the incident occurred. The four-year-old girl was found in the bus by a parent who was touring the centre at the time, at which point she had been locked in the vehicle for just over an hour.
In hearing the case the Townsville District Court found that the ECEC service had failed to adequately train staff and enforce protocols that would have avoided the incident. Despite this, the educator was found guilty of one count of endangering a child by exposure and fined $1,000.
As part of the hearing, the court heard a victim impact statement from the child’s mother, who said her daughter is now reluctant to be strapped into a car seat, and makes constant sound when traveling on public transport.
When the child was asked about the sounds she was making, she told her mother that it was so she would not be forgotten and left behind on the bus.
“She’s routinely made comments along the lines of ‘don’t forget me’ and ‘remember I’m here’,” the prosecutor remarked.
The defense barrister was critical of the actions of the approved provider, confirming that an investigation into the incident by the Queensland regulatory authority had found that the provider had failed in its obligation to adequately train its team, and uphold protocols.
During sentencing, the Judge acknowledged that it was a serious charge, which can attract up to seven years imprisonment, also taking into account the early guilty plea of the defendant, and her “sincere demonstration of remorse, regret for her actions and concern for the victim”.
“If she [the child] had remained on the bus, and had not been seen by the parent, it could have been hours more on the bus and the circumstances could have been tragic,” Judge Coker said.
“But it has had dreadful consequences for you [the defendant], for your life, career, and personal wellbeing.”
Judge Coker imposed a $1,000 fine but did not record a conviction, which he acknowledged was “unusual” in the District Court jurisdiction, but which was a measure that recognised the educator’s good standing in the community, and her previously responsible character, as well as the impact the incident had made on her professional life.
He noted that the educator “had suffered” in relation to a career in which she “obviously excelled and very much loved”.
The approved provider at the centre of the incident has since undertaken a thorough internal and external independent investigation, highlighting that “the safety, development, and happiness of the children in our care is at the core of everything we do”.
Mainstream media coverage of this story may be accessed here.
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