Illawarra child care provider Big Fat Smile has been fined $24,000 fine, plus costs, after a sleeping three-year-old boy was left undiscovered at a Wollongong centre for almost an hour after closing time.
On the day of the breach, the boy’s parents had arranged for a friend to collect him from the Keira St centre, however, the friend forgot this. He was discovered by a cleaner as he was waking up, 54 minutes after closing.
The provider’s CEO, Jenni Hutchins, and general manager governance and risk, Angela Taylor, were in Wollongong Local Court to hear Magistrate Michael Stoddart hand down the sentence on the matter, Thursday afternoon (8 March 2018).
The Wollongong centre’s then-supervisor, Michelle Haley, was personally charged over the matter.
In February she pleaded guilty to failing to adequately supervise a child in her care.
The court heard she had special dispensation to leave work 10 minutes early, and that she had assumed other staff would carry out end-of-day duties, including signing out children.
She was fined $5000 plus $250 in costs. She has lodged an appeal, to be heard in Wollongong District Court on April 20.
Half of the fine imposed on Thursday will go to the department of education. Big Fat Smile must also pay $3500 in costs.
In August 2016 the same provider Big Fat Smile was fined $13,000, plus $16,000 in costs, after a five-year-old boy went missing from a Bellambi-based respite program for children with autism in July 2014. The centre's then-director, Lan Zhang, was personally fined another $6000.
The boy slipped away through an improperly locked gate between 1.30pm and 2.10pm while three of four staff were tied up with administrative tasks – one of them a Facebook-style app for updating parents. He was taken in by a concerned stranger after he walked to the beach. His absence went unnoticed until his father arrived to collect him at 3.10pm.
Outside court Ms Hutchins read a pre-prepared statement, published in full below.
Statement by Big Fat Smile:
This is a formal response to the situation which occurred at Big Fat Smile Wollongong City Community Preschool nearly two years ago in June 2016.
This was a rare situation. We deliver 400,000 positive care experiences across our 41 centres each year.
We take our responsibility for ensuring the safety, welfare and wellbeing of our children very seriously. We undertook immediate corrective action and voluntarily reported this to the Government.
Big Fat Smile continues to focus our strength on quality education and care, and proactive compliance with regulatory policies and procedures to ensure a continuous improvement environment.
94% of Big Fat Smile’s services are rated as exceeding by the Government compared to the state average of 27% and the Australian average of 31%.
Big Fat Smile is one of the most respected and reputable providers of early education services in Australia and we are proud to provide over 400,000 positive care experiences across our 41 centres each year.
It's so important that ratio checks are done towards the end of the day so Educators are aware of which children have been signed out and picked up by parents. A small accidental incident such as this can be damaging for the service as well as for the Educators involved. When closing the centre, make sure that you follow a closing checklist which lists what needs to be done and checked before locking up and going home. Please make sure that all rooms, inside and outside environments are checked thoroughly at the end of the day to make sure no child is left behind. It's an unfortunate incident that occurred...
Wollongong Child Care Provider Cops Big, Fat Fine For Forgotten Boy, Illawarra Mercury, March 8, 2018.