A sleeping four-year-old boy, left undiscovered at a Wollongong childcare facility for more than an hour after closing time, has cost the centre supervisor $5000 and her career.
Michelle Haley, supervisor at Big Fat Smile’s Wollongong City Community Preschool, had 17 years industry experience behind her when she left work 10 minutes early one Friday afternoon in June, 2016.
She assumed that another of the staff would carry out her end-of-day duties, including “ticking off” the children as they departed, Haley’s lawyer told Wollongong Local Court a short time ago.
But no checks were done. In the centre’s rest area, the boy slept on as the remaining four staff departed. He was discovered an hour later when a cleaner made it to the rest area.
In court on Thursday, Haley, 41, of Albion Park, pleaded guilty to failing to adequately supervise a child in her care.
Her lawyer, Miranda Moody, said her client had sought special dispensation to leave early that afternoon, and that a “perfect storm” had resulted in the boy going unnoticed.
“She made an assumption that her duties, including making sure all the children were ticked off, would be carried out. That they’d be ticked off by the certified supervisor,” Ms Moody
“But Your Honour it was something of a perfect storm, because … [the boy’s] parents were not collecting him that day. He was to be collected by another parent at the centre.
“That parent had come and collected their own child and forgotten to collect this child.”
Ms Moody said the cleaner had been on-site since 3.30pm but only discovered the boy an hour later.
“When the cleaner went to vacuum the room the child was just waking up. The [boy’s] father said to the defendant on the Monday, that the little boy had been very pleased to meet Flo [the cleaner].
“Your honour can take some comfort from the fact that the boy was never alone.
“Suffice to say, as the nominated supervisor she is responsible.”
Haley admitted her guilt at the first opportunity.
Ms Moody called on Magistrate Michael Stoddart not to record a conviction, as having a criminal record would prevent her from working in childcare in future.
Haley had been dealt “considerable extra-curial punishment” already, she said. She was fired from her job. After her union became involved she formally stood down.
“Clearly this is a career of some 17 years … which she has lost due to what was clearly an assumption that she made in a split second,” Ms Moody said.
“It really is, just a perfect storm. And for a woman who has been exemplary in her care of children for all these years, and finds herself now in this terrible position before a court and she’s utterly remorseful and a great lesson’s been learned – you can’t rely on others.”
Representing the Department of Education, prosecutor Andrew Wright called on the court to send a message of deterrence.
“If the cleaner had not noticed him I don’t know what kind of distress would follow to the parents later night when they turned around and found that their child is not there,” he said.
Magistrate Michael Stoddart considered references attesting to Haley’s good character and heard she had never been the subject of a complaint or disciplinary action.
But Haley was ultimately convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $5000, plus $250 in costs.
“This is a very serious matter,” Magistrate Stoddart said. “That little boy was left at this centre basically unsupervised.”
The boy was one of 30 children being cared for by five staff at the centre.
Big Fat Smile Ltd faces a separate charge of failing to supervise a child in care.
The case against the provider has been adjourned to March 15.
The company issued the following statement a short time ago:
“We take our responsibility for ensuring a caring and safe environment for the children in our care very seriously. We undertook immediate corrective action and are confident in our current procedures.
We deliver over 400,000 positive care experiences across our 41 centres each year, and have always had strong policies and procedures in place. This rare situation led to an immediate formal review of compliance with our policies and procedures across all of our Centres. The child continued to attend our Preschool.
Big Fat Smile is one of the most respected and reputable providers of early education, care, recreation, cultural and inclusion services in Australia.”