Distraught toddler alone for two hours at childcare centre

By Elizabeth Binning

Photo / The Aucklander
Photo / The Aucklander

A distraught toddler was mistakenly left alone in a Auckland childcare centre for nearly two hours while her teachers and friends went for a daytrip to the park.

The forgotten 2-year-old had been dropped off at the Ta Fesilafai Aoga Amata centre in Beach Haven at 9am on Friday by her mother.

She was signed in and left with a teacher but got left behind at the North Shore centre when the staff and other children climbed on to a bus for a sports day at Moire Park in West Auckland.

It was about 11am before anyone noticed the girl was missing.

It is understood her mother, who was just arriving at the park to join the group, was phoned straight away.

Police were also called, while a relative of a staff member who lived near the centre and the girl's older brother both rushed to the centre where she was last seen.

She was found crying and distraught, having been left inside the locked building for nearly two hours. A window was smashed to get to her.

Several investigations are now under way and centre management were last night meeting staff to try to clarify how the girl was left behind.

Centre licensee Sonny Vagana said he was "angered and saddened" by the incident which upset staff and the family involved.

"I felt so sorry for the child and the mum, I'm just really disappointed."

He said a staff member, who has been with the centre since it opened 10 years ago, was yesterday suspended and may face more serious disciplinary action once the board meets later this week to discuss the matter.

Mr Vagana said the centre had "some pretty robust" policies and procedures to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

"If everything was followed properly then this wouldn't have happened."

Mr Vagana said the toddler was still in the under-twos area of the centre when she was found.

"We rang someone who was close who rushed over to the preschool, jumped over the fence and had a look inside and saw she was inside. We just said 'smash the window and do whatever you have to do to get inside'.

"I've been told the little girl was pretty distraught."

Mr Vagana said two of his own children attended the non-profit centre which cared for 46 children and involved a close-knit community.

"I tell you, I wouldn't be too happy if it was one of my kids. It was just really disappointing.

"After 10 years of operation, nothing like this has ever happened. All the staff are disappointed too."

He is yet to sit down and talk with the girl's parents but is prepared to do whatever is needed, including offering counselling.

"Anything to comfort them we'll do because I'm sure this will affect the child and that's the most important thing, the safety of the children."

Two Ministry of Education staff visited the centre yesterday after a complaint from the girl's parents.

"The purpose of the visit was to gain more information on the situation," said Bruce Adin, the ministry's northern regional manager for early childhood education.

"We are still gathering information and have yet to gain a full picture of the events that led to the child being unsupervised."

Mr Adin said the centre was generally well managed and offered a sound programme to the children.

The matter was being treated very seriously and the ministry was working with the centre to ensure a similar thing didn't happen again.

Police are also investigating but say it's too early to say if charges will be laid.

The girl's parents did not want to comment.

- NZ Herald

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